It's not everyday that LifeNews gets raided. And when it does, it is usually a signal that something pretty significant is going on.
LifeNews, of course, is a pro-Kremlin "news" organization with close ties to the Federal Security Service (FSB). In fact, it's practically an adjunct of the FSB. It's used for all sorts of purposes, such as smearing Kremlin opponents, planting disinformation, and floating trial balloons.
To raid LifeNews you need to have some serious juice behind you.
So what's going on? It's early yet, but there are a few data points out there to connect.
According to initial press reports and a statement on the LifeNews website, the raid was triggered by a complaint that one of its reports on crimes against minors revealed personal information about the victims. Russian law prohibits news organizations from revealing any identifying information about underage crime victims.
But of course, nothing in Russia is ever that simple. Pro-Kremlin outfits rarely, if ever, get targeted in cases like this. And when they do, it is invariably the result of some kind of palace intrigue.
The complaint against LifeNews's report came from the rights organization Soprotivlenie, or Resistance. The group is run by Olga Kostina, the wife of political fixer Konstantin Kostin.
Currently, Kostin runs a think tank called the Civil Society Development Foundation. But he has a long Kremlin resume. He worked on Boris Yeltsin's 1996 reelection, on Vladimir Putin's 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, and on Dmitry Medvedev's in 2008.
He also served in the Kremlin's political department from 2008-12. And significantly -- and this is where it gets really interesting -- he is widely considered to be one of Vladislav Surkov's chief lieutenants. In fact, Kremlin-watchers have long considered him Surkov's right-hand-man.
So is this the hand of Surkov? The evidence is highly circumstantial -- but worth considering.
Once the Kremlin's chief spin doctor and ideologist, Surkov has seen his influence wane considerably since Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin in 2012. He lost his position as deputy Kremlin chief of staff and chief political operative to Vyacheslav Volodin, a bitter rival.
But Putin is known to value Surkov and kept him close as a Kremlin adviser. He has played a major role in the Ukraine crisis and is widely believed to covet his old job and status.
And, oh by the way, Surkov is a close ally of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. And since the February 27 assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Kadyrov has been locked in a bitter struggle with whom? The FSB.
Again, it is very early and all this is very circumstantial. But my initial reaction to the raid on LifeNews is that it seems to be one of those data points that suggests some serious -- and potentially consequential -- Kremlin infighting.
-- Brian Whitmore