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Monday, June 23, 2008

Annals of Neo-Soviet Russia: The Putin Purges

Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:

The Federal Drug Control Service is purging its staff. The first to go was General Viktor Rykov, head of the agency's internal affairs. Rykov is a friend and confidante of General Alexander Bulbov, a former senior officer with the drug control agency who was arrested in October on suspicion of wiretapping top-ranking siloviki.

More firings are expected to follow in the agency. After all, its new chief, Viktor Ivanov, has an ax to grind with Bulbov and his compatriots since Ivanov was one of members of the siloviki clan that Bulbov supposedly wiretapped. Bulbov therefore will likely be in prison for a long time to come. He and his former colleagues are doomed. Ivanov running the drug control service is like German World War II General Heinz Guderian heading up the Soviet General Staff.

I don't like the Federal Drug Control Service.

One year after the agency's creation in 2004, the number of fatal drug overdoses doubled in Russia, and they rose by another 150 percent the following year. Meanwhile, employees of the drug agency were themselves caught selling drugs on a regular basis. But instead of apprehending drug dealers, agency officials arrested veterinarians for giving Ketamine anesthesia to cats and chemists for selling toluene solvent.

But what does Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have against the Federal Drug Control Service? First of all, Putin never intended the service to fight drug trafficking. Rather, he wanted to create another power center to counterbalance the siloviki clan headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.

And the drug service took real pride in loyally serving that function. One example of its success: It is believed that Vladimir Ustinov was fired as the prosecutor general because of some compromising material that was fished out from his conversations on Bulbov's wiretaps. It is also believed that Bulbov wiretapped former Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev and Sechin, as well as Ivanov -- in short, all the most prominent members of the siloviki.

Bulbov could not have conducted his wiretaps without the president's sanction. But at the same time, he was turned into a scapegoat. In theory however, Putin should never have allowed Bulbov's enemies to arrest him. After all, no one will ever want to spy for Putin again if the person knows that he can be sent to jail by those he is spying on.

So we return to the question: What did the Federal Drug Control Service, and Bulbov in particular, do to prompt Putin to appoint Ivanov as the agency's new chief?

The answer is very simple. Putin no longer needs the Federal Drug Control Service as a counterbalance to the siloviki because now President Dmitry Medvedev is pegged to play that role.

Putin probably got fed up with the drug service's former chief, Viktor Cherkesov, after his harassment of veterinarians and complaints about his enemies' intrigues. You can imagine how upset Putin was with Cherkesov when, after Bulbov's arrest, he aired his dirty laundry in public and warned of an internecine clan battle in a Kommersant article in October.

Putin used the service and all the generals holding top positions there to serve his own purposes. And when that was accomplished, he essentially tossed it into the garbage like a worn-out pair of shoes.

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