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The Morning Vertical, September 21, 2016

  • Brian Whitmore


If the Kremlin is really planning to establish a new Ministry of State Security, one big question looms: Who is going to head it?

Whom will Vladimir Putin trust to lead such a powerful new structure that is essentially a recreation of the old Soviet KGB?

In fact, it could be even stronger and less accountable than the KGB, which was tightly controlled by the Soviet Communist Party.

For the past year, Putin has been busy removing his old security service cronies from key posts, most recently dismissing Sergei Ivanov as Kremlin chief of staff. There are many reasons for this, but one appears to be that he wants to eliminate any potential challenge to his rule from within his court.

When Putin established a new National Guard, he made sure it answered to him alone and placed his uber-loyal former bodyguard, Viktor Zolotov, at its helm.

Judging from the lack of denials from the Kremlin and the spin from Kremlin surrogates (see below), the creation of a new Ministry of State Security looks increasingly likely.

And once we know who will be in charge of it, we will know whom -- other than Zolotov -- Putin truly trusts.


In his final address to the UN General Assembly after nearly eight years in office, U.S. President Barack Obama said that Russia was seeking to regain "lost glory" through the use of force and warned that interference in its neighbors' affairs would make it less respected and less secure.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has told Ukraine's president that reforms to the country's energy sector are imperative and need to be accelerated.

The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada has branded Russia's parliamentary elections illegitimate because they were also held in the forcibly annexed Crimean peninsula.

Russia says the Syria cease-fire can only resume if attacks against government forces stop.

The White House has explicitly blamed Russia for this week's deadly attack on a humanitarian aid convoy in Syria, an attack that prompted angry denunciations and put a week-old cease-fire on the brink of collapse.


More On The New KGB

It seems that nobody is denying reports that the Kremlin is preparing to establish a powerful new Ministry of State Security, or MGB, that would effectively resurrect the Soviet-era KGB. In fact, insiders are talking about it like it's a done deal -- and a good thing.

In an interview with Moskovsky Komsomolets, FSB General Aleksandr MIkhailov says it won't result in radical changes and could make the work of the security services more effective.

Likewise, Oleg Denisenko, the deputy chair of the outgoing State Duma's Security Committee, told the FAP news agency that creating the new super ministry would be justified because it would "optimize" the work of the intelligence and law-enforcement agencies.

Political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya, meanwhile, writes in a piece for that the apparent creation of the MGB combined with United Russia's new super-majority in the State Duma represents a "victory for the party of the Chekists."

And writing in Vox, Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Studies in Prague argues that if Putin goes ahead with plans to create a Ministry of State Security, he may come to regret it.

Putin's Brain

Yale University historian Timothy Snyder, author of the books Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler And Stalin and Black Earth: The Holocaust As History And Warning, has a must-read piece in The New York Times on the influence of the early 20th century emigre Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin on Vladimir Putin's thinking.

"While Russian leaders consciously work to hollow out the idea of democracy in their own country, they also seek to discredit democracy abroad — including, this year, in the United States," Snyder writes

"Russia’s interventions in our presidential elections are not only the opportunistic support of a preferred candidate, Donald J. Trump, who backs Russian foreign policy. They are also the logical projection of the new ideology: Democracy is not a means of changing leadership at home, but a means of weakening enemies abroad. If we see politics as Ilyin did, Russia’s ritualization of elections becomes a virtue rather than a vice. Degrading democracy around the world would be a service to mankind."

The Ceasefire That Wasn't

Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov weighs in on the flailing Syrian cease-fire, arguing that its terms were very favorable to Russia.

"It is therefore difficult to understand why from the beginning of the ceasefire, the Russian side, in particular the Ministry of Defense, was publicly very skeptical about its prospects," Frolov writes.

"The exaggerated abuses by opposition (up to using staged video footage) and otherwise ignored the gross violations of the truce by the Syrian government troops, including the blocking of humanitarian aid."

NATO And Russia's Nukes

Jacek Durkalec of the Polish Institute of International Affairs on NATO's adaptation to Russia's nuclear posture:

"In response to Russia’s nuclear threats, NATO has strengthened its nuclear deterrence. The Warsaw Summit aimed to send a message of resolve and readiness to face nuclear risks. The Alliance’s credibility depends, however, on its continued efforts in strategic communication, planning and exercises, and investment in maintaining effective capabilities," Durkalec writes.

The EU And The EEU

Sijbren de Jong of The Hague Center for Strategic Studies has just published a policy brief for the Swedish Institute of European Policy Studies looking at prospects for cooperation between the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union.

"Russia’s economic downturn and the wider regional fallout have significantly eroded the EEU’s attractiveness as a motor for economic integration. Moreover, Moscow's tendency to let geopolitics and foreign policy considerations trump economic cooperation causes friction among EEU members," de Jong writes.

"The growing signs that individual EEU states are disillusioned with how membership in the Union has turned out should mean that there will be more willingness on their part to pursue a distinctly multi-vector foreign policy that seeks greater cooperation with both the EU, as well as China."

The Conquest Of Europe?

Former NATO commander Richard Barrons says Russia could deploy warplanes, ships, and troops to Europe within 48 hours. And it would take the Western alliance months to mount an effective counter-strike.

Estonian President: Don't Be Naive About Russia

In an interview with BuzzFeed, outgoing Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves warned European leaders against naivete in dealing with a revanchist Russia.

Crimea's Loyalist Ukrainians

Halya Coynash has a piece for the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group on the plight of Ukrainian citizens in Crimea who have refused to take Russian passports.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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