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Junk Measuring Contests in Russia

Who’s dictating the agenda of Russia?

The agenda is dictated by Putins carefully built ecosystem of mutual dependence and mutual competitiveness between the leaders of political and bureaucratic elites. Putin deliberately brought himself onto the pedestal, considering that noone will be able to get enough power to challenge him. And that worked just fine, until a side effect emerged.

While fighting for access to Putin’s inner circle and for limited resources which provide some administrative and backroom leverages, a subjects of Putin’s system started to destroy it from the inside, by bearing their conflicts out into the public plane.

This fact is very important for the understanding of weak spots of aggressor state, and for two reasons at least. First of all, the attempts of inter-Kremlin structures to fight with each other using media, gives an insight into a true nature of their relations. At the same time providing with a lot of information of true state of things in the Russian Federation.

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Second, inner conflicts which come into public space, show the true nature of Putin’s elites — always aiming for profits and not much else. This is important to understand, both to Russians who live in this country, and for European partners — to understand the nature of those who they intend to have “business as usual” with.

In modern day Russia (as in pretty much any totalitarian or quasi-totalitarian state) the inter-elite conflicts play an important role. Of course all the law enforcement and security structures are involved, and in fact they are in constant state of war against each other and even inside each other. But they cannot do this openly, for a number of reasons. First of all because Vladimir Putin doesn’t approve of this, and the starters of open conflict may be severely punished.

The thing is, Putin understands: any of such conflicts in supposedly monolithic “democratic monarchy” question his authority as an arbitrator. Especially when things come into the public plane.

During the first presidential term of Vladimir Putin there were a serious fighting between the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (back then under the leadership of Vladimir Rushailo, a man affiliated with oligarch Boris Berezovsky) and, oh my, an Federal Security Service, no less. The background of the fighting was of purely commercial nature — a fight for control over “Slavneft” oil company. A president of “Slavneft” Mikhail Gutseriyev was relying on Vladimir Rushailo, while a minority stake holder “Alpha Group” called for Federal Security Service (FSB) for help.

It is hard to imagine nowadays that Russian policemen had highest level officials of FSB on surveillance and wire tapped their phones. Only in March 2001 the war was put to an end with Rushailo’s resignation. The times were relative peaceful, and during his visit to Putin minister was able to negotiate that his assistant Aleksandr Orlov (who was coordinating the whole operation) was allowed to leave the country — his arrest was imminent in next few days. Rushailo himself took a ceremonial post of secretary of Security Council of Russia — but not for long either.

In august he was removed from this post, and his successor on Minister of Internal Affairs became Boris Gryzlov, a long time creation of Nikolai Patrushev. FSB and Nikolai Patrushev won this round. It is only natural that that a big element of that fight were media attacks. That’s where “Blowing Up Russia” film appeared (titled in Russian as “FSB is Blowing Out Russia”), and a lot of dirt has been thrown on FSB via the media. Such well known publishers as “Kommersant”, “Novye Izvestia”, “Novaya Gazeta” took part as well — which is not surprising, if we will remember that Rushailo was considered to be Berezovsky man. That was the first win of FSB, nut not the last one.

The second round of this war is connected with the name of then a head of Federal Drug Control Service of Russia, Viktor Cherkesov, a retired St. Petersburg member of KGB. In Spring 2006 Cherkesov (with the support of Viktor Zolotov, a Chief of the Security of Prime Minister of Russia and President of Russia) got a carte blanche on the investigations of FSB administration abuse of power. Basically, that was a famous “Three Whales” corruption scandal, and a case of smuggling of Chinese-made goods from the temporary storage warehouse of FSB — which implicated some high profile figures. As a result a media scandal, some serious rotations occurred on Lubyanka Square (where headquarters of the FSB is located). For example, an Internal Security Services Chief of FSB Sergey Shyshin was transferred to logistics. Prosecutor General of Russia Vladimir Ustinov resigned, and in some time a new structure was created — Investigative Committee of Russia, headed by director Alexander Bastrykin.

In the meantime, the losing side was not been idle, and prepared the strike back against Federal Drug Control Service, Viktor Cherkesov and Viktor Zolotov. These operations were conducted under the command of Oleg Feoktistov, a protégé of Sergey Shyshin. But the investigators of Investigative Committee had no idea that Feoktistov will be on a move against them after the Federal Drug Control Service. Bastrykin was forced to dismiss his right hand man Dmitry Dovgiy, this happened in April 2008. Soon Dovgiy had a criminal proceedings opened against him. At the same time, in 2008, Viktor Cherkesov was dismissed from his post, soon after his article in “Kommersant” where he was telling about the war between securityy forces.

The next episode in security forces wars were in 2011, the so=called “Casino case”, a loud process against Moscow Region prosecutors, who were “protecting” the gambling industry. It was predated by an unprecedented camaign on federal TV channels. Prosecutor General of Russia Yury Chaika claimed of gross violations of law from Investigative Committee of Russia. And though it may seems that that was a fight between Bastrykin and Chaika, between the Investigative Committee of Russia and the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, in truth the main beneficiary and the shadow player was FSB again. Denis Nikandrov, an investigator in charge of this case, tried to sneak up onto Artem Chaika, a son of Prosecutor General. It was again of highest levels to resolve the conflict. When meeting Bastrykin and Chaika in 2012, Dmitry Medvedev ruled that “it is not wise to involve the members of a family”. As a result, not a single prosecutor was held responsible, and the charges against them were not approved by the Office of the Prosecutor General. This round ended with draw.

When speaking about the confrontation between Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and Federal Security Service, we cannot but remember of general Sugrobov. In reality that was a fight between the Evgeny Shkolov (an assistant to President of Russian Federation) and the FSB Internal Security Department deputy head Oleg Feoktistov. Shkolov and his people tried to capture Feoktistov red-handed and prove that FSB is racketeering the business. In February 2014 when the case was opened, Denis Sugrobov was a head of anti-corruption department of Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was the youngest general who got this rank in 36. He was charged with organizing a crime group and of falsifying of criminal cases through the bribing.

How exactly it can fit in Russian law forces imagination right next to a case of Alexey Ulyukaev, in which it was Feoktistov himself charged with bribes and falsifying, is not quite clear. But somehow it fits, apparently. One of the figures of this case, Boris Kolesnikov, a deputy to general Sugrobov, died right in the middle of investigation, falling out from a window of— wait for it… from a window of Investigative Committee building. Naturally, the investigation deemed this as a suicide, though this death raised many questions among experts. Right after his death the accused stopped to communicate with media, even though they gave interview voluntarily before that. That’s why the media covered this case a lot on the stage of investigation. The court itself was closed for press and media, of course. The information of what’s happening must have been covered from general public.  In April court sentenced Denis Sugrobov for 22 years of conviction, and then reduced his sentence to 12 years. That was a serious defeat for Evgeny Shkolov. It is worth of mention that Shkolov is a former colleague of Vladimir Putin in foreign intelligence service, and later was an assistant to president in questions of personnel and staff, who was fired by Putin exactly because of inter-staff conflicts in security forces.

We will hear again of Oleg Feoktistov not once, in the case of Voronenkov and in the case of Ulyukaev. In fact, one of the theories behind the killing of Denis Voronenkov is that it was Feoktistov who ordered it. They first clashed during the “Three Wales” scandal. Back then Voronenkov was officer of Federal Drug Control Service of Russia, which investigated the commercial activities of FSB officers, including Feoktistov.

Some experts consider that Feoktistov lost his positions in FSB and Rosneft Oil Company because of arranging of this killing. As we already mentioned, Vladimir Putin does not approve the inter-security forces fighting, especially when fights like this became public.

All in all, the event happening in this security forces war could put a TV crime series to shame, with the story tightened and twisted so much. It is amazing how the same characters travel from one scene to another. Say, this time everything started in December 2015, started with a gun shooting near the restaurant on Rochdelskaya Street. This shooting, or technically the event following, became a fatal ones for the very same Denis Nikanorov we mentioned before.

One of the persons involved into shooting, and actually wounded during it, was someone Andrei “The Italian” Kochuikov, a close friend to a crime lord  Zakhariy "Young Shakro" Kalashov. The investigators were arrested after re-qualifying the criminal case against “The Italian” for a bribe. It was suddenly clear that they were watched by the FSB for a long long time.

That was a serious hit on Investigative Committee and on Alexander Bastrykin personally, because now the former head of Internal Security Department of Investigative Committee Mikhail Maksimenko was under criminal proceedings, and once again Denis Nikandrov, who made a deal with the prosecutors and got five and a half years of conviction. This round again was won by FSB. Whose turn it is now?

This heat of fight between the law enforcers gives us some information about what’s going on. How one would publish some dirt on his opponent? You cannot make it in a direct way. That’s why the “opposition” media is a perfect option. “Novaya Gazeta”, “Dozhd” TV Channel, Alexei Navalny, or even Telegram channels. The most important is not be caught red-handed by Vladimir Putin while leaking out the dirty details. And the worse the situation in country is, the more the heat of fights will intensify. So there’s much more interesting ahead to watch for…

We cannot excuse the possibility of the latest incident in Black Sea to be a result of one of the leaders of Russian law enforcers to strengthen his positions. MNost of the actions against Ukrainian ships were performed by the sailors of Border Service of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. More even, the recordings of communications between the sailor who attacked Ukrainians (which were published online at November 26th) the head of the Coast Guard Department of the Border Service of FSB mentioned — Gennadiy Medvedev. It is him who was mentioned in the recordings: “Medvedev is screaming hysterically”.

It is probable that the administration of FSB was pressing him so hard he would be better off dead than letting Ukrainian sailors go, after Russian ships “Don” and “Izumrud” were damaged as a result of hitting each other. And from the faith of Igor Korobov, a former Chief of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, we know for sure that those Russian law enforcers who let Putin down do not live long.

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