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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Another Original LR Translation: Big Brother is Watching

La Russophobe is delighted to welcome yet a fourth expert translator of Russian into English to our blog, and for her first installment she opens another window into the Russian press, here by Yulia Latynina in Novaya Gazeta. This is exactly the type of column that Anna Politkovskaya got shot for writing, and but for the work of heroic translators like S.S. it would never see the light of day in English (as much of Anna's work failed to do). Ms. Latynina is a true Russian patriot.

Big Brother is Watching You

by Yulia Latynina

Novaya Gazeta

Translated from the Russian by S. S.

Our “Separation of Powers” is a war of the Security Services. One lot whisper into the president’s left ear, the other into his right ear.

The main principle of the Special Forces is: if you’ve got something to say, say nothing. If you’ve got nothing to say, say even less. The main principle of the Kremlin clans is: never appeal to the public, appeal to the president. An appeal to the public is an admission of disloyalty and a sign that you can’t get to the president. General Cherkesov broke both these rules when he published an article in the newspaper Kommersant about the Security Services’ war. Why- God
only knows. Perhaps he hired Kharms [TN: Daniil Kharms 1905-1942. Russian absurdist writer] to write the letter, or, Shenderovich [TN: Victor Shenderovich b. 1958. Russian writer and satirist.] as a last resort. The postmodernists should frame this text on the “corporate soul” and “chekism” and hang it in place of Malevich’s Black Square.

I’ll venture to remind you of some events which preceded the creation of this philosophical text. It began with a clash between two powerful Kremlin clans -- one usually associated with the deputy head of the presidential administration, Igor Sechin (and the head of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev) and the other with the head of the Federal Narcotics Control Service Viktor Cherkesov and the head of the presidential security service Viktor Zolotov-- over the planned appointment of Shamakhov, who was close to Cherkesov, as head of customs. Criminal cases were brought; the clans began to stop each other’s goods wagons and recapture the confiscated goods using the special police of the OMON. It was a terrible but completely quiet fight. Among the most noticeable episodes, which were widely debated in narrow circles, were: the seizure of a consignment of Chinese consumer goods in the Nakhodka port which were being sent directly to the address of a secret unit which was the FSB’s supplies section (An FSB employee received the consignment of goods with official certification) and a search of one of the biggest dealers at the customs office, during which diamonds were seized by weight. “They’re just presents!” said the aggrieved dealer.

It’s thought that during this turf war, the FSB obtained wire-tappping equipment which was used to record Sechin’s conversations with his powerful relation and ally Ustinov, the Prosecutor General. The recordings allegedly made their way to Putin, who, it’s said, was not particularly pleased by discussion of the president’s weakness, and the fact that Ustinov would make a better president. Ustinov was fired. Several FSB generals were also dismissed at the end of last year. However after a few months they went back to their posts, disregarding the presidential order. It was then that this bitter fight broke into the depths of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, between the head of the Economic Security Department Sergei Meshcheriakov (considered Sechin’s protégé) and deputy minister Novikov (considered Zolotov’s protégé). The details of this battle were not disclosed, but there are well-founded rumours that Meshcheriakov’s assistant, who was arrested during the fight, gave information under the influence of psychotropic drugs about the value of the department’s services. The result of the battle was that both figures were dismissed from their posts and both received other posts- prestigious but without influence.

And now-- with the arrest of General Bulbov and Cherkesov’s letter-- the war has come to the surface for the first time.

What sticks out? Firstly, it’s the disparity of power. On one hand there is Igor Sechin--not the top man in the state, but not the least important either; on the other--some kind of collective leadership. Secondly, it’s impossible to talk directly about the subject of the dispute. It’s quite funny reading about Cherkesov’s “chekism” and “corporatism” when the dispute is over the control of contraband goods and who can better take in the president. Thirdly, it’s striking that the war would have finished long ago, if only the president hadn’t supported the weaker side every time. He is personally interested in the war as an instrument of mutual destruction. The war of the Security Services is what we have in place of a separation of powers. It’s a way for the president to stay informed. And moreover—and this is most important—it is difficult to wish victory on either side. Not because they are dividing up the customs department or fighting between themselves in secret; but because even before this war their departments were subject to a malignant regeneration. One clan concerns itself with the dividing up of YUKOS, the Gutseriyev trial [TN: ex-president of Rosneft, charged with illegal business practice and tax evasion in 2007], cheerful reports about the exposure of planned terrorist attacks in Sochi, Saint Petersburg and Samara. The other clan’s business will be dealt with in the next article. If one crocodile is weaker, it doesn’t mean you should get close to it. When two brigades of Orcs in Mordor fight over Frodo’s Mithril armour, which side are we on?

The criminal case of the contraband furniture which appeared in the shops “Grand” and “Three Whales” from October 2000 was investigated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Inquiry Committee. Led by the investigator Pavel Zaitsev, the group conducted searches and questioning. In his evidence of November 2000, the witness Vladimir Burkov mentioned Evgenii Zhukov, the assistant to the deputy director of the FSB Iurii Zaostrovtsev. Zhukov was questioned and several hours later the case was transferred to the Prosecutor General. The investigator Popov suspended it on the 7th of May 2001 owing to lack of evidence of a crime being committed. The State Duma ordered the investigation to be resumed with Iurii Shchekochin, the Duma deputy and the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta occupying an especially active role. However the case was resurrected only on the 26th of March 2002 after the personal intervention of President Putin. In April the case was taken over by an acquaintance of the President, the deputy head of the Leningrad region office of the public prosecutor, Vladimir Loskutov. However the first arrests took place only after a change of leadership in the General Prosecutor’s office in June 2006.

Case no 290724 of the contraband mass market goods to the address of military unit 54729 was begun in April 2005 by the Investigative Committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Unit 54729 serves the central apparatus of the FSB. The contraband was received by an employee with official certificate no. 066631. On the 7th of April 2005 the General Prosecutor ordered the case to be transferred to the FSB. Only in August 2006 was the case returned to the General Prosecutor. Coincidentally, as the case reached its active phase, deputy director of the FSB Vladimir Anisimov, deputy director of the FSB Sergei Shishin and deputy head of the Economic Security Service Sergei Fomenko all retired.

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