A Quick and Provisional GRU Update

Update: the afternoon I wrote this, it was announced that Lt Gen Igor Korobov has been appointed. Needless to say, I take full credit for forcing the Kremlin’s hand ;). Meanwhile Dyumin, perhaps as a consolation prize, perhaps because his position at the defence ministry had thus become untenable, moves across to become acting governor of Tula. So the military win this round – but apparently not easily.

 

GRU logoA month ago tomorrow, military intelligence chief Igor Sergun died of heart failure in the suburbs of Moscow (not in Lebanon, not anything exciting…). That the announcement of his successor would be delayed because of the long Christmas-to-Orthodox-New-Year holidays was expected. But despite a couple of times hearing suggestions that a name was about to be announced, no one yet.

It’s bad enough that we don’t even know what the agency should be called — it’s traditional form, the GRU, that even Putin uses, or the more anonymous GU (“the Main Directorate”) in official parlance? I talk a little about this in War On The Rocks here. But as the leadership vacuum continues to resist being filled, it is hard not to assume this is because the appointment is proving contentious. As near as I can tell–and all this needless ought to be taken with caution, as the people who really know aren’t going to tell–there is a three-cornered, asymmetric fight:

Steady As She Goes. The obvious stakeholders want the obvious choice: defence minister Shoigu, CoGS Gerasimov (probably) and the bulk of the GRU itself want one of Sergun’s deputies to succeed: Vyacheslav Kondrashev, Sergei Gizunov, Igor Lelin, or most likely, Igor Korobov. Obviously the new director’s interests and personality would have an impact, but essentially this is the continuity choice.

A Fork in the Road. Seemingly the least-likely option, being floated by a few senior figures within the regular Ground Forces, is one of their number. This is really to push forward their own agenda, which is to split the GRU, with one portion sticking to the “spy” stuff, and the other–taking with it the Spetsnaz commandoes–engaging in tactical reconnaissance, special ops and that kid of thing. I don’t at present see any wider constituency for this, although in such circumstances it is always possible the main candidates cancel each other out and open the way for the mutually-least-objectionable one.

Praetorians to the Fore. There has been something of a trend of late to see security apparatus insiders known to Putin, especially from the Presidential Security Service (SBP) and its parent, the Federal Guard Service (FSO) parachuted into key positions across the security sector. It could be that Putin will want to make sure a personal client is heading the GRU, in which case the obvious candidate would be Lt. Gen. Alexander Dyumin, whose strangely meteoric rise from presidential bullet-catcher to deputy defence minister in less than a year I have sketched here.

What I have to confess I don’t see any signs of, is a land-grab by any of the other intel agencies, notably SVR and FSB. The military is still not a bloc to mess with, and any such move would unite them more than anything else.

More security reshuffles: new head of Federal Protection Service ready?

fso_emblemNews today that Colonel Oleg Kliment’ev, head of the Presidential Security Service (SBP) has stepped down, although he’s rumoured to be making a move up, to become first deputy head of the Federal Protection Service (FSO), the agency of which the SBP is a part. If so, this could signal that FSO chief General Evgeny Murov will finally be taking his long-happening-never-quite-done retirement. The 70-year-old Murov, incidentally the longest serving of all Russia’s security chiefs, has long apparently been wanting to step down, but this has been delayed by the lack of a suitable successor — his deputy, Aleksei Mironov, was mooted as the likely new chief, but there were some doubts as to whether he was enough of a heavyweight — and also his quietly important role as the de facto answer to the age-old question of “who watches the watchers.” Any successor would have the have the strength of will and political authority to tangle with the FSB, etc. After all, the FSO does more than just guard the Kremlin and VIPs, but has filled a variety of unusual niches in the Putin system, and that this is still happening was demonstrated by the recent news that it takes part in a taskforce identifying areas where there is a greater risk of public disorder and throws money at local regeneration projects to head this off.

SBP veteran Dmitri Kochnev is being reported as Kliment’ev’s replacement, although this has not been formally confirmed.

Of course, Kliment’ev’s elevation would also reflect a further colonisation of the security elite by the SBP considering that Kliment’ev’s predecessor, Zolotov, is now first deputy interior minister. Perhaps not surprising if in troubled times Putin wants the people he knows best personally at key positions.

Thanks to Ekaterina Shulmann and Dainis Bushmanis for separately bringing this news to my attention.

Personnel Turnover in Russian Interior Ministry Hints at Responses to Growing Tide of Local Discontent

dog and omon

The Watchdogs are Ready

Mixed in with a collection of local law enforcement officers dismissed in Presidential Decree No. 616 of 11 December 2015, “On the Dismissal of and Appointment to Certain Federal Government Agencies,” is one ministerial change that might reflect current concerns. There are also signs of turnover within the regional MVD Interior Troops commands that could – and all one can do is speculate – likewise point to a desire to make sure the internal security forces are in good shape and ready for action.

The full list of scalps is:

  • Col. Elena Alekseeva, assistant to the Interior Minister and press spokesperson
  • General Artur Akhmetkhanov, Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of North Ossetia
  • Sergei Gubarev, police chief of Vladimir region
  • General Viktor Kiryanov, Deputy Interior Minister.
  • Major General Alexei Kozhevin, deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate to Ensure the Protection of Public Order and Liaison with Regional Executive Bodies in the Regions
  • Major General of Justice Tatyana Sergeeva, head of the Investigation Committee’s Investigation Directorate for the Tula region
  • Major General Igor Tolstonosov, head of head of the Federal Anti-Narcotics Service in the Tomsk region
  • General Viktor Shalygin, head of the Federal Penitentiary Service for the Republic of Bashkortostan
  • Two other officers are simply removed from their positions: Maj. Gen, Andrei Botsman, deputy head of the Operational Directorate of the MVD Interior Troops and Col. Gen. Aleksandr L’vov, head of the MVD Interior Troops Central Directorate.

Kiryanov is the interesting one. Not only is he the most senior, but he was also in charge of the MVD’s Road Safety Directorate, as a career GAI traffic cop. He is coming up for his 63rd birthday, so while retirement is entirely feasible, it’s hardly the obvious age to go. I’d not heard of any health issues, either. In any case, most of these are outright dismissals, not retirements (Alekseeva, for example, may be going because of her unprofessional social media coverage of the recent killing of police in St Petersburg).

I wonder if his departure has anything to do with the fact that the MVD – and by extension Kiryanov – had a role in putting forward the now-infamous highway heavy lorry tariffs that have triggered the current truckers’ protests.

Finally, there were nine new appointments: three local prosecutors and fully six major generals, all deputy and first deputy commander positions within the regional MVD Interior Troops Commands (Eastern, Urals, North Caucasus and three in the Volga VVO – probably coincidentally, the Volga region is one of the hotbeds of the trucker protests).

Without wanting to make too much of this – this is not a sign of some imminent crack-down or the like – this does indicate the extent to which the Kremlin is paying renewed attention to its public order and internal security forces, forces which incidentally have been protected from the scale of budget cuts levied on the MVD as a whole. There clearly is a growing nervousness or at least cautious preparation on the part of the regime.

A Perverse Thought: Finding A Silver Lining In Moscow’s Latest Nuclear Sabre-Rattling

Overcompensating a tad?

Overcompensating a tad?

At times, there is something of the predictably petulant teenager in Russia’s strategic responses. NATO lets it be known that it is considering pre-positioning US armour in the Baltic States (as I’ve said, this is “heavy metal diplomacy” aimed at reassuring the Balts and warning off the Russians more than because there is any serious expectation of war). And in knee-jerk response, Putin announces that

“More than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles able to overcome even the most technically advanced anti-missile defence systems will be added to the make-up of the nuclear arsenal this year.”

Perversely and paradoxically I find something faintly reassuring about this. Bizarre? Let me explain.

(more…)

US prepositioning in the Baltics: heavy metal politics and hostages to fortune

US tanks headed for the Baltic? Consider them armoured diplomats

US tanks headed for the Baltic? Consider them armoured diplomats

There is much about the present Russo-Western confrontation that is symbolic, even when it comes to the tanks rumbling around the Baltic plans or the Russian aircraft screaming past and sometimes into NATO airspace. Essentially, it is a combination of the macho posture of alpha male animals, trying to overawe their rival by any means short of the murderous, and the stately diplomatic dance of hint, demarche and denunciation, in heavy metal form.

Consider, for example, the likely deployment of heavy equipment in the Baltic states, a pre-deployment of enough kit for a full brigade. More than anything else, this is a piece of theatre intended to reassure the Balts that they would not be left high and dry if the big, bad Russians ever invaded, and warn Moscow that Washington is indeed serious about its obligations to its NATO allies.

In military terms, after all, it is harder to see this as serious. Why? All this hardware is pretty pointless without (a) the 5,000 or soldiers to go with it and (b) without the time to take the tanks and other pieces of kit out of storage and get them ready for action — even at the most basic level, they need fuel, ammunition and other consumables. Presumably if — and I don’t believe this would ever happen — the Russians ever were to invade the Baltic states, they would do so through a surprise blitzkrieg, as one of their massive military “exercises” on the borders suddenly reveals itself to be an intervention force. I can’t see Moscow feeling the need to give NATO fair warning and notice!

The sad truth is that the Baltic states are pretty much impossible to defend in purely military terms. The borders are open, the terrain is pretty flat, the settlements small. That in no way minimizes the determination of the Balts, and the Russians would have to expect subsequent bitter guerrilla warfare as patriots fight back from the woods or in the cities, but Moscow’s ability to take the region in the first instant is hard to question.

The corollary? It is that, in purely military terms, Washington is prepositioning a cache of modern weapons for the Russians to capture.

Of course, the point is that this is not what anyone expects to happen: if — again, let’s stress that if — Russia chose to step up its aggression against the Baltic states, it is almost certain to be through indirect, covert or deniable means, not a storm of armour and airpower. The calculation in Washington is that at least by pretending to make a serious military commitment to the Baltic states (and one which makes it certain and obvious that any Russian offensive will bring it into face-to-face contact with US soldiers), it deters Moscow from any such moves. And so we have another demonstration of the many ways in which if not war but military force can be the instrument for politics by other means.

First thoughts on Nemtsov’s posthumous “Putin. War.” report on Russian operations in Ukraine

Ilya Yashin, presenting the report

Ilya Yashin, presenting the report

Putin. War., the report on the Ukrainian adventure that Boris Nemtsov was working on when he was murdered, has been released, completed by Ilya Yashin and other allies and cohorts. It’s an interesting document, even if it essentially fleshes out what we already knew rather than saying anything truly novel (the section on the MH17 shoot-down, adding to the chorus of voices blaming the rebels, largely draws on existing, available studies, for example). That’s not in any way to undermine the genuine bravery of those people involved in the project, including not just Yashin but a range of opposition-minded figures from Oleg Kashin to Ekaterina Vinokurova. But I think it does put paid to the suggestion that Nemtsov was assassinated to prevent the report from coming out, especially as now it will probably get more coverage than it would otherwise.

Anyway, here are a few first thoughts on the report: (more…)

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