Friday, April 30, 2021

Passion for Uniforms among Officials Outward Manifestation of Putin’s Chekistocracy, Petrov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – Ever more officials are putting on uniforms to stress their loyalty to the state and its core structure, the FSB, Nikolay Petrov says in an interview during which he argues that Vladimir Putin has not created a militarized state as some assume but rather “a chekistocracy” in which uniforms too matter.

            Uniforms not only set officials apart from everyone else but reflect the ranks within the bureaucracy so that those who wear them and those who see those in uniform will now how close to the center of power, Vladimir Putin and his chekists, the bearer actually is, the Higher School of Economics researcher says (

            Uniforms, he continues, is only “an external manifestation” of this system; “but there is its internal essence and that is more serious. When the economy is stagnating, attachment to the state and state financing and budget flows means one is relatively well off. Therefore, every agency seeks to stress how important its role is by “such semi-military categories.”

            Petrov says that it is “no accident that the word ‘siloviki’ is one of the ones which our great and powerful Russian language has given to the world.” But it is a mistake to think the siloviki have taken power because they are controlled from top to bottom by the FSB and its branch agencies, that is by the chekists.

            When Putin came to power, he relied on two groups: former KGB officers with whom he had served and the St. Petersburg city administration where he had worked. When the numbers of the latter thinned, he turned increasingly to the former, a ramified corporation which proved capable of filling all necessary positions to ensure his power.

            “Today,” Petrov continues, “we have two mega-verticals: one, as in Soviet times, the chekist, and the other, the Presidential Administration and the structures subordinate to it.” But unlike in Soviet times when the KGB and the CPSU were competitors, now, the FSB controls the Presidential vertical. It itself is beyond any outside control, barring intervention by Putin.

            Today, the FSB has subordinated to itself all the siloviki; and its view of the world, one in which the intelligence agencies of other countries behave as it does, has serious consequences. It means that its denizens really believe that the CIA can do anything. And that makes charges now against Russians as “foreign agents” something “far beyond a figure of speech.”

            For those with this mindset, it means exactly what it says, Petrov stresses.

            In today’s Russia, “the FSB has such status that if it says that someone is a murderer, then any court, regardless of any circumstance, will agree with this” because the FSB is in a position to define what is the national interest and making such a charge means that it is in “the state’s interest” and must be obeyed.

            Before 2014, it may have been reasonable to speak of liberals and hawks within the FSB and its tentacles. But now, the liberals have been sidelined in no small measure because in the 1990s, they “acted like Bolsheviks.” That is, they considered that the more freedom of action they had the better, and others have taken that same position and moved forward.

            Of course, the Chekists in Russia are far from perfect and have given Putin many reasons for being upset with them. He has even been disappointed in his inability to use them for “the resolution of complicated tasks. But they have coped with the task of preserving his power.” And as a result, “today, they are the main pillar of the regime.”

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