Accessibility links

Breaking News

The Spy Scandal Is Over. Next Comes The Reckoning

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (right) rides a Harley Davidson Lehman Trike as he arrives for a meeting with Russian and Ukrainian motorbikers at their camp near Sevastopol on July 24.
There has already been a lot written about Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's wacky weekend in Ukraine -- riding a motorcycle on Saturday and revealing that he met and sang patriotic songs with the 10 spies who were recently deported from the United States. (The Russia Monitor has a good write up here. You can read The Moscow Times report here. And for those who read Russian, Kommersant's Aleksei Kolesnikov weighs in here.)

The most significant thing I picked up from these otherwise amusing dispatches was Putin's revelation that the Russian agents were given up by a "traitor" and that the Russian authorities knew who this person was:

This is the result of betrayal and traitors always end badly. As a rule, they end up in the gutter as drunks or drug addicts...The special services live under their own laws, and everyone knows what these laws are.

Putin is not one to let something like this drop by accident. His comments seem to point to something that I have been expecting ever since the spy scandal wrapped up as those two airplanes landed at Vienna airport earlier this month.

With the exchange over and the spies safely home, the next thing to watch for is the reckoning. I have little doubt, especially after Putin's comments on Sunday, that a scapegoat will be found (or, perhaps, a real spy unmasked) inside the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). But this will not be the end of it.

As the Moscow-based defense and security analyst Pavel Felgenhauer recently wrote in "Novaya gazeta," Putin disdains the SVR and has long wanted to bring it under the control of the Federal Security Service:

The failure of the SVR operation did not simply disgrace Russia. It significantly undermined national security and for a long time to come... After the dust settles, a brutal purge of personnel in the SVR is inevitable, and it could be more than a matter of just replacing its chief, Mikhail Fradkov, and a few other intelligence men. We all know Vladimir Putin's longstanding dislike for the SVR, where under the Soviets his career never took off, and his kindly feelings toward the FSB. It is quite possible that in order to straighten out the SVR, it may be subordinated to the [FSB headquarters at] Lubyanka, as in Soviet times. Suddenly a good reason has arisen for restoring the intelligence community vertical: the great and terrible KGB.

It makes sense. Putin has in the past used security disasters to strengthen his beloved power vertical -- most notably scrapping the election of governors following the 2004 Beslan tragedy.

The recent spy scandal gives him the chance to reverse something he has always despised -- the post-Soviet breakup of his beloved KGB.

-- 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


Latest Posts

Latest Podcast