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FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square in Moscow.
FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square in Moscow.
Back in July there was a fair bit of media chatter that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would attempt to use the scandal surrounding the unmasking of 10 Russian agents in the United States to reshape the intelligence services (see the Power Vertical's coverage here and here).

Specifically, the reports -- which were based on unidentified intelligence sources -- suggested that the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) would be swallowed by the Federal Security Service (FSB). Such a move, which insiders say has long been on Putin's wish list, would essentially recreate a monolith Russian spy agency reminiscent of the old Soviet KGB -- reversing one of the landmark reforms of the early 1990s.

Putin himself fed this narrative when he suggested that the unmasking of the Russian spies "was the result of betrayal."

Apparently, Putin's comment was more than just the usual hyperbole. When news this week that a man identified as Colonel Shcherbakov, who ran Russia's deep-cover espionage operations in the United States, was responsible for unmasking the spy ring to American officials -- and has since defected.

It was a major intelligence coup for Washington. But as Leonid Belekhov, deputy editor-in-chief of the weekly "Sovershenno sekretno" notes in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, it also gives Putin the opening he has been waiting for:

In addition to removing [SVR director Mikhail] Fradkov from his post and replacing him with either [Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei] Naryshkin, or possibly somebody else, and then re-establish the FSB's Foreign Intelligence Service -- a long-cherished dream of [Security Council Secretary Nikolai] Patrushev and [FSB director Aleksandr] Bortnikov.

The daily "Kommersant," which broke the story of the Shcherbakov defection on Thursday, makes a similar prediction:

The investigation into the SVR's failure, which a number of Russian law-enforcement agencies are contributing to, has been called unprecedented. 'It's a big deal that will result in a lot of heads rolling,' a source familiar with the investigation told Kommersant. According to the source, talk has been revived that the SVR should be reformed and put back under the roof of the main intelligence agencies, from which it was removed by President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. 'Everybody is criticizing the removal of the SVR from the KGB structure. The most active supporter of changing things back is Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.

The "Kommersant" report by journalists Vladimir Solovyov and Vladislav Trifonov was based on information leaked by officials in the Russian intelligence community -- something that doesn't happen by accident.

And as if on cue, as soon at the story hit the streets lawmakers in the State Duma began calling for Fradkov's resignation and for the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate how the SVR failed to uncover Shcherbakov.

We will no doubt be hearing much more about this in the weeks and months ahead.

-- Brian Whitmore

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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