Who actually is in the Investigations Committee?

SKThe Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (SKRF) is, of course, the current bête noir of every liberal Russia-watcher, but beyond big bad Bastrykin and his press spokesman/vicar on earth/Mouth of Sauron Vladimir Markin, we hear and know very little about just who else its staff may be. I’m thus indebted to Sean Guillory for pointing me towards an article in Russkaya Planeta (a source I confess new to me) which cited data from a 2010 issue of that riveting page-turner The Journal of the Investigations Committee (Vestnik Sledstvennogo komiteta) which provide a slightly-dated but nonetheless fascinating snapshot.

At the time, the full-time complement of the SK was 19,156 people (excluding military personnel and civilian  investigators working in the military but assigned to the Committee).

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Moscow bans Preet Bharara because he does his job…

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…and, it seems, the Kremlin’s patience

В русском языке

At least the latest Russian response to the Magnitsky List wasn’t quite as petulant, spiteful and foolish as its previous asymmetric ‘tit for tat,’ barring US parents from adopting Russian orphans. That is, however, about the most positive thing one can say about the new “Bout List.” It targets 18 former and current officials involved in the cases of arms dealer Viktor Bout and convicted drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshchenko (and a few connected with GITMO), including US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who led the Bout prosecution.

Whether this kind of response does anything but worsen already-poor US-Russian relations (it doesn’t) and make Russia look clumsy and ugly (it does) is grist for others’ mills for the moment. I wanted very briefly to note the irony of targeting Bharara. Sure, he oversaw the Bout prosecution. But what else has he done:

  • Targeted insider trading and abuses within the US financial system, such that Time, in its usual understated way had a cover blaring that “This Man is Busting Wall Street.” Moscow has long complained about double-standards in US statements about Russian financial crime and called for the Americans to clean up their own act first.
  • Highlighted abuses in NY State politics, warning that “It becomes more and more difficult to avoid the sad conclusion that political corruption in New York is indeed rampant,” as “a show-me-the-money culture in Albany is alive and well.” Frankly, give this man a slot on RT!
  • Prosecuted Al-Qaeda terrorist Faisal Shahzad. Last time I checked, Moscow thought Al-Qaeda (which, rightly or wrongly, they see at work in the North Caucasus) was their enemy too.

I don’t know Bharara myself, and I’m sure he’s also driven by the usual combination of hubris, ambition and professionalism that pushes the rest of us, too. But what does seem clear is that he has done far more than most to identify many of the abuses and flaws within mighty US institutions. Of course, he has done so from the point of view of a believer in the system, looking to correct them, but nonetheless what Moscow needs, frankly, is not to ban and castigate people like him, but rather to find its own Preet Bhararas. After all, although I am hardly the greatest fan of lawyers, honest and effective prosecutors can be extraordinary forces for change and progress. Consider the Italian magistrates Falcone and Borsellino who did so much to undermine the Mafia in life and arguably even more after their deaths.

Ah. Maybe that’s the point.

Good Times for the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (SKRF)

The Investigations Committee (SKRF) under Alexander Bastrykin has emerged as the focus of the maximalist, hardline school of thought within the Russian elite as regards the new protest movement. It is by no means a line universally shared, but if we were wondering how well it is playing to those who finally make the decisions, it is worth looking at the provisions of a new draft law.

A solid analysis in Izvestiya outlines how the law, snappily titled “On amendments to some legislative acts of the Russian Federation in connection with improving the structure of preliminary investigation,” will:

  • Give the SK prime responsibility for investigating some 2 million crimes a year.
  • Grant the SK wider powers to investigate VIPs: judges, prosecutors, parliamentarians, even siloviki from the military, intelligence services, police, even the FSB.
  • Transfer investigators from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) to the SK
  • See the SK expand from its present strength of 23,000 to some 60,000 investigators and staff. (As a corollary, it will have to acquire new premises, too.)
  • Increase the SK’s budget by 97.5 B rubles ($3 B).

The law has been passed from the Presidential Administration on to the government (showing the Kremlin’s support for it) and is meant to be fully in force by 1 January 2013. The MVD and FSKN will not lose all their investigators, but to rub in the current change in their fortunes, the SK will cherry-pick those it wants. The MVD will lose all its regional investigations units, while the FSKN is to lose some 5,200 staff by 2016, around 12% of its total complement.

So, the SK will acquire a particular role in deciding when criminal cases will be opened on serious charges, especially members of the opposition… and members of the elite. Obviously potential doesn’t always equal intent, but it does mean that the SK is becoming what Bastrykin appears to want to make it, the universal Kremlin enforcement, Putin’s Swiss army knife.

That said, Bastrykin ought not to be popping champagne corks quite yet. Progress in transferring investigators to the SK is moving more slowly than anticipated. In part this probably reflects a rear-guard action by the MVD and FSKN, as they hope this initiative can be foiled, delayed, diluted or reversed somewhere down the line. It is also because recent pay hikes for MVD staff mean that where once they were the badly-paid poor cousins (meaning that most people jumped at opportunities to move into more elitny and better-paid agencies like the FSB and SK), now they fear that they will actually suffer a pay cut.

Nonetheless, the SK is definitely on the rise. Combined with the recent elevation of hardline Moscow police ‘anti-extremism’ chief Timur Valiulin, then insofar as one can read anything from developments amongst the siloviki, the Kremlin seems to be preparing for a crackdown. The 15 September protests will be an interesting test case.

Waiting for the Bastrykinshchina?

на русском языке

The “shchina” is one of those splendid and distinctive features of Russian history and language: it literally just turns a name or word into a generic thing, but in effect, it tends to mean the “bad time” associated with someone or something. In the twentieth century, it essentially has connotations of purge and repression: the 1937-8 Yezhovshchina when Yezhov’s NKVD swept through the CPSU, butchering and banishing to the Gulags, the 1946-52 Zhdanovshchina that forced Soviet culture in a Manichean mould; dedovshchina, “grandfatherism,” the seniority-based culture of bullying that still afflicts the armed forces; and so on.

A little tongue-in-cheek, as I certainly don’t anticipate any mass purges or convoys of hapless prisoners heading off for forced labor projects (Skolkolag, anyone?), but I did find myself wondering how long before we start to think of the potential for a bastryshchina?

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Shuffling the siloviki: who may be the winners and losers in 2012?

With Putin’s presidential election over, now the question becomes who will make it into the new government, at a time when some insiders are suggesting there may be some substantial change. On the whole, the siloviki tend not to experience particularly rapid reshuffles, but there are some who are looking more vulnerable. In a couple of columns for the Moscow News, I look first at the three key silovik ministers (Serdyukov at Defense, Nurgaliev of the MVD and Prosecutor General Chaika), and secondly at the chiefs of the main security and intelligence services (FSB, SVR, GRU, FSKN, FSO). After all, it’s not just about personalia: the decisions about who stays and goes and more to the point the nature and origins of any new hires will say a lot about what Putin plans for the future, and what he fears.

Tracing the Faultlines within the Russian Security Community

This week I’m speaking on ‘The Security Services and Russia’s Perceptions of Security Challenges and Threats’ at What Future for Russia?, which promises to be a very interesting event put on by NUPI. Apart from castigating myself for the bad planning of agreeing to go to Scandinavia in what seems to be the midst of Fimbulwinter, and flying there via Iceland, at that, this also got me thinking about the very notion of lumping ‘the security services’ together into one camp.

Of course, there are some broad traits which unite them, from a commitment to Russian national security to a common interest in talking up the challenges to it, in order to guarantee continued budgetary priority and political privilege. However, especially now that more and more the prospect of a post-Putin era is being contemplated — not that he’s likely to be going any day now, but people are no longer blithely regarding another twelve years as inevitable — then a variety of internal faultlines become increasingly significant.

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