Staunton, June 12 – Vladimir Putin’s creation of a national guard is, as Andrey Piontkovsky observed at the time (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=57160D978DF75), an effort by the Kremlin leader to create a force totally loyal to himself and to escape the influence of the FSB out of which he sprung but in which he has lost confidence.
Several recent Putin moves, as US-based Russian commentator Kseniya Kirillova points out in a new commentary, not only confirm Piontkovsky’s observation but strongly suggest that tensions among the various Russian security services are rising fast and likely to intensify further with unpredictable political consequences (ru.krymr.com/content/article/27791924.html).
A few days ago, the head of the new National Guard demanded that everyone working in the new force declare whether they have relatives in other force structures, a requirement nominally intended to fight corruption but one that in fact suggests the Kremlin wants this structure to become as independent of FSB and the others as possible (life.ru/t/%D1%8D%D0%BA%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%BB%D1%8E%D0%B7%D0%B8%D0%B2%D1%8B/415662/v_natsghvardii_nachalsia_obriad_ochishchieniia).
Yet another sign of Putin’s intentions in this regard that is certain to spark problems in relations between the National Guard and the other siloviki and intelligence services is the broadening of the new force’s responsibilities to include powers over the private ownership and sale of guns (rbc.ru/politics/05/04/2016/5703ed1d9a794798356bbca1).
That takes powers away from the interior ministry as well as the FSB and suggests that this new palace guard will not only defend the existing regime and social order but spread its activities into areas that other force structures have traditionally viewed as their own. Indeed, its involvement in gun control likely presages even more expansion of its authority in the future.
Putin’s press spokesman, Dmitry Peshkov, admitted as much when he observed that “the authority of the National Guard intersects with the Interior Ministry and the FSB and that possibly this will require the introduction of changes in existing legislation” to clarify who is responsible for what (rbc.ru/politics/05/04/2016/5703ed1d9a794798356bbca1).
As a result of all this, Kirillova observes, “the FSB is losing not only the Kremlin’s trust but also its reputation as the chief repressive organ within the country.” More than that, it may soon lose its role as the chief battler against organized crime, if a Duma deputy’s comments are to be believed (rbc.ru/politics/05/04/2016/5703ed1d9a794798356bbca1).
Competition among the siloviki is also intensifying because the anti-narcotics agency and the Federal Migration Service have now been disbanded and their roles assigned to interior ministry agencies, thus bringing yet another player into such conflicts, Kirillova argues. And it is also angering many who may lose jobs as well as duties (remmix.livejournal.com/194937.html).
Thus, she concludes, what began as a fight between Putin’s people and Ramzan Kadyrov against the FSB months ago now “threatens to grow into ‘a war under the rug’ which will take place on the basis of the principle: all against all,” one in which the National Guard will be pitted against traditional players like the FSB, the GRU, and the interior ministry.
In this battle which Putin has triggered in order to defend himself, the players will be fighting not only for resources and jobs but also for influence – and that means for political power as well, something that could make the next round of elite conflict in Russia still nastier and perhaps shorter as well.