Nov 19, 2009 | 15:06 GMT

3 mins read

Russia: The Clan Wars Begin to Heat Up

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev fired one of his top advisers on Nov. 19. The official statement on the Kremlin Web site said Mikhail Lesin, a media adviser to Medvedev, "was relieved of his duties at his own request." However, Interfax quoted a source in Medvedev's administration that said Medvedev fired Lesin because of "failure to observe the rules and ethical behavior of state service." Lesin's firing is significant because it indicates that the Kremlin clan wars are beginning to heat up. Most Western and Russian media outlets are reporting the event as proof that Medvedev's anti-corruption drive is in full swing (Lesin apparently had conflict of interest by both being Medvedev's media adviser and having extensive business interests in the media). However, it is actually the first salvo of the brewing conflict between the two main Kremlin clans: the Sechin and Surkov clans. Russian Prime Minister, and Kremlin decision-maker-in-chief, Vladimir Putin rests his authority within Russia on his ability to balance the two key clans against one another. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin — whose power base comprises the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the siloviki (the "strong men," former FSB agents put in various positions of power in business and finance world) — and his rival, Medvedev's First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov — whose power base is the Russian military intelligence arm (the GRU) and an alliance with economic and legal technocrats (the civiliki) — are not allowed to completely dominate one over the other. So when Surkov's ally and key civiliki Dmitri Medvedev was handpicked by Putin to take over as president, Sechin was allowed to fill his entire staff with siloviki and FSB "advisers." These advisers were essentially overt spies for the Sechin clan, making sure that nothing Medvedev did went unreported. The power balance, however, is slowly shifting, and Putin seems to be cautiously in favor of the changes. First, Surkov and the civiliki are beginning to implement ambitious economic reforms that will cull Sechin's economic and business connections. Businesses with FSB and siloviki links are being targeted for privatization or outright dismemberment by the state. Surkov is also pushing a package of political maneuvers that are intended to rid his ally Medvedev of the Sechin-installed advisers. Surkov has trained new speechwriters to replace the FSB-trained ones that Medvedev had to deal with until now — the result being his latest State of the State address, which highlighted the coming economic reforms. Lesin's dismissal, seeing as he advised Medvedev on media relations, is part of that particular strategy. While he was not directly an FSB man, he was one of the siloviki and a close Sechin ally. Allegedly, Sergei Naryshkin, a Kremlin rising star and a staunch Sechin loyalist, is next. Naryshkin's role as Medvedev's chief of staff represents a major infiltration of the Sechin clan in Surkov's organization. According to STRATFOR sources, Naryshkin will be ousted on the grounds that he never successfully implemented Medvedev's anti-corruption campaign. Lesin's dismissal for his failure to observe rules of "ethical behavior" might therefore be part of building a case against Naryshkin. The question now is what Sechin will do to counter Surkov's and Medvedev's moves.

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