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Target: Bastrykin

Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin at Victory Day parade on May 9.
Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin at Victory Day parade on May 9.
Aleksandr Bastrykin must be having a horrible summer.

Last week, the Investigations Committee chief was forced to deal with his second scandal in just over a month when anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny relentlessly tweeted documents detailing his ownership -- in violation of Russian law -- of a real estate company in the Czech Republic.

The story isn't actually new. It was broken by investigative journalist and State Duma deputy Aleksandr Khinshtein back in 2008, shortly after Bastrykin became a bona fide political heavyweight when he was named head of the newly formed Investigative Committee.

Bastrykin denied the story back then, but was unable to do so anymore once Navalny began circulating Czech Justice Ministry documents proving it on his blog and on Twitter, with delightfully mischievous hashtags like #АгентБастрыкин (AgentBastrykin).

Last week's embarrassment for Russia's top cop, of course, came on the heels of last month's infamous incident in the woods, when Bastrykin reportedly had "Novaya gazeta's" deputy editor, Sergei Sokolov, whose unflattering coverage displeased him, hauled out to a forest near Moscow where he threatened the journalist's life.

But at this point, the most interesting aspect of Bastrykin's scandal-ridden summer is less the details of the cases and more why these things are being aired and who is behind them.

In Russia, such indignities don't normally happen to somebody so powerful by accident. And when they do, it usually means that somebody is in the crosshairs of somebody just as powerful.

So, who is out to get Bastrykin? And why?

A common denominator in the two scandals has been Khinshtein's role in promoting them. When the Sokolov forest incident came to light, Khinshtein tweeted it feverishly and even called for an investigation in the Duma.

And, of course, Khinshtein first broke the Czech real estate story and pushed it anew on Twitter last week.

Khinshtein is no ordinary investigative journalist. According to media reports he is closely tied to the security services -- particularly to elements within the Federal Security Service (FSB) -- and his articles are often used to spark broader attacks on targets of choice and opportunity.

Over the years he has gone after officials ranging from former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo to ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

So despite the fact that Bastrykin has some very powerful friends -- he was a law school classmate of Vladimir Putin's and is reportedly close to Rosneft CEO and uber-silovik Igor Sechin -- he has clearly made powerful enemies as well.

According to New York University professor Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia's security services and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," Bastrykin's expansion of the Investigative Committee's competence and his success in gaining independence from any supervision, save Putin's, has raised alarm bells in silovikiland.

"Bastrykin overreached when he got the Investigative Committee to become an independent agency and hyped its role policing the siloviki, overtly the Interior Ministry and military but implicitly also [the] FSB and Federal Antinarcotics Service," Galeotti told me in an e-mail conversation.

Bastrykin also reportedly has very poor relations with Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika.

Moreover, Bastrykin and the Investigative Committee have clearly taken the lead in the Kremlin’s crackdown against the opposition, while the Interior Ministry and FSB have kept a much lower profile. And Bastrykin's methods appear to have other parts of the elite -- including some siloviki -- recoiling.

"The more he pushed the antidissent line for his own purposes, the more he seemed not only dangerous to the others but also to be moving into their turf," Galeotti wrote.

Of course politics often makes strange bedfellows, as was illustrated by the insider Khinshtein and the opposition figure Navalny briefly reading from the same script last week.

But in comments to Russian media on July 30, Khinshtein insisted that he was not in cahoots with the anticorruption blogger.

"The enemy of my enemy is still not my friend," Khinshtein said.

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Mark Galeotti will appear on the Power Vertical podcast on Friday, August 3 to discuss the ins and outs of Bastrykin's troubles and what they may mean for the ruling elite. So stay tuned!

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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