Jan 10, 2008 | 20:50 GMT

7 mins read

Russia: The Struggles Within -- Part II

Editor's Note: This article is the second in a two-part series on the power struggles among Russia's political clans.

Energy Wars

STRATFOR has long followed the energy clashes between Gazprom and Rosneft — from before the planned merger to the battle over assets that followed. The two firms were supposed to be national champions in their own fields — natural gas for Gazprom and oil for Rosneft — but once they began encroaching on each other's territory the battle was fully set. Now the two firms serve as platforms for their political backers' agendas, with Russian President Vladimir Putin's right-hand man Vladislav Surkov behind Gazprom and the Kremlin's other major power player, Igor Sechin, behind Rosneft. Though this is the main arena for the drama, STRATFOR is also looking at the other arenas that are less publicized.

Justice/Intelligence Wars

A turf war over the prosecutor general's office has been under way for more than a year. The office is one of the most coveted, since it is in charge of prosecuting everyone from government members and businessmen to alleged organized criminals. From the time Putin took power until 2006, the post was held by Vladimir Ustinov, a member of Sechin's faction; however, in 2006 Putin decided to shake up the role and replaced Ustinov with one of Surkov's supporters, Yuri Chaika, who was justice minister at the time. The switch was considered a huge slap in the face for Sechin and his clan. Sechin then declared war against Chaika, attacking him on multiple fronts, including making an attempt to absorb some of the prosecutor general's power into the Justice Ministry. But Chaika struck back, not only arresting a group of alleged organized criminals attached to Sechin in St. Petersburg but also going after that clan's most powerful branch — the Federal Security Service (FSB). Chaika arrested associates of FSB head Nikolai Patrushev on charges of illegally selling electronics from Asia. Also, Surkov has defended Chaika, saying the prosecutor general is off limits in the war during the election season (after the elections, of course, all bets are off). So Sechin is now going after some of the Surkov clan's other branches; he has had the FSB and the Investigating Committee arrest associates of Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. But now that Dmitri Medvedev is first deputy prime minister — and a candidate for president — and Surkov is defending Chaika, the prosecutor general knows he might be able to take power — specifically, oversight of the Investigating Committee — and create a super-branch of the government that would be the only branch with the ability to go after others legally.

Defense Wars

Russia's Defense Ministry and related industries had been left out of the struggles until recently. In February 2007, presidential contender Sergei Ivanov surprisingly was replaced as defense minister by economist Anatoly Serdyukov. At the time, Serdyukov was placed in the role to begin shaping up the defense sector and military ranks financially — an enormous task, since the defense industries had not really kept any books in the post-Soviet era and the military was still suffering from the enormous glut of generals and high-ranking officers from the Yeltsin era. Though Serdyukov had long been close to Sechin and his clan, he did not politicize his role. However, power can change things. Serdyukov saw an opportunity to move when his father-in-law, Viktor Zubkov, was named prime minister in September 2007. Suddenly, Zubkov could shield Serdyukov from most attacks. Serdyukov's chief rival for power was the head of Russia's state arms firm Rosoboronexport, Sergei Chemezov, who is in Surkov's clan. The defense minister and defense industrial chief ideally should be on the same page, since the defense sector has fought for years to reverse the waste and disorganization of the past, but the political squabbling between Serdyukov and Chemezov has led to a nasty battle rippling through the entire defense body. First, Serdyukov unsuccessfully attempted to rein in Chemezov's spending, and in return Chemezov created a new defense entity, Rostekhnologii — a public entity which has started to pull much of the defense industry away from ministerial control. Rostekhnologii has some very key subsidiaries, including Avtovas in automobiles, VSMPO-Avisma in titanium, Russpetsstal in special steels and Oboronprom in helicopter and engine manufacturing — and Rostekhnologii plans to pull in firms from many other industries, including shipbuilding. But Rostekhnologii has an oversight board which was supposed to be chaired by Ivanov — who, after a nudge from Sechin, gave the chair to Serdyukov, thus evening out the clans' vendettas.

Potential Ethnic Wars

Quite a few battles have yet to come to a head — such as the energy giants' struggle — but another war that is being whispered about in the Kremlin involves controlling the militants in the Caucasus. Among the members of Surkov's clan is the key to reining in the Caucasus: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. Surkov, being half-Chechen, knew that the long string of defeats the Russian military suffered in Chechnya was because the Russian troops just did not fight, think or react like the Chechens. So Surkov countered the Chechen insurgency with Chechen forces — which are now under Kadyrov. The forces only number around 15,000, but are made up of many former insurgents who became pro-Russian forces. There are already curious murmurs from Moscow about what would happen if this force either turns on Putin or is used by Surkov to stir trouble in the Caucasus or beyond. Sechin also has influence in the Caucasus: his man Rashid Nurgaliyev, who is an ethnic Tatar but is considered an iron fist in the Caucasus and has political ties to the pseudo-governments of Ingushetia and Dagestan. Nurgaliyev also causes concern because he is very connected to the strong republic of Tatarstan, which has not only sought its own freedom but also has its own energy wealth.

The Clan Wars' Hampering Effect

As Russia moves to reassert itself on the international field, the many fractures back home could shatter the Kremlin and Putin's base for such a resurgence. Putin's inner circle is in control of almost all of Russia politically, socially, ethnically and economically — which is good for an authoritarian leader — but that inner circle is now tearing itself apart. Though each Kremlin clan is fighting for the same cause, they are creating rifts based on ego, personality and spite. These battles are bleeding Russia's key spheres of influence, wasting time and money and reversing some of the hard-fought post-Soviet reforms Putin initiated. Unfortunately for Putin, this inner squabble is causing a lot of inward focus when the president is hoping to push Russia further out onto the international stage. In the end, unless Putin can rein in the clan chaos, the two factions could break the foundation of Putin's strong Russia.

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