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Russia: Expert Eyes Security Ties Among Siloviki

Headed for lives as 'siloviki'? (epa) December 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Russia today celebrates the "day of officials of state security agencies," known in the past as "Chekists' Day." RFE/RL correspondent Claire Bigg takes the opportunity to speak to Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Moscow-based Center for the Study of Elites at the Russian Academy of Sciences, who comments on her findings regarding the strong ties between the security services and the current composition of the Russian government elite.

RFE/RL: Your newly released study shows that 78 percent of Russia's elite show signs of being "siloviki" -- as former military or security service officials are known. Please tell us how you conducted this study.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya: Today, 26 percent of the current Russian elite are people who used to work in military institutions, including secret services. The 78 percent figure comes from my special analysis of the resumes of all those belonging to the Russian elite. A number of them used to work in so-called affiliated structures -- structures that were connected to the KGB during the Soviet era -- and it is fully possible that they too [had ties with the KGB]. But this is not a precise figure.

RFE/RL: How do these figures compare to the number of "siloviki" who held influential posts before Vladimir Putin came to power?

Kryshtanovskaya: Their numbers in power structures appear to have significantly risen. But for obvious reasons, nobody carried out such studies in Soviet times, so comparisons are very difficult. Under [Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev, people in epaulettes represented only 3.5 percent of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union's Communist Party. This is significantly less [than today]. But again, no deeper analysis is available.

RFE/RL: During the Soviet era, power structures focused primarily on security issues. To which spheres have the siloviki extended their influence?

Kryshtanovskaya: Most of them work in the sphere of security. But what is new, what emerged toward the end of Brezhnev's rules and intensified under Putin, is the fact that siloviki expanded to spheres that are not traditional for them -- politics and economics, both on a governmental level and in state-related companies.

RFE/RL: Were you surprised by your findings?

Kryshtanovskaya: Yes, I was surprised to find out that there are many siloviki in business circles, on the board of directors of companies connected to the government. This was a surprise for me.

RFE/RL: How is the mounting presence of siloviki among decision makers affecting Russia's course?

Kryshtanovskaya: The current authorities, President Putin and his entourage -- which consists largely of siloviki -- creates a mixed impression. On one hand, a lot of positive things have been done; the country is stable, people are more satisfied with life than they were in the 1990s. On the other hand, however, problems have emerged with regard to the democratic progress. This process has simply stalled, and in some instances it actually reversed.

Signs of the siloviki mindset are now visible both in domestic policy and foreign policy. The current policy is built on the search for enemies. Russia's foreign policy has taken a negative tack. Our population no longer knows who Russia's friends are. We carried out a poll recently. People named Russia's enemies with great enthusiasm, and the United States of course topped the list. But when asked who Russia's friends are, they had difficulties answering and after some hesitations they named only Belarus. This is linked to the mentality of the group of people who craft such policies.