Storm-333: KGB and Spetsnaz seize Kabul, Soviet-Afghan War 1979

Out today, my latest Osprey, this time on the fateful Soviet commando operation that eliminated the (admittedly, thoroughly unpleasant) dictator of Afghanistan and kicked off the bloody and (practically) unwinnable ten-year Soviet invasion. Here’s the blurb:

Storm-333, the operation to seize Kabul and assassinate Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin, was at once a textbook success and the start of a terrible blunder. It heralded the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, an operation intended to be a short, largely symbolic show of force, yet which quickly devolved into a gritty ten-year counter-insurgency that Moscow was never able to win. Nonetheless, Storm-333 was a striking success, and despite initial concerns that it would be an impossible achievement, it saw a relative handful of Soviet special forces drawn from the KGB and the military seize the heavily defended presidential palace, neutralise the city’s communications and defences, and open Kabul to occupation. The lessons learned then are still valid today, and have been incorporated into modern Russian military practice, visible most recently in the seizure of Crimea in 2014.

As usual with Osprey books, it’s very visual, as you can see from the pictures, and it was interesting to write something so granular, day by day and literally minute by minute, based especially on Russian sources.

My next Osprey is also on Afghanistan, incidentally. Out in October in their Campaign series, it’s a look at the pivotal struggles for the Panjshir Valley.

Navalny, Protests and the Risk Calculus of the Securitocracy

Протестующий с плакатом, призывающим освободить Алексея Навального; Sergei Korneev, CC-SA 4.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Protester_on_the_pro-navalny_action.jpg

This is a summary of the discussion at the most recent of the online Russia Hybrid Seminar Series (RHSS) webinars held on 16 March 2021 by the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies (GCMC) in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The speakers were Mark Galeotti of Mayak Intelligence/UCL/RUSI and Andrei Kolesnikov of the Moscow Carnegie Center, and the discussion was moderated by Graeme Herd of the GCMC

RHSS#3 Summary:

Introduction

The questions pursued in RHSS#3 presentations and subsequent discussion were inter alia: Have protests reshaped the political calculus of the presidential administration and the ‘securitocracy’’s attitudes to the use of force within? How might the management of protests ahead of the September Duma elections change, as protest shifts from a ‘battle of maneuver’ to a ‘battle for position’? Does internal instability have a foreign policy consequences?

Late Putinism – the nature of the state

Putin came to power in 1999-2000 and assumed a legal-rational (‘dictatorship of the rule of law’) legitimation of his political authority.  By 2011-2012, a shift was underway, from legal-rational to historical-charismatic (“No Putin, no Russia”) legitimation.  By 2020-21, Putin legitimizes his political authority increasingly through national-patriotic mobilization and coercion, and Putin presides over a fully-fledged authoritarian regime and police state.  Core characteristics of the regime include:

  • an absence of a rotation of power and the presence of an imperial bureaucracy and enlarged military and security service sector;
  • a lack of any liberal or democratic impulses or even an authoritarian modernization project, i.e. late Putinism lacks a vision of the future;
  • a marketing of external and internal threats to bind a passive, conformist, indifferent and apathetic majority of the population to the state to legitimise the regime and keep it safe;
  • the all pervasive presence of the state which manifests itself by praetorian guard capitalism, an economy marked by a low dynamic, reflecting the lack of a law-based state, high levels of raiding, and a disproportionate allocation of resources for prestige state projects;
  • securitization of the political space and civil society, resulting in generational gaps where the views of active 18-24 year olds on Navalny and ‘foreign agents’ differ from those − more passive and conformist − in their 50s and 60s, but conservatism is a dominant trend in both generations; 
  • shrinking opportunities for change in the name of stability, characteristics include the lack of a positive agenda, which is a problem because repression of the opposition and wider civil society is not the same as mobilizing supporters around a compelling vision of the future.

Civil Society

  • The regime has criminalized not only political, but also civic activity.  As a result, civil society is being politicized, with Navalny a symbol of moral resistance to the regime.
  • A broken social contract and high levels of corruption drive the opposition and animate civil society protest.  Although Levada surveys indicate that 41% of respondents in 2017 wanted radical change and that in 2019 that number had risen to 57%, this indicates a declaration of a desire for change but  not the expectation that change will be forthcoming.
  • The State’s response is to try and make Navalny a person of the past by keeping him incommunicado and arresting team Navalny and other non-systemic opposition soft targets. Calibrated responses by the authorities attempt to manage the situation and prevent a mobilization, hardening and crystallization of the opposition.
  • Pensions and pandemic (but not yet Putin) rather than economic mismanagement elicit a psycho-emotional opposition to the regime. Putin the president remains, in the eyes of “his” majority, the unquestioned symbol of national unity; Putin the politician—i.e., the specific actions that he takes and the officials whom he appoints—is perceived as fallible. Nevertheless, ‘rational conformism’ results in the Putin majority voting for Putin approved candidates.
  • In the upcoming September Duma elections, ‘smart’ voting (direct votes to whichever candidate can beat United Russia) will have the unintended effect of giving the impression of political pluralism in Russia, whereas in fact all systemic opposition parties (and only these parties will be registered) are controlled by the state. 

Securitocracy

  • This strata of law enforcement agencies, prosecuting bodies and the security service are not a monolithic bloc but one within which fluid alignments and rivalries proliferate:
    • Institutional factional rivalries exist, for example, between the Interior Ministry and police who resent OMON and the National Guard (NG) – the police resent having had to clean up after NG deployments and having been provided early access to vaccination and preferential equipment; 
    • The temporary alliances are formed.  For example, even alliances forged between NG and FSB, who are in the vanguard of repression, have their limits. An example of this is the FSB’s veto of the NG’s attempts to create its own investigation committee, as this was perceived to encroach on the power of the FSB;
    • The newly appointed first deputy director of the FSB, Sergei Korolev, has a very unsentimental view of those above him in the chain of command.
  • The Orthodox chekist mindset of the securitocracy is one of defensiveness, ever more repressive and non-responsive to public opinion.  The managers of the authoritarian system, including or above all the siloviki, do not fear a radical democratic breakthrough resulting from mass protest, but worry about the accumulated friction and costs imposed on them in their role as managers of stability.  They feel embattled and defensive and so embrace entrenchment. Managers want to hold on to power and money (not just control but continue to own the country’s resources) at all cost.
  • Reforms or any kind of modernization (even economic) are not possible under Putin; any modernization puts in question the very foundations of his system. Only small changes are possible from within with the help of relatively young appointees − technocrats controlled by the siloviki, who formulate real political priorities. As Putin has completed the nationalization of elites, technocrats are beholden to and hostages of Putin. Take, for instance, the example of Sergei Kiriyenko, leader of the political bloc and first deputy chief of staff of the presidential administration – he is now bound to Putin for the rest of his career. As a result, an elite conspiracy in the shape of a ‘palace coup’ against Putin is not possible. As the breakup of the FSB would be one of the first reforms in a democratic break-through scenario, Bortnikov, Ivanov and Patrushchev (current and former FSB directors) will resist any regime change until the end.  
  • Disruptive unknowns include regional debt defaults; technological breakthroughs that can undercut Russia’s commodities export business model; and political blunders (such as the Navalny botched Novichok assassination attempt).

Foreign Policy Implications

  • Navalny and protests in Russia undercut Putin’s attempts to ease Lukashenka out of power under the cover of constitutional change and reform. Putin is hostage to his rhetoric on western containment and protest as ‘color revolution’.  Lukashenka instrumentalises this to his advantage (‘we can’t bow to the street and western security service manipulation’).
  • Generally, foreign policy has lost the ability to unify and animate Putin’s majority, but under some scenarios we may see foreign adventurism, especially those involving reactions to perceived external threats:
    • If Kyiv launched a military campaign to retake the Donbas, Moscow would feel it had no option but to punch back and that it could use this opportunity to push further. This would be another example of ‘offensive defensiveness’ in response to a perceived existential challenge to Russian credibility.
    • If the Belarus opposition turned violent Putin could and most likely would intervene militarily.
  • In general, however, there are likely to be only low cost moves useful for public consumption. An example would be Russian anti-piracy operations off the coast of Sudan to demonstrate Russia’s global role. 
  • Russia is not so ‘post-post imperial’ as Dmitry Trenin and Vladimir Frolov have suggested, focused on rational, non-ideological, pragmatic costs/benefits calculations.  Russia is still imperial in outlook. Putin perceives himself as Tsar of Eurasia and seeks to create a quasi-empire out of the non-recognized states on Russia’s periphery.
  • Confrontation with the U.S. is the norm; relations with the EU have deteriorated to a record low and will continue to remain there; and offensive cyber operations as well as active measures will continue.  Offering concessions to Russia in the name of pragmatic and flexible cooperation will not alleviate Russia’s narrative of western encroachment, encirclement and containment. The West does not have to confirm Russia’s claim to Great Power status as it defines it. Russia’s placing of its own interests above the sovereignty of neighboring states is neither aligned with Western national interest nor its democratic norms and values.

Critical Thresholds and Drivers of Change

As Russians are habituated to the circumstances and rules of an authoritarian political regime, a democratic breakthrough precipitated by street protests is highly unlikely.  It is still possible to envisage a more practical and realistic evolution of change – one that can be termed: ‘Medvedev 2.0’, that is, the attempt to achieve  authoritarian, top-down reform efforts, but without Medvedev as the post-Putin president. These could be set in motion by:

  • a realization within the regime that the absence of reforms creates more instability than stability and that, therefore, reform is needed for regime continuity.  Given that the siloviki are rich, cynical, pragmatic and determined to hold onto power, if reform and change is the means through which they think that they will stay in power, then they will go for it.
  • fear of trade-technological dependence on China and loss of strategic autonomy as this would  restore or enhance pride, prestige, status and power. Reform in such a context would be a means to preserves Putinism and resists Xi-ism.
  • intra-elite struggles and factional infighting as the competitive goals of key factions clash: reforms enable a re-division of resources and power.
  • generational developments within the siloviki. The current seniors have very different horizons than the 50-something-year-old colonels who now do the heavy lifting in the system, but still have up to 20 years in active service. These younger mid-level managerial strata are all members of the Russian middle class; enjoy stable incomes and predictable career trajectories.  They have incentives to undertake reform to maintain their consumption habits and status.
  • gradual loss of active support of the population. Reforms could provide safety valves, and new political narrative that can bind Putin’s passive majority to the regime and encourage conformism.  The performative politics involved in anti-corruption show trials, for example, can be the answer to the demand that ‘something must be done’.

Disclaimer: This summary reflects the views of the authors (Mark Galeotti, Graeme P. Herd and Andrei Kolesnikov) and are not necessarily the official policy of the United States, Germany, or any other governments.

Sanctioning Putin’s Staff – why it is not “Putin’s friends” who are being targeted

Although formal confirmation is still pending, there seems a consensus that the EU has chosen, in its usual timorous way, to sanction just 4 Russian officials in retaliation for Aleksei Navalny’s kangaroo-court conviction: Investigative Committee (SK) head Alexander Bastrykin, Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), Prosecutor-General Igor Krasnov, and Viktor Zolotov, head of the National Guard. Predictably, debate swirls around who they may be, and whether targeting them will affect Putin’s future political calculi. Already, I’m seeing some claiming they are “Putin’s friends,” so let me do my best to scotch that right now. They are not his friends, they are his staff.

Bastrykin was a classmate of Putin’s reading law at Leningrad State University back in the early 1970s. That meant that when he and Igor Sechin were lobbying Putin to make the SK independent of the Prosecutor-General in 2007 (for they own reasons: Bastrykin was ambitious and didn’t get on with new Genprok Yuri Chaika, Sechin wanted to maintain influence over prosecutions now that his tame Genprok Vladimir Ustinov was gone), Putin was aware of him. These kind of weak human ties do matter, especially in such a personalised system, and meant that Putin was more favourably inclined than he might otherwise have been.

However, I have seen absolutely no evidence (readers: if you have, please let me know) that Bastrykin is a “friend”: no pictures of them sharing some social activity, no family connections, nothing. Indeed, Bastrykin, aware that he has no special dispensation from the boss, and singularly lacking in allies, actually has to work constantly to demonstrate his value and loyalty to the Kremlin. The parallel I have used in the past is that, like a shark, he has to keep swimming or he drowns.

What about Zolotov? Having been first one of Putin’s bodyguards and then head of his security detail, he undoubtedly is closest to the Body. Again, though, this is the relationship of a trusted lackey rather than a chum. He does get the occasional invite to attend Putin’s Night Hockey League – a ritual of imperial self-indulgence, in which the president inevitably scores the most goals and attracts the most fulsome praise – but as a spectator, not a player. He used to be a judo sparring partner of Putin’s, but again I think that was just when he was working his security.

Like Bastrykin, he is valuable because he is loyal – and because he has nowhere else to go, lacking friends or allies within the system with the questionable exception of Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov. That what makes him so useful, hence his appointment as the head of the newly-formed National Guard in 2016, and so dangerous. He too has to keep swimming and, shark that he is, biting.

As for the lower-profile Kalashnikov, he started his career in the Ministry of Internal Affairs before switching to the KGB and thence FSB before moving upwards and across to become head of FSIN in 2019. I can see no evidence of his early career intersecting with Putin’s (he joined the KGB in 1988, by which time Putin was already in Dresden, and working in wholly different arms of that sprawling octopus), nor of any contact since.

Krasnov is in some ways even less of a Putin man. For sure, he would not have been appointed Prosecutor-General had the boss had any qualms about him, and as a former deputy of Bastrykin’s he is presumably a loyalist. In fairness, though, he also has a good reputation within law enforcement circles as an investigator who follows the evidence; it was noteworthy that he was originally leading the enquiry into the murder of Boris Nemtsov, and as soon as he uncovered the Chechen connection, it was handed to a more ‘political flexible’ case officer. Again, I can see no evidence of a personal relationship with the boss.

All four absolutely have played their parts in Navalny’s persecution. Bastrykin has been at the fore of the campaign of questionable court cases, not least pushing for the re-opening of the case on which he has now been imprisoned. Kalashnikov’s FSIN made the formal charge that he had breached the terms of his probation while recovering in Germany. Krasnov must have accepted if not initiated any investigations. And Zolotov’s goons were the front line dealing with the protests that erupted.

So it is not that I think they are innocents maligned. But the notion that these are “Putin’s friends,” whose fate will in any way affect Kremlin policy, is at best a shabby attempt to justify the EU’s lacklustre response, at worst a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s going on.

One of the metaphors I like to use is of a traditional country house. Putin is the master, and he and his friends – the Rotenbergs and the like – are having a ball. Then there are some who are gentry tenants and similar hangers on: socially acceptable, possibly useful allies and clients, but not social equals. These, the Patrushevs and Shoigus, are there in their Sunday best, enjoying the drink and cheering on the dances, but careful not to transgress. Maybe Prigozhin is there, but maybe not.

Then there is the huge apparatus of ‘below stairs’: the cooks and gardeners, maids and manservants, gamekeepers and stableboys who keep everything running. The prime minister, Mishustin, is the chief butler, obsequious to the master, a tyrant to the staff, and no doubt happy to divert a little of the housekeeping his way. There is an arcane hierarchy within the staff, formal and implicit. Bastrykin, Zolotov, Kalashnikov and Krasnov are all staff. Perhaps Zolotov, as the master’s chief gamekeeper, is rather better known to him than, say, Kalashnikov, but they are still all staff.

The master cares about them in a general, paternalistic way. They get an extra ruble on a feast day. But there are always more applicants for every vacant position than openings, and the master knows they are lucky to get a job at the big house. They come, they go, he doesn’t pay too much attention, because life above stairs is sweet, and there is another ball next weekend.

What’s Navalny’s sanctions strategy?

With Alexei Navalny’s return into the mailed fist of FSIN, his ally Vladimir Ashurkov yesterday released the top eight names of an apparently rather longer list of people Navalny identified as his sanctions ‘wish list’ before he flew to Berlin. It is worth looking at this list in a little more detail to get a sense of what Navalny’s sanctions strategy may be. This shortlist is (copied with descriptions from Ashurkov’s Facebook post):

Roman Abramovich – one of the key enablers and beneficiaries of Russian kleptocracy, with significant ties/assets in the West.

Denis Bortnikov – Deputy President and Chairman of VTB Bank Management Board. He is the son of Alexander Bortnikov, FSB director and a key ally of Vladimir Putin, and he has been acting as a “wallet” for his father’s ill-gotten gains.

Andrey Kostin – President and Chairman of the Management Board of state-owned VTB Bank, a key facilitator of corrupt money flows related to the functioning of the Russian government and security services.

Mikhail Murashko – Minister of Healthcare of Russia, responsible for covering up Alexey’s poisoning and hindering efforts to evacuate him to Germany for medical treatment.

Dmitry Patrushev – Minister of Agriculture of Russia. He is the son of Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Security Council of Russia and a key ally of Vladimir Putin, and he has been acting as a “wallet” for his father’s ill-gotten gains.

Igor Shuvalov – Chairman of the State Development Corporation VEB.RF, a former senior government official, who has been instrumental in creating the system of state corruption, which took over the Russian political and legislative institutions.

Vladimir Solovyev – a key Russian state media personality, one of the primary mouthpieces of authoritarian propaganda.

Alisher Usmanov – one of the key enablers and beneficiaries of Russian kleptocracy, with significant ties/assets in the West.

This is an interestingly mixed collection, from which three main lines of attack emerge, which I could categorise as:

His attackers: With people such as FSB director Alexander Bortnikov already being under sanctions, instead two of these look directly connected with the attempted poisoning. Murashko, obviously, considering the treatment he faced from the Russian medical system (as opposed to the individual first responders and doctors who saved his life, probably at the expense of their careers), but also Solovyev, a particularly toxic individual even by the standards of Russian TV ‘shock jock’ style presenters. Solovyev – who called Navalny “Nazi scum” on TV last year, perhaps relishing the chance for revenge after Navalny’s 2017 revelations of his opulent lifestyle and hypocrisies – was a particularly outspoken cheerleader for the state’s cover-up after the poisoning. Given that the precedent to hit those peddling state lies especially enthusiastically has already been established with Russia Today director Dmitry Kiselev, Navalny presumably is happy to build on this. One wonders if people like RT’s Margarita Simonyan may be on the long list. The message is presumably that if you actively take part in hostile actions against Navalny, you become a target.

‘Wallets and Facilitators’: Others are those Navalny presents – often having produced video exposes to this end – as front men, bag carriers and agents for other individuals already under sanction. In other words, they are sanctions-busters. Kostin, Bortnikov Jr and Patrushev Jr  are in these terms not so much important for who they are, but who they serve or represent. The message, I assume, is proxies are as guilty as those they represent.

Kleptocrats: It is certainly not the case that every rich Russia is rich because Putin made him rich, or stays rich because he is an eager Putin crony, ally or agent. Nonetheless, Navalny has targeted Abramovich and Usmanov – perhaps as well known in the UK as anything else for owning Chelsea and, until 2018, having a major stake in Arsenal – as two symbolic leaders of the pack. I’m surprised, to be honest, that such even closer figures as Rosneft’s Gor Sechin aren’t here, but then again it may be that to Navalny – not without reason – the Sechins of this world are really nothing but Putin’s proxies, whereas Abramovich and Usmanov choose to collaborate with the Kremlin. Honestly I was wondering whether Shuvalov should go in the previous category or this one, but I suspect he really fits here, as someone who chose his path. It’s hard to tell for certain, but I presume the message is: if you deliberately choose to dine with the devil, you can expect to be exorcised.

Of course, only when the full list becomes known will we have the data to make a better assessment of the kind of strategy Navalny may have in mind. What is interesting is that all three of these lines of attack seem well-chosen to be able to fit UK, US and EU sanctions regimes, which allow measures to be brought to bear when it would punish human rights abuses or encourage better behaviour (the first), to strike at sanctions-busters (the second) and to deliver a rebuke to those prospering from a regime engaged in breaches of human rights (the third).

The key question, of course, is one of political will. It is all very well Navalny giving Western governments a list of the people he believes deserves to be sanctioned. But will they listen and think it worth the while doing anything about it, or just stick to the expressions of “grave concern” which the Kremlin is, by now, eminently used to ignoring.

FSB chief in Tomsk when Navalny was poisoned moving to higher things

When Alexei Navalny was poisoned in Tomsk last August, it was by an FSB team from a now-notorious Moscow-based unit, under the auspices of the Third Service, the FSB’s scientific and technical wing. However, it is inconceivable that the unit would have flown to Tomsk and carried out the operation without at least notifying the local FSB, especially as surveillance specialists from the ORU, the Operational Investigative Directorate, as well as local officers of the Tomsk FSB’s Service for the Protection of the Constitutional System and the Fight against Terrorism would have been watching Navalny and his people.

Who was in charge then of the Tomsk Region UFSB or FSB Directorate? Major General Dmitry Ivanov. Since then, he has been moved to take over the Chelyabinsk UFSB, which may sound like a sideway move, but is actually diagonally upwards. This is not only a larger and more powerful UFSB but, as one inside source put it to a local news outlet, “Ivanov was sent to Chelyabinsk because it is one of the most profitable places in the country in terms of dealing with high-profile corruption cases.” Profitable? There certainly will be opportunities for personal enrichment: a former Chelyabinsk UFSB chief, Yuri Nikitin, acquired the unflattering nickname “Yura 5%” both for manipulating bonuses (his subordinates had theirs shaved 5% to boost his own) and also, some suggest, his rake-offs from local deals.  However, this is also as a chance to make a splash striking at corrupt police (not FSB, of course) and also criminal-official rackets (of which the South Urals abounds). His predecessor, Sergei Sizov, made a splash with a bribe-taking case against the ex-mayor of Chelyabinsk, Evgeny Teftelev.

The idea is that then he will be ready for a transfer to every Chekist’s dream posting: Moscow. Ivanov has done his time, having worked his way up through the Novosibirsk Region UFSB before being transferred to Tomsk in 2016. Sizov is moving to Novosibirsk – that is a lateral move – and only a year and a half since appointment. The chatter is that he was pushed precisely to give Ivanov this jump, suggesting he has been fast-tracked for Moscow.

The planned move likely predated the poisoning, although it may have accelerated things, helping account for Sizov’s unusually rapid move. Still, it clearly didn’t hurt. The system clearly knows that it has to reward good soldiers, especially when they are expected to do bad things.

Does a suicide in the Kremlin Guard reflect wider woes?

The news that an officer of the Federal Guard Service (FSO: Federal’naya sluzhba okhrany) committed suicide in the Kremlin has triggered a few press enquiries, so let me just put a little background out. (I’d add that I’m planning on a proper profile of the FSO in a future episode of my In Moscow’s Shadows podcast).

Although the Baza Telegram channel, which named the individual as one Mikhail Zakharov, claimed he was actually one of Putin’s bodyguards – which would make him part of the Presidential Security Service (SBP: Sluzhba bezopasnosti prezidenta), a sub-division of the FSO, most other Russian news sources are contradicting this last point. It thus seems more likely that he is part of the Presidential Regiment, formally the Independent Red Banner Order of the October Revolution Regiment of the Commandant’s Office of the Moscow Kremlin, or in other words the Kremlin Guard.

This 5,500-man force, subordinated to the Kremlin Commandant, Lt. Gen. Sergei Khlebnikov, is an elite protection force. Its barracks are inside the Kremlin, in ‘Block 14’ – the Arsenal building – on the other side of the complex from Cathedral Square, where the incident reportedly took place. Its officers all have to meet demanding physical fitness requirements, be at least 190 cm tall and never have been registered at a psychiatric facility, as well as pass an intensive background check (simply having a close relative living abroad is enough for disqualification). They are the men in wear blue uniforms around the Kremlin – and the men in dark blue-green parade uniform standing on guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexandrovsky Gardens.

The FSO has a range of other elements and roles, from the drivers of the Special Garage to the analysts poring over opinion poll data or hints of a serious threat in the president’s correspondence. Arguably, though, their political muscle has diminished since the retirement of former director Evgeny Murov in 2016; a veteran with considerable behind the scenes clout, Murov was replaced by Dmitri Kochnev, a serious and professional figure, but not someone with the same authority.

Since then, there have been subdued grumbles even from this elite force. It used to be that as well as relatively high salaries (and elevated ranks), they could convert the inevitable overtime they accrued into early retirement. That last perk was summarily removed, and at present they do not even get overtime pay. They are often expected to defer or reschedule vacations, and while they get good medical care in Moscow, the culture is still one which frowns on taking recovery time. Besides which, there is also a keen awareness that their cousins in the FSB and MVD get extracurricular opportunities from bribe-taking to moonlighting in private security. The former is not really an option for regular FSO officers and the latter strictly banned. This, plus the tough entry requirements, may help explain with the Presidential Regiment is currently under-strength, exacerbating the other problems.

Zakharov was also apparently going through a divorce – it could well be that this was nothing more than a personal tragedy, with no professional implications. However, there is a bit of a pattern. In March, one of the snipers from FSO Military Unit 11488 appears to have shot himself at home. Last year, an officer from one of the regional FSO departments – the Volga Federal District unit of the Special Communications and Information Directorate – threatened his superior officer with his service sidearm over a dispute over changed holiday schedules.

Tough conditions, arbitrary management and poor relations between officers and men are long-running problems in the Russian security sector. However, it is striking that a time when the police and the armed forces have certainly put efforts into addressing them, that the FSO seems to be lagging behind. I can’t help feel that if I were the president, I’d want my Praetorians to be a little happier and more relaxed.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: