Mar 19, 2008 | 19:24 GMT

6 mins read

Russia: The Evolution of the FSB

Russia is planning to set up a federal agency similar to the United States' FBI. The agency will be called the Federal Service of Investigation and will consolidate all of Russia's investigating departments and law enforcement bodies. The move is part of Russian President Vladimir Putin's plan to keep the Federal Security Bureau's power in check.

A federal agency similar to the United States' FBI will be set up in Russia this fall to bring all law enforcement authorities under one umbrella. The new agency, called the Federal Service of Investigation (FSI), will consolidate all investigating departments and law enforcement bodies in the country — a duty that had been split between the intelligence behemoth Federal Security Bureau (FSB) and the Prosecutor General's Office. Stratfor sources in Moscow say the FSI will be established by September.

The idea of a Russian FBI has been kicked around for several years, even during former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's era. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, all internal legal issues, domestic espionage and foreign espionage was handled by the KGB; however, after the intelligence community launched a slew of coup attempts following the fall of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin broke up what was left of the powerful KGB — then called the FSB — into a series of intelligence agencies without an organizing umbrella. This was meant to create competition among the smaller intelligence services and ensure that another coup attempt would not occur.

However, the splintering of the intelligence body simply created massive inefficiencies and holes in information, leaving the Russian and former Soviet intelligence and security community — once one of the largest and most powerful organizations in the world — a mere shadow of its former menacing self.

Everything changed in 1999, when Russian President Vladimir Putin — who is a former member of the KGB and FSB — took control of the country. Putin knew that one of the best ways to rein in Russia's chaotic businesses, organized crime and politicians was through strong-arm security tactics — and that meant consolidating and empowering the FSB again.

The FSB's reconstitution has taken two forms over the past decade. First, Putin has consolidated most of the splinter intelligence agencies back under the FSB, correcting many of the inefficiencies. Moreover, Putin has ensured that the FSB be flooded with funding to train, recruit and modernize after years of disregard. Second, Putin has used former KGB and current FSB members to fill many positions within Russian big business, the Duma and other political posts. Putin's initial reasoning was that those within the intelligence community thought of Russia the same way he did — as a great state domestically and internationally. Putin also knew that those within the intelligence community would not flinch at his less-than-democratic (to put it one way) means of consolidating Russia politically, economically, socially and in other ways.

Putin, whose presidency ends in May, has restored the FSB to its former strength and installed more current and former intelligence officers into senior state and business positions. Some examples include Igor Sechin, Rosneft chairman and Kremlin chief of staff; Viktor Ivanov, a presidential aide; Sergei Ivanov, first deputy prime minister; Rashid Nurgaliyev, interior minister; and Gazprom deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev (not to be confused with the unrelated Russian President-elect Dmitri Medvedev).

This is where Putin has run into a problem — the same problem that plagued the Soviet Union and Yeltsin-era Russia. The FSB and security community has become incredibly powerful … perhaps too powerful. To counter this, Putin is taking three steps.

First, Putin has made sure that when he leaves office in May, he will still be in a position to call most of the shots — especially those that matter. Not only do Putin and his successor Medvedev have an understanding that Putin will remain in charge though he will not be president, but a reorganization of the roles of president and prime minister (which Putin is expected to take) is expected.

Secondly, Putin has made sure his successor is not from the intelligence community. This move, though it was always a possibility, has thrown those highest in the FSB into a tailspin and stirred rumors and murmurs of countermoves by those in the FSB. This is playing out mostly between Medvedev and the head of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev. The two have made it no secret that they hate each other.

The president-elect and the FSB head are from competing clans within the Kremlin, which compounds their battle. Medvedev is in the clan under Kremlin Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov while Patrushev is in Sechin's clan. The difference between the two clans is that Surkov's clan might hold more weight within Russia, as its members run natural gas behemoth Gazprom, the Finance Ministry, Economic Ministry, the Prosecutor General's office and the autonomous region of Chechnya. The only real economic weight Sechin's clan has is that it runs Rosneft. Most of the power Sechin's clan has comes from running the FSB and using its intelligence connections to compete with its rivals.

By choosing a successor from outside Russia's intelligence community, Putin is not only capping the FSB's power, he is also ensuring that his position as the most powerful former intelligence agent in Russia. This allows him to keep his hold over that community. Putin is concerned that if someone from the intelligence community became president, the FSB would spin out of control with power. He has always sought to keep balance within the government and businesses while he re-created a strong Russia. Though he wants the FSB to be one of the world's most influential organizations again, he also wants to make sure it does not destroy Russia in the process.

Of course, neither Putin nor his successor wants to paralyze or ruin the intelligence giant, like Yeltsin did. Rather, they want to create a way to keep the FSB and those intelligence members in government and big business in check. Thus far, there has not been a way to watch, investigate or prosecute those within the intelligence community, unless Putin directly targeted them. Technically the Prosecutor General's office was supposed to check the FSB, but most of its powers have been swallowed by the FSB.

So Putin's third step — creating the FSI — will not only take away the FSB's ability to go after anyone it wishes (at least within Russia), it will also give a federal agency the ability to watch the intelligence community. Putin will have to carefully watch both to make sure that competition between the two agencies does not break down their efficiency, as occurred with the United States' FBI and CIA. In the end, this is one of the few moves that Putin can make in order to have his cake and eat it too; he will have his former intelligence colleagues in the government, but will ensure that they do not threaten the government.

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