Dmitri Kochnev: the elusive new FSO director, and thus Putin’s primary protector

Evgeny Murov, the long-time head of the Federal Guard Service (FSO) finally got his wish, to retire, and in the process Russia may have become a little less stable — I explain why in a piece over on the ECFR website, here, but the essence is:

In short, however perverse it may sound, this most Praetorian and loyalist of agencies actually helped keep Putin grounded and the system stable. But Murov personally was clearly a driving force, not least because he evidently had no thoughts of personal advancement in mind. Is Kochnev able to play the same role? Willing? Even aware of it? That’s hard to see, and the 51-year old Kochnev, whose entire life has been spent within the FSO, is less likely to see his future as being heading the FSO for the next nine-plus years. Even if he is content with his new office, will any of his rivals believe it, anyway?

Now we are getting a little more granular information about the background of his successor, Dmitri Viktorovich Kochnev, although the official line raises as many questions as answers them. This is what the official bio on the FSO website says:

He was born in Moscow in 1964

He served in the military 1982-84

Then he went straight into “the security agencies of the USSR and the Russian Federation,” 1984-2002

In 2002, he has been in the FSO, in 2015 becoming deputy director of the FSO and head of the Presidential Security Service (SBP). He became a colonel in 2006 (expect that to change soon) and he is married.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 18.27.30

Not exactly a lot to go on.According to his income declaration, in 2015, he earned 3.3 million rubles, but his wife more than 58 million. (The average monthly wage as of January 2015 was 31,200 rubles, for an annual 375,000 rubles, so he did OK.) There have been suggestions Kochnev was close to former SBP chief and now National Guard praetorian-in-chief Viktor Zolotov, and counter suggestions that he wasn’t (see Vedomosti here).

The real question is what he was doing in that shadowy period 1984-2002. Was he part of the KGB’s Ninth Directorate (the precursor of the FSO)? In that case why not simply transfer across to the FSO when it was established in 1996 out of the GUO (Main Guard Directorate, 1993-96)? There has been the suggestion he worked in RUBOP, the old (and in some ways quite notorious) Regional Directorate for the Struggle Against Organised Crime. These were formed in 1992, and so he may have jumped, through the 1991-92 chaos, from KGB to the Moscow RUBOP. In 2001, the RUBOPs were folded into the MVD’s regional Main Directorates (GUs), though, so this might explain another shift, if there was no room for him in the MVD or he simply preferred a more exalted service.

But then why not say so? I honestly don’t know. It is not as if being in RUBOP is some monstrously embarrassing past indiscretion. I feel there has to be something there, maybe simply that he was in proximity to some scandal or the like. Eventually, it will out: Russian journalists are no less tenacious than their Western counterparts and perhaps precisely because of the difficult environment in which they operate can be even shrewder in ferreting out the facts. I doubt this is especially important in itself, but the very opacity says something about the culture of today’s Russia, that even a public figure’s resume from twenty years back can be considered none of our business.

Meanwhile, let’s see how he measures up to the job…

 

 

 

 

New article: ‘Hybrid, ambiguous, and non-linear? How new is Russia’s ‘new way of war’?’

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 09.23.14Just a quick note, that an article of mine has appeared in the latest issue of Small Wars & Insurgencies, vol. 27, no. 2, a special issue on ‘Proxy Actors, Militias and Irregular Forces: The New Frontier of War?’ pulled together by Alex Marshall of Glasgow University. It emerged from an excellent workshop that Alex convened last year on this important and under-researched topic and the issue includes, along with all sorts of first-rate material, the always-great Vanda Felbab-Brown on Afghan militias and an interesting conceptual piece by Robert and Pamela Ligouri Bunker. My contribution, Hybrid, ambiguous, and non-linear? How new is Russia’s ‘new way of war’?, places recent Russian practice very firmly within an historical tradition going back to pre-Soviet adventures. Here’s the abstract:

Russia’s recent operations in Ukraine, especially the integrated use of militias,
gangsters, information operations, intelligence, and special forces, have created
a concern in the West about a ‘new way of war’, sometimes described as ‘hybrid’.
However, not only are many of the tactics used familiar from Western operations,
they also have their roots in Soviet and pre-Soviet Russian practice. They are
distinctive in terms of the degree to which they are willing to give primacy to
‘non-kinetic’ means, the scale of integration of non-state actors, and tight linkage
between political and military command structures. However, this is all largely a
question of degree rather than true qualitative novelty. Instead, what is new is
the contemporary political, military, technological, and social context in which
new wars are being fought.

February 2016 Publications Round-Up

As ever, a quick summary for those interested:

Ramzan Kadyrov: the Kremlin’s Public Frenemy Number One,’ ECFR commentary, 1 February 2016

Why the Litvinenko Enquiry Was Not a ‘Farce’‘, Russia!, 1 February 2016

What Putin’s Security Appointments Say About How Russia Works‘, War On The Rocks, 9 February 2016

Free Sergei Lavrov!‘, Foreign Policy, 17 February 2016

Welcome to the stagnation of Retro-Brezhnevism,’ Business New Europe, 17 February 2016

Imagining 2030: Taking the Trans-Siberian to Moscow,’ PS21, 21 February 2016

Don’t Buy the Hype: Russia’s military is a lot weaker than Putin wants us to think,’ Vox, 23 February 2016

No Easy Fix for Syria,’ Moscow Times, 25 February 2016

‘Shadowy Spec Ops,’ AK-47 and Soviet Weapons, 2016

 

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. (more…)

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.

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