Russia: The FSB Branches Out

5 MINS READMay 16, 2008 | 20:00 GMT
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) is increasingly branching out into the realms of politics, finance and industry. The FSB's involvement in these sectors demonstrates its exclusive control over Russia, but it ultimately will dilute the organization's operational effectiveness.
German intelligence chief Heinz Fromm accused Russia and China on May 16 of spying on his country's businesses and industries and stealing top-secret technical information. Fromm claimed that Russian espionage especially poses a threat to Germany's ability to develop high-tech products confidentially. Germany's fears are corroborated by complaints from the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and France, which say that Russia is looking for military, natural gas and oil technology secrets. The Germans particularly noted the Russians' appointment of Mikhail Fradkov, an economics and business specialist with great influence over Russia's banks, to lead Russia's commercial spy agency, the Foreign Intelligence Service (SWR). This appointment indicates an alignment of Russia's economic and business interests and its espionage capabilities. Fradkov has since begun an ambitious recruitment and training program to ensure that FSB operatives are not merely government spooks but competent businessmen capable of furthering Russia's long-term commercial objectives globally. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appointed Fradkov to the position in October 2007, when Putin was still president. His term ended May 9 when Dmitri Medvedev was inaugurated as Russia's president. But in order to retain control while holding the prime- ministerial office, Putin has reorganized the Kremlin's Cabinet and power structure. Thus, Putin will continue to pursue his vision for Russia's resurgence, which entails further expansion of the FSB's role to cover areas that fall outside the security services' traditional ambit. Fradkov's new position as chief commercial spy is only one example of Putin's plan to broaden the FSB's focus. Igor Sechin provides another high-profile example. A longtime Putin ally and the leader of one of Russia's two major factions, Sechin acts as boss of Russia's gigantic state oil company Rosneft and commands the loyalty of the FSB. Thus, he represents the FSB's hand in Russia's energy sector. To an extent, Putin has restricted Sechin's power over the energy sector by placing Sechin directly beneath him as deputy prime minister: Rosneft will not be able to make any drastic moves without Putin's approval. But this limitation parallels similar restrictions Putin has placed on Russia's other main faction. Thus, Putin's restrictions on Sechin reflect the prime minister's desire for balance between the factions and not a bias against the Rosneft chief. Because he holds the FSB's loyalty, Sechin will continue to determine the organization's relationship to the energy sector. Consequently, Russia's energy industry will continue to act in ways that reflect Russia's geopolitical strategy. A third example of Putin's widening the FSB's focus is Medvedev's appointment of Viktor Cherkesov to lead the Federal Service for Exports of Arms, Military and Special Equipment. Putin is responsible for this appointment. Cherkesov worked with Putin in the KGB in Leningrad during the Soviet days, and Putin appointed him FSB chief in 1998. In 2004, he moved to the chief position in the federal agency for drug control. Cherkesov's new jurisdiction over the arms-export agency signifies a continuation of Putin's plan. In 2007, Putin granted Sergei Chemezov's Rosoboronexport control of the arms trade; now Putin is taking those powers away from Rosoboronexport and returning them to his KGB ally and one-time FSB chief. Since Chemezov is also a former KGB man, this switch is not so much a change of mind as a further entrenchment of the FSB in the defense industry. What began with Chemezov is continuing with Cherkesov, who maintains close ties to the FSB. There are several complications that follow from Cherkesov's managing the arms trade. For one, he is not an expert or specialist in the business; he has a big ego and high political ambitions that could distract him from his responsibilities. Also, because Cherkesov replaced Chemezov, a rivalry could ignite between the arms-export agency and Rosoboronexport. Finally, as head of the drug agency, rumors implicated him in a scandal when FSB operatives were caught smuggling drugs from China, so there are fears that Cherkesov's shadier relations could travel with him to the arms trade. But there are clear advantages of Cherkezov's appointment. Putin and Cherkezov are allies, so there is little risk of confusion or disagreement between them. This unified perspective, combined with Cherkezov's FSB skills, means that Russian arms exports will now serve Russia's geopolitical objectives in addition to its economic self-interest. With the new appointments for Fradkov, Sechin, Cherkezov and others, Putin has made strides in extending the FSB's power into new quarters — from business and economics to energy and military affairs. An FSB with broader focus has great potential to achieve the Kremlin's designs for Russia's return to prominence internationally. But in the long run, the expansion of objectives will lead to expanded duties, responsibilities, entanglements and complexities. Potential bureaucratic complications are evident in Putin's recent creation of the Federal Service of Investigation as a watchdog over the FSB. The FSB will have no choice but to specialize to meet the demands of each area of activity, and with increased specialization come narrow-mindedness and battles over turf. Ultimately, the expansion of the FSB's aims can only lead to the dilution of FSB efficacy in achieving its aims.

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