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The Siloviki Downgraded. In Russia's New Configuration of Power

The personnel changes attending new Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev’s administration and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s new government appear to represent another defeat for the ‘siloviki’ clans (powerful Kremlin groupings led by Russia’s various organs of intelligence and law enforcement). These figures have dominated Kremlin politics and policy for the last eight years.

This trend suggests that a new economic and modernizing agenda may well dominate under the Putin-Medvedev duumvirate. At the same time, the overall tenor of the appointments do only very little to substantiate the view that the Putin-Medvedev duumvirate will undertake a ‘thaw’ in Russia’s soft authoritarian politics.
President Putin’s choice of Medvedev as his successor reflects his conscious choice to move away from the harder line fostered by the most reactionary Kremlin forces.
The most important development has been the continuing decline of the so-called Sechin clan of hardline FSB officers and other siloviki. This most powerful siloviki clan is headed by former presidential administration, first deputy head Igor Sechin. The Sechin clan was behind the rise of Sergei Ivanov, the first deputy premier and former Defense Minister. Ivanov emerged with Dmitri Medvedev as the top two contender, to succeed Putin in the presidency.
Ivanov’s defeat in that contest was precipitated by the Sechin clan’s overplaying its hand in fall 2007. They misinterpreted Viktor Zubkov’s appointment as premier to mean the Sechin clan and Ivanov had the upper hand in the struggle to win Putin’s support as the next presidential nominee.
Internal history: the hard-line siloviki faction began to move aggressively against softer-line siloviki and more liberal civilian clans in and around the Kremlin. Immediately after Zubkov’s confirmation, Anti-Narcotics Agency chief Viktor Cherkesov’s right hand man General Alexander Bulbov was arrested on corruption charges instigated by Sechin clan member and the Prosecutor General’s Investigations Committee chief Alexander Bastrykhin. Bulbov had led the investigation into the ‘Tri Kita’ (Three Whales) smuggling operation led by FSB and former FSB officers associated with Sechin. Then weeks later, two Anti-Narcotics Agency officers were killed in St Petersburg, and many in Moscow saw the Sechin clan’s hands in the affair. The Sechin faction also moved against the liberal Petersburg ‘financiers clan’ associated with Zubkov and Finance minister Alexei Kudrin. In December, Kudrin’s deputy minister, Sergei Storchak, was arrested and charged with attempting to embezzle the fantastic sum of $47 million. This was not the sort of behavior that helped ensure a glitch-free managed election campaign and presidential succession.
The untimely and largely one-sided war between the various siloviki clans apparently forced Putin to forego a dangerous interregnum in which a weak Zubkov or other interim leader would have to control the unruly siloviki. Instead, Putin backtracked and developed a transition modality in which he could keep his hands on the helm gradually letting a less hard-line, more practical, if not liberal successor take over. His successor would have to be one who was not tied to either of the siloviki clans, could enlist the support of moderate civilian jurists, economists, and financiers, and like Putin would stand above and balance the interests of Moscow’s competing clans.
Not surprisingly then, Putin decided to anoint his long-time Petersburg associate, the more independent and less conservative Dmitrii Medvedev, as his crowned successor. The pro-Kremlin United Russia party won the State Duma elections with a constitutional majority, Medevdev won the presidential election and appointed Putin as his premier and the rest (and perhaps the Sechin clan’s clout as well) is history.
First, there are two new first vice premiers – Igor Shuvalov and Viktor Zubkov. Neither has a background in the siloviki, but both are clearly Putin men. Igor Shuvalov has not been closely associated with any of the Petersburg clans. He hails from Magadan and graduated Moscow State University’s Law Faculty. Afterwards he held a position in a private law firm, worked and headed the Federal Property Fund and later the government apparatus. Since 2003 he has been Putin’s top economic advisor and deputy presidential apparatus leader charged with leading the negotiations on Russia’s admittance to the WTO. Shuvalov is regarded as a relative economic liberal along the lines of President Medvedev. Putin has appointed Shuvalov as his stand-in to chair cabinet meetings when he is away from Moscow, making this non-silovik the first, first deputy premier and arguably the third most powerful member of the executive branch, if not the country.
The second first deputy premier, Zubkov, also is not a silovik, but he is unlikely to be a long-term appointment. At 66, Zubkov is of pension age and has been given the thankless portfolio of agriculture and the low status fishing and forestry industries. Like a declining number of Russia’s elite, he has his roots in the old Soviet party-state apparatus, and the St. Petersburg clans brought to Moscow by Putin. Trained as an agronomist, Zubkov ran a branch of an association of state collective farms, then the association itself, an innovative and reportedly successful perestroika-era cooperative farm, and then the Priozersk city government in Leningrad Oblast.
During the perestroika era Zubkov entered the Party apparatus as head of Leningrad Oblast’s Communist Party Agricultural and Food Industry Department. Like Putin and many others, he jumped safely from the sinking communist ship of state, becoming in 1992 first deputy of the Leningrad city (St. Petersburg) government’s Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Vladimir Putin. In 1993-1999 he was head of the State Tax Inspectorate for St. Petersburg serving as deputy head of Russia’s State Tax Service (from 1999 the Taxes and Collections Ministry and from 2004 the Federal Tax Service), where he pressured reluctant tax payers like the Leningrad Gas Transportation company (LenTransGas) to cough up revenues. In 1999 Zubkov ran for the governorship of Leningrad Oblast, taking 8 percent of the vote. The present chairman of the pro-Putin United Russia party and the State Duma Boris Gryzlov served as his campaign manager. Zubkov himself ran the pro-Putin Unity party’s Petersburg branch in the Duma elections in 2000.
In November 2001 he became simultaneously Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin’s first deputy and acting chairman of the ministry’s new Financial Monitoring Committee. With the government reorganization during Putin’s second term, Zubkov came to head the new Federal Service for Financial Monitoring, charged with reducing illegal capital flight and fighting money laundering and official corruption. Zubkov’s tenure as chief financial intelligence officer saw a thirty-fold increase in convictions for money laundering from 2003-2005 and Russia’s removal from the FATF’s money laundering black list. His proposal to monitor state officials’ banking accounts suggests that he may have be on the rise for his ability to support an anti-corruption campaign.
Zubkov is best considered the leading patron (after Putin) of a weak financiers’ clan loyal personally to Putin and loosely associated with the still influential Petersburg lawyers clan, nominally headed by President Medvedev, and the now embattled siloviki clans. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who along with United Electricity Systems (YeES) chairman and former first deputy premier Anatolii Chubais led the liberal Petersburg clan, became patron of the financiers’ network after Chubais’ decline. Kudrin now is been superceded by Zubkov. Zubkov was once a ‘Kudrin man’, serving as Kudrin’s first deputy in the Finance Ministry. But more than Kudrin’s man, Zubkov is Putin’s man. In 2000 he was one of only twenty-one people invited to Putin’s birthday party at the restaurant ‘Podvore’ in Pavlovsk. Since then he has been repeatedly promoted and assigned strategically important tasks. Zubkov is the patron of another Petersburger, his son-in-law amd present Defense Minister Anatolii Serdyukov, who succeeded Zubkov at the Petersburg Tax Inspectorate upon Zubkov’s promotion to Moscow. Serdyukov remains Defense Minister tasked with reducing corruption and waste in the Defense Ministry and military, which are offering resistance. While because of age Zubkov’s star is likely fading, Serdyukov’s may be on the rise if he can rein in the corrupt generals and facilitate military reforms.
Serdyukov’s own successor for Petersburg tax inspection, Mikhail Mokretsov, was appointed head of the Federal Tax Service in the February 2007 reshuffling that saw top presidential contender and then Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov promoted to First Deputy Prime Minister and Serdyukov appointed as Defense Minister. This suggests the rise of a small financiers’ patron-client network, the apex of which consists of Zubkov. Serdyukov also managed to appoint a reportedly close associate, Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Nikloai Makarov, as Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s armed forces, replacing Yurii Baluevskii shortly after the government and administration appointments.

Zubkov’s one-time patron and superior, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, has retained his post, weathering at least for now the attack by the Sechin clan on his first deputy Sergei Storchak, who remains under arrest. However, within days of Medvedev’s designation by Putin as his heir apparent, the General Prosecutor’s announced an inspection of the Investigation Committee conducting the cases against Bulbov and Storchak. After the elections were completed corruption charges were being leveled against the chief investigator in both these cases, Dmitrii Dovgii, and Investigations Committee chief Bastrykhin was forced to fire him in April. According to the daily newspaper Vremya novostei, the Investigative Committee found that Dovgy had exceeded his authority, misused official information, and generally failed to carry out his responsibilities.
It has also reported that President Medvedev supports the proposal to separate the Investigations Committee from the prosecutor’s office and set up a super-investigative, FBI-like investigative organ; a move that would weaken the General Prosecutor’s office and, if Bastrykhin was to be passed over to head it, the Sechin clan as well (Vremya novostei, 22 April 2008 and RFERL Newsline, Vol. 12, No. 76, 22 April 2008).
At least a co-equal of the two first vice premiers is former Tyumen Governor Sergei Sobyanin, who has been transferred from the post of presidential administration head to the position of government apparatus chief with the rank of vice premier. Sobyanin has no siloviki background and is regarded as a lobbyist for the oil and gas sector if any, having been governor of the oil and gas region Tyumen Oblast.
Therefore, no one from the siloviki is at the apex of the government, except for Putin himself. The transfer of Sobyanin cannot be regarded as a clear demotion, since it appears that the presidency is no longer the paramount office in the land, counterbalanced now by an increasingly powerful premiership under Putin’s command.
For the same reason, government vice premier Sergei Naryshkin’s appointment to replace Sobyanin as presidential administration chief is not quite the promotion it might have been. Naryshkin, a Petersburger from the KGB’s First Directorate for Foreign Intelligence (now the separate institution of the Service for Foreign Intelligence or SVR), was regarded by some as a contender to succeed Putin, and Sobyanin himself was thought to be a dark horse candidate.
The logic of the Sobyanin and Naryshkin appointments is surely in part technocratic. Sobyanin as an oil and gas veteran from Tyumen is better suited for the government’s economic management tasks, given the key role oil and gas play in the Russian economy. Naryshkin’s security background better suits the presidency’s control over the siloviki departments. In addition, as head of the Russian Swimming Federation, Naryshkin has been able to develop a closer personal relationship with President Medvedev who is also an avid swimmer.
However, despite Naryshkin’s relatively smooth transition, the Peterburg siloviki clans have suffered a series of significant albeit limited demotions or ‘golden parachutes’. This substantially but not drastically reduces their influence within the power configurations in and between the Kremlin and the White House. Most importantly, the chief of the more hardline siloviki clan, Igor Sechin was demoted from his position as first deputy head of the presidential administration and appointed first deputy premier in charge of industrial policy and energy minus the defense industry, natural resources and environmental issues, and technology and nuclear energy oversight. Thus, Sechin’s energy portfolio may not include oil and gas. New government apparatus chief and deputy premier, the former presidential administration chief Sergei Sobyanin is a gas and oil man, having been Tyumen ‘s Governor. Also, a separate Energy Ministry has been set up from the Natural Resources and Ecology Ministry which is run by Yurii Trutnev, former governor of the oil region Perm Oblast, and it is unclear whether the former will be under Sechin’s jurisdiction. This may mean he will be removed from the board of RosNeft, which would be consistent with Medvedev’s desire and Putin’s claim that government officials on state company boards are not ‘state oligarchs’ but temporary representatives of the state on state enterprises’ boards. A sign that Sechin may be forced togiveuphis chairmanship of RosNeft’s board of directors is his simultaneous new appointment as chairman of the board of directors of the Russian state’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, replacing new presidential administration chief Alexander Naryshkin. The heavy industry sector that Sechin now seems tied to is less prestigious than the oil, gas, defense, and high technology sectors.
That Sechin’s new post is a demotion, because he was passed over for an appointment as a first vice premier. That post would have been more commensurate with his former status as first deputy head of the all-powerful presidential administration. On the other hand, non-silovik deputy presidential administration head Igor Shuvalov was appointed as one of two first deputy premiers along with another non-silovik, former premier Vitkor Zubkov. Moreover, with Sechin’s demotion it has been leaked that as first deputy presidential administration head he stalled Putin's decisions and attempted to convince him to reconsider key appointments (Russian Newsweek 12 May 2008). This leak may be an attempt by Putin to further distance himself from the Sechin clan.
Similarly, Sechin clan member, first deputy premier and former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was demoted from holding one of two first deputy premierships to one of seven deputy premiers, though he remains in charge of the defense and high technology industries. Since Ivanov was the Sechin clan’s favorite to succeed Putin, his receiving a demotion rather than the highest promotion is a clear defeat for the clan. However, Ivanov remains a key player given that he is responsible for sectors that Putin and Medvedev have promised will be key foci for investment and development under the modernization program.
The lone ranking post on the presidential side the Sechin clan now holds is of dubious gravitas. Nikolai Patrushev, a top member of the clan, was removed from his post as Director of the FSB and appointed by President Dmitrii Medvedev to be secretary of the Security Council chaired by the president. This is a demotion for Patrushev and another defeat for the hardline siloviki since the Security Council has not been a key decision-making body for national security and is chaired by the president. Indeed, the post of council secretary has remained vacant for nearly a year.
It cannot be ruled out that Patrushev’s appointment signals that it is more important than it appears, especially as it is one venue through which new premier Putin can keep his hand on the lever of foreign and security policies. The prime minister is by law an ex officio member of the council. More likely, the appointment represents one of many golden parachutes divined for key Petersburg siloviki as they are shown the door out of politics. This appointment also shows clearly the close cooperation between Medvedev and Putin in this reshuffling of personnel, with a close associate of Putin from his Petersburg and FSB days being appointed by Medvedev to the presidential side of Russia’s bifurcated executive branch structure. However, Patrushev’s demotion is unlikely to mean complete loss of the FSB for the hardline Petersburg siloviki.
Patrushev’s successor is his former deputy, Alexander Bortnikov, who headed the FSB’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast regional office from June 2003 to March 2004 and then the FSB’s Economic Security Service (SEB). When introducing Bortnikov to the FSB as the new chief, President Medvedev stressed the importance of fighting “corruption and criminal pressures, industrial espionage and of enforcing guarantees of the right to enterprise and property." However, as SEB chief, Bortnikov was privy to information on criminality and official corruption. Some of this must have involved the state oligarchic silovikis’ financial machinations surrounding some oil, gas and arms exports, including the Russia mafia figure Semyom Mogilevich’s role as a middle man in the gas sales to Ukraine through the shady company RosUkrGaz and he did not move against the perpetrators. On the other hand, Patrushev or others higher up may have held him backand may still be able to do so.
FSB officials regard Bortnikov as “our” and Patrushev’s “man” (the two having worked together for years in Petersburg’s FSB), so unlike the Defense Ministry, the FSB’s corporate integrity remains intact (See Rossiiskaya gazeta and Izvestia, 12 May 2008). Nevertheless, Patrushev’s transfer from the FSB means the career of an important silovik has peaked, showing that Putin and Medvedev rule the FSB and not visa versa.
The removal of hardline silovik of the Sechin clan, Justice Minister and former Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, from his post and his appointment as President Medvedev’s presidential envoy in charge of the Southern Federal District is another setback for the Sechin clan. Sechin and Ustinov are relatives-in-law through a marriage between their offspring. His removal from the prosecutor’s office in 2006 and his replacement there by Yurii Chaika, the former Justice Minister, marked the first phase of his decline. Ustinov’s removal from Moscow and the Justice Ministry foreshadows the furthering of the anti-corruption campaign at least against the most odious officials among the Kremlin’s leading clans.
Alexander Konovalov, who replaces Ustinov and was formerly Putin’s Volga Federal District presidential envoy, has had a long career in St. Petersburg’s prosecutor’s office that culminated in the position of deputy general prosecutor for St. Petersburg before he was moved to head Bashortostan’s prosecutor’s office in 2005. He is reportedly Medvedev’s long-time friend and former student of the president’s when he taught at Leningrad (S. Petersburg) State University’s Law Faculty, suggesting Medvedev may retain presidential control of the siloviki (, 12 May; Nezavisimaya gazeta, 18 March; Russkiy zhurnal, 6 March; and Vedomosti, 29 February 2008).
Konovalov has portrayed himself as tough on corruption. Indeed, in his previous posts he was involved in anti-corruption investigations that forced St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev to resign in 2003 and appeared to target Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov for the same or at least for the end of his family’s control over the republic’s oil and chemical complex. Thus, Konovalov could have been doing the Sechin clan’s bidding in attempting to gain control over this tasty morsel and therefore could become another Ustinov. More than Patrushev’s demotion, Ustinov’s fate represents the demise of a key and rather odious Sechin silovik.
Viktor Ivanov, the former deputy presidential administration head for personnel, was not reappointed to his post and there was a two-day delay in his appointment to the Federal Anti-Narcotics Agency, suggesting there was some tension in the process of settling Ivanov’s fate. Ivanov replaces leader of the other Peterburg siloviki clan, the so-called ‘honest chekists’ clan, Viktor Cherkesov. Ivanov’s transfer is another resounding defeat for the Sechin clan, but Cherkesov’s assignment to the post of director of the Russian Federal Agency for the Supply of Armaments and Military and Special Technology and Materiel is a more serious demotion. Cherkesov has no background in this sphere, suggesting that the position is a ‘golden parachute’ for a former close associate. In effect, he has been relegated to the outskirts of the Putin-Medvedev inner circle. This likely is payback for his November 2007 article openly calling for a truce in the battle between the two Petersburg siloviki clans – the Sechin and Cherkesov clans – that exploded into the open during the run-up to the federal election cycle and Putin’s anointment of Medvedev as crowned prince. In going public with the siloviks’ dirty laundry, the long-time Putin protégé violated the informal rule that such intra-siloviki disputes, especially those involving the FSB, be kept out of public view.
Finally with regard to the new government, Premier Putin created a 14-seat government presidium consisting of the seven first deputy and deputy premiers and seven ministers, including the Defense Minister Serdyukov, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Although some observers saw this as an attempt by Putin to reassert his control over the siloviki, which are subordinated to the president under the Russian constitution, it is noteworthy that neither the FSB or any other intelligence department’s representative is seated on the presidium. Moreover, all of the siloviki represented on the presidium have functions related to the economy, whether it is defense procurement for the Defense Ministry, the fight against corruption and criminality in the economy for the Interior Ministry, or even foreign trade for the Foreign Ministry.
One other setback for the siloviki was recorded in Chechnya. A few weeks ago a conflict broke out between local forces loyal to Chechyna President Ramzan Kadyrov and the notorious ‘Vostok’ (East) Battalion headed by Sulim Yamadaev. Long-time tensions between the Kadyrov and Yamadaev clans exploded into violence in late April when corteges of Kadyrov and the Vostok Battalion confronted each other on a Chechen highway. Reports varied, but the confrontation resulted in the deaths of two Vostok fighters, the encirclement of the battalion’s base by Kadyrov’s forces, and a standoff brokered by Moscow and the Russian military. The Vostok Battalion is subordinated the Russian army’s Main Military Intelligence Administration (GRU) and gave it leverage over the autonomy-minded Kadyrov, limiting his status as the undisputed leader of the formerly war-torn but still jihadi-plagued region. In the wake of the confrontation, Kadyrov and Yamadaev accused each other’s forces of atrocities, and a warrant was issued for the arrest of Yamadaev’s brother Badrudi. After Medvedev’s inauguration Kadyrov announced Yamadaev’s removal as Vostok’s commander. Although a replacement has not been named, it appears that the GRU has suffered a serious setback; yet another for the siloviki.
In sum, the siloviki clans, most importantly the powerful chekist clans such as the hardline Sechin clan, have experienced a serious setback during the transition to the Putin-Medvedev duumvirate. It has taken none of the first deputy premierships and two of the five deputy premierships in the government and lost nearly all of its clout within the presidential administration. In sum, even if more power now resides with Putin than Medvedev by virtue of his control of both the government and the ruling party, the Sechin clan failed to convert its former weight within the presidential administration in full to the White House, while being deprived of all but one ranking post in the Kremlin.
It should not be excluded that the siloviks’ decline has been authorized by more than Putin’s desire to distance himself from an element which proved itself to be a destabilizing one during ‘operation successor’. It may also be related to the Putin-Medvedev duumvirate’s desire to have more technocratic and less corrupt and politicized administration as it endeavors to finalize and implement a long-term modernization program. More optimistically still, it could set the stage for a political ‘thaw’ later on in the Medvedev administration.
Quite a nice description by the Saker on current players.


Strelkov: from swimming with Piranhas to swimming with Great White sharks


Yesterday's press conference by Strelkov is, I believe, a historical moment because it marks the move of Strelkov from the Novorussian military struggle into the much larger, and far more dangerous struggle, the struggle for the political future of Russia. This in itself is no necessarily unexpected, but the way he did it was a surprise, at least for me. But before I zoom out to the bigger picture, I think that it would be helpful to try to summarize some of the key points of his presentation (thanks to Marina, you can download the full English transcript by clicking here and the Q&A is here). Here is how I summarized what I saw as the key elements of his presentation:

External factors (staging) - symbolic message:
  • He is clearly alive and well
  • The reason for his departure was infighting inside the Novorussian leadership and the fact that he was told that supplies would only be delivered if he left.
  • The photo of Putin in the back on the wall
  • He is sitting behind a Russian monarchist flag on the table (and a Russian and Novorussian flag in the back (no Soviet or Communists symbols)
His view about the ceasefire agreement:
  • This ceasefire has now created military situation is now worse than this spring
  • What is disgraceful is not the ceasefire by itself but "the conditions which are now being discussed in Minks"
  • There is plan to blame the betrayal of Novorussia on Putin
  • There are powerful interests which want a never ending war which would create a bleeding ulcer for Russia
His description of the 5th column:
  • The roots of this 5th column go back to the Eltsin years
  • The liberation of Crimea took the 5th column by surprise
  • The 5th column is around President
  • There is a local 5th column in Donbass which has been and still is negotiating with Ukie oligarchs
  • The 5th column is composed of "liberals"
  • Putin is a moral threat to them because he has massive popular support
  • They want to overthrow Putin
  • They want to dismember Russia
  • This will be a long war on Russia
  • We are dealing with another 1905 and 1917 like situation
  • By saving Novorussia Russia can save itself
  • Western sanctions will hurt Russia and they will use them to discredit Putin
Strelkov's plans
  • Strelkov wants to fight inside Russia in support of Putin (only option)
  • Strelkov's main objective is to denounce the real traitors inside Russia
This is my personal rendition of the key elements of Strelkov's presentation, and I might have missed or misunderstood something, so I therefore encourage everybody to watch to the video again and read the transcript.

Before going further into my analysis of Strelkov's statements, I think that it is crucial to keep the bigger context in mind. His words are not just the words of a man speaking for the Novorussian Armed Forces (NAF) or a Novorussia hero, this time Strelkov is diving straight into the big and dangerous world of Russian "deep state" politics (though the term "deep state" does not really apply to Russia). So I will now return to a topic I have been covering for many years now.

Long-time readers will probably recall that I often spoke of a behind-the-scenes struggle between what I called the "Eurasian Sovereignists" (ES) and the "Atlantic Integrationists" (AI). I will not repeat it all here, but I do encourage you to read the following articles:
The two first articles are part of a much longer seven-part series on Islam, but they introduce the historical context of the development of the ES and AI factions. The next two I would consider mandatory reading if you are not familiar with the topic and the last one is just a more recent discussion of the role of these two factions in the current Cold War v2. Having said that, my key thesis is this:

The "5th column" Strelkov refers to are the very same people I call Atlantic Integrationists.

Strelkov names no names, but he describes them very accurately (see above) and he adds that they only value "money and other material resources". They are the Russian equivalent of the AngloZionist 1%ers. Their main political goal is to fully integrate Russia into the AngloZionist international system on a financial, political, economic and cultural levels. They see Russia as "European" and they believe that "the West" (i.e. the AngloZionist Empire) and Russia need to stand together against Islam, China and any other non-imperial ideology, religion, nation or alliance. They believe in capitalism and they are opposed to a "social state" (to use Putin's description of modern Russia) and they are systematically contemptuous of the "masses" though they try hard not to show this aspect of their worldview. These are the folks who gradually took power during the 1980s and who had the predatory instincts to seize the moment in the early 1990s to rapidly and ruthlessly acquire an absolutely unimaginable amount of wealth, stolen from the Russian people.

Now, it is true that due to an absolutely brilliant move by the Russian security services during the late 1990s and thanks to the chaos in which Russia was plunged, these AI (aka 5th columnists) did make a fatal mistake. Their plan was to put forward a rather uninspiring and dull bureaucrat into power and surround him by men coming from their own circles. What they did not foresee is that this rather uninspiring and dull bureaucrat would turn into one of the most formidable statesmen in Russian history - Putin - and that he would immediately set out to decapitate the top layers of the AI - the so-called "oligarchs" and the thugs who enforced their rule - and their armed branch- the Chechen Wahabi insurgency. Putin acted so fast that he rapidly ended up in full control of the so-called "power ministries" (state security, presidential security, internal affairs, armed forces, emergency services) and, which is crucial, an immense popular support. In a way, this combination of state power and popular support made Putin untouchable, but that also limited his power.

While the top and most notorious AI columnists either left Russia (Berezovsky) or were put in jail (Khodorkovsky) or died, the system they had created was still very much in place. Banking, the natural resources industry, the weapons trade, financial services and, of course, the media were still very much in their hands. So when the most arrogant one of them, Khodorkovsky, was jailed the two factions (ES and AI) achieved something of a compromise, a temporary ceasefire if you wish. The deal was this: first, as long as they don't try to take over the Kremlin and generally stay out of politics, the AI would be allowed to keep their wealth and continue to make huge profits; second, the top power would be shared between the ES (Putin, Rogozin, Patrushev, etc.) and the AI (Medvedev, Kudrin, Surkov, etc.).

The first big blow which Putin delivered against the AI was the firing of Serdiukov and, even "worse", his replacement with Shoigu. The second massive blow was, according to Strelkov (and I agree), the operation to liberate Crimea. According to Strelkov, this operation was a huge blow to the interests of these 5th columnist because they immediately realized that it would set Russia and the AngloZionists on a collision course. They therefore gathered all their forces to a) prevent a Russian military intervention in the Donbass and b) make a deal with the oligarchs now in power in Kiev. I fully share this analysis.

Russian vs Novorussian strategic interests

Here comes the tricky part. There are a few assumption made by many bloggers which are the result of a fundamental flaws in logic:
  • Russian and Novorussian interests are one and the same
  • Anything supported by the AI is bad for Russia
  • Putin is in full control and can do whatever he wants
  • Novorussian leaders are always right by virtue of their heroic struggle
  • Disagreeing with Novorussian leader is a sign of stupidity, betrayal or dishonesty (including for Putin himself)
Reality is not quite that simple. For one thing, Russian and Novorussian interests are not only one and the same, they are in direct opposition on a crucial matter: Novorussia wants full independence from Kiev (whoever is in power) while Russia wants regime change in Kiev and maintain a unitary Ukraine. Second, while the fact that Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs are trying to hammer out a deal to stop the war and maintain a unitary Ukraine this might or might not be bad for Russia. Now, before I get accused of God only knows what, let me explain:

During the late 1980s and the 1990s a bizarre kind of "partial fusion" took place between the Russian mob and the KGB. I know, sounds crazy, but it is nonetheless true and yours truly has personally seen it and personally met ex-KGB officers working in the Russian mob. However, as some say, there is no such thing as an "ex-KGB" officer. Well, in reality there is, but in most cases, at least informal contacts are maintained. So here is how I would very roughly summarize this bizarre association:

In the 1980s: corrupt KGB officers realize that a lot of money can be made in the underworld and some official of the internal security branch of the KGB (2nd Main Directorate) found ways to profit from tight contacts with the mob.

In the early 1990: a lot of young and smart KGB officers realize that their skills are useless in the KGB, they resign and immediately find very good positions in the "New Russian" world (at that time 100% mobsters) and use their skills (language, education, work capability, courage) to make loads of money

These were terrible years for the KGB/FSB, but they also had one positive impact: the more corrupt and less patriotic officers left leaving many idealists behind them, idealists which would, with time, climb up the ranks.

Now here comes the really interesting part:

In the mid 1990s-2000: the successor to the KGB, the SVR and FSB came to realize that they had a fantastic network of potential collaborators in the newly created world of Russian business, finance, commerce, tourism, etc. They act on this and begin use this mostly "ex-mob now turned legit" worldwide network for state security purposes and industrial/commercial espionage. Even the military intelligence service, the GRU, begins to do the same with ex-officers now working in aerospace, electronics, communications, etc.

[Off-topic but interesting sidebar: there is another most valuable network which the SVR/FSB/GRU also began to use during this period: the huge number of Jews from Russia who emigrated to the USA and Israel. Keep that in mind when you think about Russian-Israeli relations]

2000-today: Putin and his backers begin their behind the scenes secret but ruthless war on the Atlantic Integrationists who are fundamentally oppose to the Eurasian Sovereignists who are now firmly behind Putin. Most importantly the security services who are controlled by Putin allies develop a network of potential supporters inside the basis of power of the Atlantic Integrationists. See how complex that becomes?

So while some superficial analysts are correct when they say that the Russian oligarchs are generally 5th columnists and dangerous enemies of Putin, what they are missing is that a) not all oligarchs fall into this category and b) that Putin has the means to influence or even coerce some anti-Putin oligarchs thanks to his control of the security services and their network inside the oligarchs power base.

So here is the crucial point: the relationship between the Kremlin and the Russian oligarchy is a very complex one. Yes, by and large, it is correct to say that we have Putin, the security services, the military, the common Russian people on one side and the oligarchs, the liberal intelligentsia, big business, banking, finance and CIA agents on the other. But in reality, this is a primitive model, the reality is infinitely more complex. I know I am going to get even more hate coming my way for saying that, but some oligarchs are (for whatever reason) Putin allies or Putin controlled-individuals. I have met some personally in the late 1990s and I am quite sure that they are still there. Why?

Because there is a lot of money to be made in Russia by being on Putin's side. For one thing, if you are in good terms with the Kremlin, you become untouchable for the rest of the more-or-less legal "business" world. You also get juicy contracts. And the tax authorities might not be as meticulous when you file for taxes. Again, the black-and-white Putin vs oligarchs image is generally true, but only as a primitive model.

Let's remember where Strelkov came from. While little is certain about him, he appears to be an ex-FSB Colonel (in anti-terrorism), who fought as a volunteer in Yugoslavia, Transnistria and Chechnia. He is also a historian, a columnist and he likes to participate in military recreations. He is a monarchist, an Orthodox Christian and and admirer of the White movement during the civil war. In Novorussia, however, he entered a totally different level jumping in one rapid, gigantic most successful leap from anti-terrorism Colonel to what could be roughly described as an divisional or even army corp commander who turned a volunteer militia force into a more or less regular army. That is a huge feat: From almost nobody he became the #1 hero and commander of the entire Novorussian resistance. And yet, Novorussia is tiny compared to Russia and big Novorussian politics are tiny compared to big Russian politics. And yet, in yesterday's press conference Strelkov made yet another huge leap - he jumped from Novorussian military issues straight into the single most complex and dangerous struggle I can imagine: the secret behind-the-scenes struggle for power in the Kremlin. It is far too early to tell if this move will be as successful as his previous one, Strelkov went from swimming with Piranhas to swimming with Great White sharks, but I am cautiously optimistic. Here is why:

Strelkov's potential in the Russian struggle for power

Putin is acutely aware of the fact that his official power base (the state apparatus) is chock-full of 5th columnists. The best proof for that is that he did two very interesting things:

a) He created the All-Russia People's Front (ARPF) which unlike the official party in power, United Russia, was not created with a strong Medvedev/Atlantic Integrationist component, but was created by Putin alone. Officially, the ARPF is not a party but a "political-social movement" which is supposed to bring together a large segment of generally pro-Kremlin organizations and individuals and to provide a way for the common people to convey their concerns to Putin. In reality, however, it is also a "political party in waiting", very large, very well connected and which Putin can "turn on" at any time, especially if challenged from inside United Russia.

b) Putin's security services have contributed to the creation of a plethora of "near-Kremlin entities" (околокремлевские круги) which officially have no subordination to the Kremlin, but which can get a lot of things done without the government involved or, even, informed. These near-Kremlin entities include some news outlets, some commercial entities, a number of clubs, some youth organizations, news agencies, etc. There is no formal list, no admission procedure, no one leader. But somehow, there are always people with contacts to the security agencies near or in these circles.

This is were Strelkov fits in.

Strelkov will first and foremost represent the interests of the people of Novorussia, but since he correctly identified the Russian 5th column as the main threat to Novorussia, he also is objectively becoming an ally of Putin in a common struggle against the Atlantic Integrationists. Now, let us be clear here. Strelkov and Putin will not agree on a number of issues. Strelkov clearly indicated that when he said
"No matter how critical I am about certain internal or external policy decision of president in conditions of war started against us, I consider it necessary to support him as the only legitimate superior commander the main guarantor of freedom and independence of the state"
The fact that he concluded that Putin must be supported does not change the fact that he is clearly very critical of some Putin decisions. My guess is that the obvious areas of disagreement are:

a) The ceasefire and subsequent negotiations
b) The fact that Putin does with with some Russian oligarchs
c) That Putin wants a united Ukraine

These disagreements are normal and should not be interpreted as the sign of some kind of opposition. Again, Novorussia and Russia simply have different interests.

But where Strelkov and Putin are in full agreement is the need to crush the 5th column. Putin was the first to speak about a "Russian 5th column" (when he addressed the Federal Assembly) and Strelkov picked up his expression. This 5th column of Atlantic Sovereignists are a mortal danger to both Putin and Strelkov and, as Strelkov correctly points out, Putin is a mortal danger to them. When Strelkov speaks of a "Putin revolution" and of a "Russian Spring" he is referring to the very same struggle which I in the past described as a struggle of Atlantic Integrationists against the Eurasian Sovereignists. The labels are different, but the process described is the same one.

In this context Strelkov could become a very powerful ally for Putin. By speaking up for Novorussia Strelkov is also very clearly promoting the same ideology, the same worldview, as Putin. In fact, I recommend to you all to take the time and listen to (or read)
Putin, Zakharchenko and Strelkov all three fully realize that what is going on is nothing shot of a war on Russia, but waged, at least for the time being, by non-military means. All three know that the biggest threat to Russia is an internal one. But all three can claim that the other two do not speak for him. After all, one is the President of Russia, the second one is a top representative of Donetsk and Novorussia, while the third one is, technically speaking, a retired officer and a private individual. Yet all three together are politically encircling the Russian 5th column into a "political cauldron" in which they either support Putin or look like traitors. A potentially very effective technique.

The second role of Strelkov is to denounce and discredit the Putin-bashers who are constantly declaring that "Putin is backstabbing or betraying Novorussia". I predict that in a near future the very same circles who until now had taken the position that Putin is a villain and Strelkov a hero will declare that Strelkov is a villain and a traitor too. Some of these guys are manipulated by western PSYOP specialists, others are simply paid by them, but their goal is to convince the world that Putin is the bad guy and that a "real" patriot needs to replace him. In other words, that Russia can only be saved by making the AngloZionist dream of a regime change in Russia come true. But then, these are the very same people who wanted to save Novorussia by making the other AngloZionist dream, of having an overt Russian military intervention in the Donbass, also come true. My advice in regards to such "sorrow-patriots" as they are called in Russia is simple: beware of those who want to save Russia by making an AngloZionist dream come true. If you keep that in mind, the enemies of Russia will be fairly easy to spot :-)


I was amazed and tremendously encouraged by Strelkov's very sophisticated presentation of his position yesterday. Though this might be too early to conclude, and I might be uncharacteristically optimistic about this, I believe that Strelkov has the potential to become the Novorussian leader I was hoping would emerge. If that is so, then I will gladly plead guilty of having underestimated him. Still, I will also admit that I am very concerned for him. The fact that apparently the Russia media has given his press conference little or no attention combined with the rumor that he had killed himself is a powerful message sent to him by the 5th column who is showing how powerful it still is. In particular, I consider the rumor about his suicide as a very serious death threat. Even worse, and maybe these are my paranoid inclination speaking here, there are a lot of people on both sides who might be interested in seeing Strelkov killed. The Atlantic Integrationists and their 5th column would want him dead because he is so openly denouncing them, but make no mistake, there could also be Eurasian Sovereignists who might want him dead to have him as a martyr and symbol of Russian heroism. Is that cynical and ugly? Yes. And so is the struggle for power in Russia. Most people in the West have no idea how ruthless this struggle can be. Unlike Putin, Strelkov is not protected by an extremely powerful state security apparatus and, considering that he can be hit from either side. He better be very *very* careful.

Just for accepting to play the role he is playing now (and he, being an ex-FSB colonel, fully knows the risks) I consider him a hero and he has my sincere admiration. "They" will try to use him, threaten him, manipulate him, discredit him and use every dirty trick possible to either control him or crush him. Truly, his fate is already a tragic one and his courage remarkable. Fighting the Ukie Nazis, the Chechen Wahabis or the Croat Ustashe was a relaxing vacation compared to the kind of "warfare" going on in the struggle for the control of Russia. Since Russia is the de-facto leader of both the BRICS and the SCO the struggle for Russia is really a struggle for the future of the planet. I believe that Strelkov understands that.

The Saker
A more critical view of Putin, than that of The Saker, and more alarming:

Quote:Original: El Murid (Anatoliy Nesmeyan) LiveJournal
Translated from Russian by Gleb Bazov

The latest round of sanctions imposed by the European Union has essentially put an end to any discussion about the possibility of an agreement with the West. Notwithstanding all the concessions and betrayal.

The very fact that Russia faltered in Ukraine and did not defend its national interests, abandoning the Donbass region and its people to the mercy of those bent on tearing them apart, and accepting loss of face on the part of the Russian leadership and frank betrayalall this only convinced the West that it can dictate its will by continuing to increase the pressure.

It is difficult to tell what was it that the traitors promised to the President, but it is already obvious that they deceived him. There will be no reconciliation. The problem is that now the Western pressure has ceased to have a purely Ukrainian dimension. Sanctions and their tightening are aimed exclusively at fomenting a schism in the Russian elite, at infringing on the interests of one of its parts and at whipping up an early coup.

What is at stake now is no more and no less than the head of Putin himselfno other outcome will satisfy the West. Already after Crimea, the frightened Euro-American elite had resolved that there can be no dealing with Putin's Russia and for that reason sanctioned the plans for his overthrow. For nowby means of a coup d'état at the hands of aggrieved and disadvantaged oligarchs. If that does not workthrough a military conflict.

It appears that the Russian leadership understands this, and that yesterday's regular exercises of the troops of the Eastern Military District, which required them to be brought to full combat readiness, is a demonstration of the fact that Russia is ready for such a development of the situation. The only question that remains is whether she is ready for betrayal.

The past three to four years have provided a wealth of material for the study of possible scenarios of war with Russia. Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Ukraine these are countries where the West achieved its objectives through mutiny of one of the parts of the indigenous elite, following which it supported the arrival of democracy to these wild outskirts of civilization. In Libya this was facilitated by NATO's bombers; in Egypt by mass funding of terrorist groups from the pockets of western corporations in Qatar; in Yemen, the wager was placed on tribal leaders and on the launch of the "Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula" project; in Ukraine well, here, everything is right before our eyes.

In Syria, this scenario malfunctioned. The Syrian elite refused to betray Assad, as its interests are tied to Syria, and the business and the welfare of its members are based on a united and stable Syria. That is why individual traitors in the leadership of the country could not undermine its stability, and the West was forced to rely on the terrorists of Al-Nusra, ISIS, the Islamic Front, the Farouq Brigades, the Free Syrian Army, and many others. Now Obama is preparing to bomb the Syrian territory under the guise of fighting the Islamic State. There is no doubt that the range of the bombing campaign will extend much further, and that, if Russia overlooks the bombing of Ar-Raqqa, in one or two months Obama's falcons will start bombing Damascus. If Russia does not arrange for immediate deliveries to Syria of Air Defence systems capable of taking down the American terrorists, we will be faced with a sharp aggravation of the situation in the south in addition to the problems in Ukraine.

Russia stands before the same choicefirst we can expect a coup. Unlike Syria, a significant part of the contemporary Russian elite are common compradors that have nothing in common with the country other than the fact that it is from Russia itself that they pump their subcutaneous wellbeing. It is these people that their Western owners are now beginning severely to pressure, using sanctions as a whip so as to encourage them to organize a coup. And the longer they delay, the stronger and fiercer the sanctions will become.

However, the sanctions have yet another aspect to themin the event the coup d'état fails, the West wants as much as possible to weaken the leading sectors of the Russian economy, so as to ensure that Russia is minimally ready when she faces the possible armed conflict. Speaking about the military conflict, we can now say with confidence that the ideas of George Friedman about using and unifying the wars in Iraq and Ukraine will become the basis of the military intervention against Russia. Whether this will be done through a war in Crimea or an armed conflict in Chechnya is a purely situational matter. It is certain that different scenarios are being formulated, and that they will be launched either immediately following the coup d'état attempt or synchronously therewith.

The events of the past few years have very clearly demonstrated that the West has wagered on the destruction of the existing world order. It is not satisfied with the emergence of new centres of power, which places it on the precipice of a civilizational catastrophe. The sweet life of the "golden billion" has always been premised on the slavish existence of the rest of the world, who worked for their masters. The new centres and growth points, the new associations of Third World countries that are gaining momentum make the concepts of neocolonialism worthlessand the West will go to war. To a large degree, it simply has no other choice.

The colour revolutions gave the United States and its allies an instrument, using which they expect to defeat their strategic rivals without bringing about direct confrontations that threaten total destruction. By spreading around the world, the cancerous tumour of democracy and human rights, in their Western interpretations, is preparing the groundwork for colour revolutions of varying degrees of ferocity.

The pressure of sanctions on Russia, which no one is any longer interested in stopping, transitions the level of confrontation to a qualitatively different state. Evidently, there is a certain point of no return, upon achieving which a rollback is no longer possible. There is a deep suspicion that we had already passed it, casually and imperceptibly. Most likely, this point can be considered to be Russia's refusal to fight for Ukraine. The May of 2014, when quite inexplicably the people of the Donbass region were simply betrayed, can be considered such a point the West received proof that it had the ability to force its interests. Who was it in the Russian elite and the state apparatus that exerted pressure on or deceived the Russian President the latter knows best. But these are the same people that will stand behind the coup.

If we have entered the pre-war period, then the logic of our behavior must also become other than in peacetime. The slightest hint of the possibility of a coup must be eliminated. People who would betray and sell the country must be removed from power. They must be deprived of the tools of their influence. Then the West will be left with only the military option a path that it fears. A path that affords it far fewer chance than a betrayal.