Evgeni Zinichev: Putin’s new man at the FSB

zinichev

Evgeni Zinichev, in that brief moment when he was a governor…

Remember Evgeni Nikolaevich Zinichev? He was the former Putin bodyguard made acting governor of Kaliningrad region, who, I’d expect, had a record-breaking brevity of tenure. Appointed in July, on October he left the position at his own request, citing family reasons (although even at the time, locals suspected it was more that he didn’t like the job). Well, it doesn’t seem to have done him any harm: at the end of October he was appointed to a new, specially-created sixth deputy director position at the Federal Security Service, although it only just seems to have been reported.

The 50-year-old Zinichev served in the Soviet KGB, then the forbears of the FSB, before moving to the Federal Guard Service (FSO) in 2006, working as a bodyguard in Putin’s Presidential Security Service (SBP), increasingly the wellspring of a new generation of the elite. In June 2015, he became head of the FSB’s regional directorate for Kaliningrad. (Where, incidentally, he received what for him may have been some rather uncomfortably press scrutiny, not least about his slightly suspect educational record).

Just over a year later, on 28 July 2016, he was appointed acting governor of Kalingrad region, as part of a general reshuffle I cover here. His first press conference notoriously lasted just 49 seconds, at which he called for inward investment and the ‘stabilisation of the socio-economic situation.’ Brevity was clearly to be his defining characteristic: on 6 October, less than two and a half months later, he stepped down even before his own inauguration.

At the end of October, though, he was appointed deputy director of the FSB, with the rank of lieutenant general. There were no spare slots, so a whole new position was created for him, seemingly without portfolio.

First of all, I wonder if this means Zinichev is being considered for higher office, cycling with frankly insulting speed through the gubernatorship just to tick that box on his CV before rushing him back to Moscow, where all real power lies. There certainly seems not only to have been no negative fallout from his lack of staying power in Kaliningrad, but also a particular eagerness to find him a comfortable and powerful berth at the FSB.

It also may be an uncomfortable situation for FSB director Alexander Bortnikov. Back at the start of 2015, the FSB backed its sometimes-rival GRU when it tried to fight off efforts by the Kremlin to parachute another ex-bodyguard, Alexei Dyumin, in to head it. That initiative was foiled, in part because Dyumin had no credible experience within military intelligence. Is Zinichev – who, after all, has real FSB experience – being installed either as Putin’s ‘political commissar’ within the FSB as a control agent, or else as a potential successor to Bortnikov.

Either way, the bodyguards continue to rise.

October Publications Round-Up

Lots of travel this month, so fewer publications…

Warsaw’s window on Western fears about Russia,’ IntelliNews Business New Europe, 31 October

Коварные детки Кремля‘, Radio Svoboda, 29 October (with Anna Arutunyan) [in Russian]

Russian security reforms reflect stability fears,’ Jane’s Intelligence Review, 28 October (cover story for the November issue, sadly behind a paywall)

Putin’s Chaos Strategy Is Coming Back to Bite Him in the Ass‘, Foreign Policy, 26 October

Will the West Hack Back?‘, RFE/RL Power Vertical podcast, 27 October

Tensions between Russia and the West,’ Colgate Maroon News, 20 October (report on a talk I gave at Colgate University)

Late Putinism – between limbo and the lightning bolt‘, Business New Europe, 12 October

Aleppo is paying for Russia’s imagined global threat,’ ECFR Commentary, 10 October

Russia’s Imaginary Enemy,’ IntelliNews Business New Europe, 7 October

Murder, Inc.,’ RFE/RL Power Vertical Podcast, 7 October

Nebezpečí pozdního putinismu: žádný ďábelský génius, ale car v kokonu polopravd a lží‘, Česky rozhlas interview, 7 October (later in English translation ‘The Perils of Late Putinism: not an evil genius, but a tsar,’ by CEE New Perspectives here)

 

September Publications Round-Up

Here’s September’s articles and miscellaneous acts of punditry:

An expert’s guide to Putin’s propaganda playbook’, CNN Opinion, 29 September

Putin Is Playing by Grozny Rules in Aleppo,’ Foreign Policy, 29 September

Expert: Putin’s Reported Plan to Restore KGB May Reflect Fear of Overthrow’Voice of America 26 September [interview]

Mark Galeotti on the Russian elections,’ IIR video briefing, 23 September

Why Putin might be trying to recreate the Soviet-era KGB — and why he might regret it,’ Vox, 20 September

‘”New KGB” plans betray Putin’s anxiety,’ ECFR Commentary, 19 September

RFE/RL Facebook Live video broadcast on the Russian elections, 18 September

Kremlin Kabuki,’ RFE/RL Power Vertical podcast, 16 September

Goodbye, Bastrykin?,’ openDemocracy: Russia, 15 September

Window on the East: Russia votes for a new Duma. Will it result in protests or status quo?’, Business New Europe podcast, 15 September [podcast]

Russians can make a difference in Sunday’s elections: by staying at home,’ Business New Europe, 14 September

As the Russian military faces cuts, Putin will lose muscle,’ Business New Europe, 12 September

Putin’s Original Sin,’ RFE/RL Power Vertical podcast, 9 September

Incidentally, just a reminder to people that from 1 September I have been a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague — I am no longer at NYU. Do follow the IIR’ twitter feed (@IIR_PRG) for a Central European take on international affairs.

August publications round-up

August is traditionally the slow season (although rarely so when it comes to Russia), but also is the month in which I was moving to Prague to take up my new position as a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague. Nonetheless, here are my various publications:

Putin’s perverse win-win in the Olympic doping scandal‘, Vox, 23 August

“This Is a Strategy of Tension” – Galeotti on FSB Statement,’ interview on Hromadske TV, 20 August

Can government reshuffles bring any hope for Russia?,’ IntelliNews Business New Europe, 19 August

Putin’s incredible shrinking circle,’ openDemocracy: Russia, 16 August

Ossified Putinism,’ interview for Sean’s Russia Blog (SRB) podcast, 13 August

Vladimir and Nicholas: Putinism enters a new historic phase,’ ECFR Commentary, 9 August

What Turkey can learn from Russia about coup-proofing the military,’ War On The Rocks, 2 August

Confessions of a Kremlin conspiracy theorist,’ openDemocracy: Russia, 1 August

Also, the RFE/RL Power Vertical podcasts of 5 August, 19 August and 26 August.

Ivanov: rustication with respect, from a good friend but a poor patron

ivanov-vday-interview-preview

Talking to the other retirees…

OpenDemocracy have just run ‘Putin’s incredible shrinking circle,’ a short commentary of mine on the meaning and context of Sergei Ivanov’s departure as head of the powerful Presidential Administration. Ivanov was one of the few people to which Putin still seemed to listen and who was willing and able to push his own ideas. Often, sadly, they were hawkish and conspiratorial ones, to be true. It will be interesting to see if his successor, Anton Vaino, is willing or able to stop so much nonsense reaching Putin’s desk, something that inevitably coloured policy and exacerbated his already-inflated belief in a hostile world trying to do Russia and him personally down. The trouble is that the machine is now used to operating that way: will Vaino find it easier to go with the flow, or indeed not have the muscle to do anything about it? We’ll see.

One specific point I would make is about the manner of Ivanov’s going. I see it as rustication with respect. Yes, he is being taken conclusively out of the running as a potential successor, but with honour. It would be hard to see the 63-year-old Ivanov being able to use his position as presidential plenipotentiary for transport and the environment as the basis for any intrigue against Putin, even if minded to do so. For all that, though, this is not disgrace. His new position is something of a sinecure, but both important (transport is a crucial portfolio in Russia) and suited to his interests (Ivanov’s commitment to the environment is genuine). It is a position that lends itself to agreeable jaunts around the country and, if he is minded, opportunities to pocket some handsome bribes to make retirement more comfortable. Meanwhile, he is kept on the Security Council, a special dispensation that is not only keeping him at the heart of the state (the council is not really a decision-making body but it gives him access to key discussions and papers), but also a sign of respect.

So what? If one looks at four sometimes-former Putin cronies who have left the scene, we see a variety of trajectories. Vladimir Yakunin of Russian Railways, offered a not-very-important legislator’s position, and when he declined allowed to spend more time with his money. Viktor Ivanov of the FSKN drug service, ignominiously left high and dry when his service was rolled into the MVD. Customs chief Andrei Belyaninov, sacked and under investigation. Sergei Ivanov, given a handsome sendoff and a reasonably significant role. Can one draw any conclusions?

Viktor Ivanov and Andrei Belyaninov had a professional connection with Putin but were not really close. He turned to them because he knew them, but essentially they were servants, not allies. They were thus wholly dispensable when no longer useful.

Yakunin and Sergei Ivanov, on the other hand, had a real personal relationship with Putin. Yakunin may have flounced a little when he turned down a position on the Federation Council, but he and Ivanov nonetheless realised that when it was time to go, you accept it and demonstrate continued loyalty to the boss.

The moral of the story is that Putin is actually a pretty poor patron, or at least a wholly pragmatic one. So long as you are loyal and useful, you can get away with (sometimes literally) murder. However — unless you have that personal bond — as soon as that changes, you’re out and quite possibly under investigation or in disgrace.

At the moment, Putin appears to be carrying out a general rotation and renewal of the senior cadres of the Russian state, in some cases presumably as auditions for even more important positions in his next presidential term. He may know them, as bodyguards and bagmen, bringers of papers and bearers of umbrellas, but they are servants and not confidantes. It can hardly have escaped their notice just how ruthless the boss can be with their below-stairs sort. And ultimately, if Putin is not will to show loyalty to them, can he really count on loyalty from them?

July 2016 Publications Round-Up

I think I can get away with doing this a couple of days before the end of the month…

How to Start a Russian Purge,’ Foreign Policy, 29 July 2016 (with Anna Arutunyan)

What the Olympic doping scandal says about the decline of Putin’s Russia,’ Guardian (New East Network), 27 July 2016 (originally written for the ECFR)

Why Putin’s DNC Hack Will Backfire,’ Foreign Policy, 26 July 2016

Russia’s new rules dictate “steal a bit less, do your job a bit better”‘, IntelliNews Business New Europe, 25 July 2016

European security concerns bring Russian mafia back onto agenda,’ ECFR Commentary, 25 July 2016

Trump wants America to stop being the world’s policeman — and start being its rent-a-cop,‘ Vox, 25 July 2016

‚Nechápu, proč Česko nezakročí proti ruským špionům‘‘, interview in Echo24 with Martin Weiss, 22 July [in Czech]

Russia Is Only A Threat If We Let It Be One,’ The National Interest, 21 July 2016, also run in War Is Boring

Hybrid Business — The Risks In The Kremlin’s Weaponization Of The Economy,’ RFE/RL Commentary, 20 July 2016 (with Anna Arutunyan, previously published in Russian)

Turkey’s military hand Erdogan ultimate power,’ IntelliNews Business New Europe, 16 July 2016

How Vladimir Putin is being outfoxed by a Chechen warlord,’ Vox, 11 July 2016

Nato is a symbol that Russia is always an outsider,’ IntelliNews Business New Europe, 11 July 2016

Russia’s Slow Indecisive Purges Mask a Policy Void,’ Moscow News, 5 July 2016

 

%d bloggers like this: