Russia’s powerful Federal Security Service (FSB) has been transformed into a semicriminal structure that is functioning essentially as a “second government,” according to a new report by the Dossier (Dosye) Center, which is funded by a former oligarch and staunch critic of President Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The report, which was issued on June 11, is titled "How The FSB Determines The Politics And Economics Of Russia."
The security agency is described in the report as the main support of Putin’s ruling system, which has gained control over all other government institutions.
In particular, it says, the Defense Ministry, the Investigative Committee, the Prosecutor-General’s Office, and the Interior Ministry are "dependent on the FSB."
"In addition, representatives of the special services regularly influence the decisions of the courts, in violation of the independence of the judicial branch," the report says, adding that the lack of a separation of powers "threatens the security of the country."
Khodorkovsky told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that Dossier had been working on the report "for more than a year."
"We conducted several dozen interviews with experts, including some who worked for the FSB in the past and some who are working there now, as well as with people who for one reason or another were forced to have dealings with that agency," he said.
Khodorkovsky was once Russia’s richest man and a powerful oligarch. He was arrested in October 2003 and later sentenced to nine years in prison after being convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion in trials widely seen as politically motivated.
Most of the assets of his Yukos oil company ended up under the control of the Rosneft state oil company, which is run by close Putin ally Igor Sechin. Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky in December 2013, and he now lives abroad.
"The overall gist is that in a real sense you can call the FSB a 'second government of Russia,'" Khodorkovsky said. “That is, its activity in various areas of the public and economic life of the country far exceeds its constitutional authority.”
Putin, a former KGB officer, has ruled Russia as president or prime minister since 1999. He served as head of the FSB in 1998-99. Many of the most powerful and formerly powerful figures in his ruling system -- including Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, Rostec state corporation head Sergei Chemezov, former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, and former Russian State Railways head Vladimir Yakunin – have backgrounds in the Soviet and Russian security agencies.
The Dossier report also charges that some 126 pieces of real estate in the greater Moscow area – mostly lavish country houses – that formerly belonged to the Soviet KGB were privatized at bargain rates by key figures in the current security forces and then sold for significant profits.
Among those named in the alleged scheme were Yury Yakovlev, who headed the FSB’s economic security department from 2008 to 2016; Viktor Cherkesov, the former head of the Federal Anti-Narcotics Agency; Patrushev; Sechin; and another head of the Federal Anti-Narcotics Agency, Viktor Ivanov.
"The FSB, which is in charge of the fight against corruption and money-laundering in reality is providing cover for the whole Russian banking system in terms of money-laundering and cash flows," Khodorkovsky said, citing the 2019 case of former FSB officer Kirill Cherkalin, who was discovered to have 12 billion rubles ($185 million) in cash hidden in his apartment.
"I would say that what is really happening isn’t a battle against corruption but an effort to monopolize it," he said.