As I blogged earlier in the week, the GRU has just undergone a painful downsizing and downgrade. In the wake of the recent German spy scandal, which bears a striking resemblance to last summer's Anna Chapman debacle in the United States, the Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, has again found itself under unwelcome scrutiny. And as intelligence expert Andrei Soldatov recently wrote, the FSB -- the crown jewel of Russia's security apparatus, has found itself in its "most serious internal crisis in years."
I recently spoke with Russia expert Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University and author of the excellent siloviki-watching blog "In Moscow's Shadows" about the situation in the security services (sorry, no link as the interview is yet unpublished). Galeotti says Putin is moving quickly to bring the situation under control before next year's presidential election:
It's not that Putin has anything against the siloviki and the security apparatus, quite the opposite. Putin wants to remind them who is in charge and that the key thing they need to do is to do their jobs. They can enrich themselves as well, they can play political games as well, but they have to do their jobs.
That said, each of the main security services has its own set of problems. Let's take these one at a time.
As far as the GRU goes, Galeotti says a combination of insubordination and bad performance led Putin to make an example of it:
In addition to losing more than 1,000 officers and 80 generals, the GRU is about to lose its privileged access to the president and will report instead to the General Chief of Staff instead. (For a more detailed discussion of the changes at the GRU, see my post "Resetting the Siloviki.")
For its part, the SVR doesn't appear to have the GRU's insubordination problem, but it is suffering from a competence deficit in the eyes of many intelligence watchers.
Following last summer's embarrassing (and admittedly titillating) spy scandal in the United States involving 10 deep cover agents including the racy Chapman, the SVR came under intense scrutiny and fierce criticism. There were persistent rumors in the media that the service's director, Mikhail Fradkov, might lose his job and the SVR would be swallowed up by the FSB.
Fradkov and the Foreign Intelligence Service managed to weather that storm. But now, with the recent arrest of two deep cover agents in Germany, the SVR is again under the microscope.
Galeotti told me that he doesn't believe that the SVR would end up being be swallowed by the FSB, but -- depending on how the German scandal shakes out -- Fradkov could again find himself in jeopardy:
And what about the jewel of the crown, the FSB? With the GRU and the SVR under fire, they should be sitting pretty, right? Well, not so much according to Soldatov.
In a recent article, Soldatov explained that the FSB is currently plagued by a conflict between its senior officer and a rising younger generation eager to receive the perks their superiors enjoy.
Among the gripes, Soldatov writes, is that the senior officers are snapping up all the prime real estate along Moscow's prestigious Rublyovsky Shosse (an exclusive area favored by the Russian elite) as well as the most lucrative moonlighting jobs in state companies:
It is common practice for the FSB to place officers in large state-affiliated companies, such as Gazprom, to head their internal security operations. This is also a source of tension between generals and midranking officers, who receive much less money and fewer career opportunities. Generals receiving highly remunerative jobs in major companies are more easily tempted to forget the larger interests of the FSB. Instead, they focus on their “civilian” bosses in the business world, and their loyalty to the FSB gets shifted to second place. Thus, it is no wonder that FSB junior and midlevel officers are constantly bickering about corrupt generals.
It may seem banal and petty, but the issue is reportedly causing serious friction. The FSB, according to Soldatov, is also faced with a potential leadership problem because many of its senior officers are approaching retirement age:
Under such conditions and given the tensions and mistrust between senior and midlevel officers, there is very little chance that a group would appear from within the FSB capable of producing leaders or leveraging its influence prior to the elections. The age crisis has caused a paralysis of leadership, and the friction between the different generations has engendered passivity among mid-ranking officers.
For his part, Galeotti expects the FSB to face some form of shakeup in the near future:
Galeotti says Putin's basic message to the FSB is this: "Look, you are both corrupt and inefficient. If you want to be allowed to be corrupt, then you at least have to be efficient.
-- Brian Whitmore