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By Andrei Soldatov
In the third year of Perestroika, in 1988, the intelligence branch of the KGB was deep in a crisis – the headquarters in Yasenevo woods a few miles southwest of Moscow found the officers at KGB rezidenturas in Western countries increasingly reluctant to approach foreigners. They effectively turned off the aggressive recruiting mode the Soviet intelligence was once so famous.
In the United States, Soviet intelligence scored some spectacular successes in penetration, namely Aldrich Ames at CIA and Robert Hannssen at FBI, but the recruited Americans were the walk-ins – i.e. they themselves initiated the contact with Soviet spies, they were not approached by the Russians.
The Soviet Union was losing the Cold War and that certainly contributed to the confusion in KGB intelligence stations all over the world, but most importantly, the officers themselves didn’t want to risk their postings in the West. Being kicked out of a Western country if caught red-handed was not a particularly attractive idea at time when all kinds of shortages back home were already palpable.
Finally, the big shots at Yasenevo came up with a solution. It was a bold and witty idea, and the translated Analytical overview was part of it. Yasenevo suggested to exploit the natural advantages the KGB still enjoyed back home.
In addition to its espionage abroad, the KGB was always busy collecting “intelligence from the territory,” a euphemism for recruiting foreign nationals in the Soviet Union, with an eye to subsequently running them as agents in their home countries. This system worked because the Soviet Union, as a police state, had an opportunity to watch literally every foreign national in the country. Each regional KGB department had what was called a First Section in charge of recruiting foreigners.
This activity was coordinated by the Directorate RT (Razvedka s Territorii: intelligence from territory) of the First Chief Directorate in Yasenevo.
The problem was that no so many foreigners wanted to come the Soviet Union. Now that was changing, thanks to Gorbachev, who was busy opening up the country.
But the Soviet Union was still a totalitarian state, meaning that there was no media, a trade union, or a nascent private enterprise (not to mention a government agency) in position to say no to the KGB if approached and asked to plant a spy in the organization under disguise.
These spies planted by the KGB were known as DR officers, Destvuyushego Rezerva: of the active reserve. The term had a long history; it was used since the 1920s.
The KGB’s “Tradecraft in Intelligence Work from Cover Organizations on Soviet Territory,” an analytical overview presented here for the first time in both its original Russian and in English translation, suggested boosting the activities of the Directorate RT as a way to compensate the passivity of hibernated intelligence stations abroad.
The beauty of the report was that it suggested combining two things, already at KGB disposal – the capabilities of planting KGB spies in almost any Soviet organization; and the activities of the Directorate RT in approaching foreigners now coming in big numbers to the Soviet Union.
The Directorate RT was thus encouraged to plant more spies in Soviet organizations with an eye to recruiting foreigners in the Soviet Union.
The report even suggested to send officers of the Directorate RT abroad to run its assets, and not to handle them to the intelligence stations in respective countries, probably acknowledging the reluctance of the intelligence stations to taking risks.
The Soviet regime was facing its collapse, but the KGB intelligence branch once again proved its resourcefulness and ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
Andrei Soldatov, The coathor of “The Compatriots: The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia’s Exiles, Émigrés, and Agents Abroad”
Translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
In his speech before the elite of the Russian ruling class earlier this week, Vladimir Putin announced a new constitutional reform, which, in essence, amounts to adopting a new fundamental law. The Kremlin is proposing a new “social contract” to the Russian people that will replace the “Crimean consensus” – new and restored social benefits in exchange for cementing within the Constitution the monopoly of the current ruling class over the country’s governance.
A new “social contract” is a necessity for Putin’s regime. When he first came to power, at the time of the second war in Chechnya and fairly regular and massive terrorist acts in Central Russia, including in Moscow, he proposed a similar deal to the Russian people – exchange of some political liberties for security. Having imposed “order”, Vladimir Putin continued to expand his powers at the expense of other governing institutions, destroying the constitutional order of Russia. Then a second contract was put forward – a promise of satiety and stability in exchange for the remnants of political liberties. This contract was a much tougher sell and resulted in mass protests of 2011-2012. And in 2014, the Kremlin came up with yet another offer: forfeit of even more liberties for the restored sense of Russian greatness through the war on Ukraine and forceful annexation of Crimea.
We have now entered the final stage in this process. The population, seriously impoverished as a result of the prolonged economic decline, which began even before Crimea and was aggravated by international sanctions, is offered an ambitious program of support for the poorest of its members in exchange for a new Constitution, which will enable Vladimir Putin to stay in power after 2024, when he can no longer, under current law, be re-elected another time to the post of the president of Russia.
Is This Really a New Constitution?
In his address to the Federal Assembly, Vladimir Putin said that his plan does not envision adoption of a new Constitution. A legal analysis of proposed amendments, however, suggest that it amounts to a fundamental change in Russia’s State system.
His first proposal is self-isolation of Russia from international law — an idea floated by the Russian ruling class for quite a while. This would enable Putin’s regime not to observe international obligations when they contradict Russian legislation. This is a reference to the abolition or amendment of Part 4 of Article 15 of the Constitution, which mentions the primacy of international obligations and agreements assumed by the Russian Federation over its domestic legislation. This change would allow Russia to selectively not comply with decisions of such organizations as the Council of Europe or the European Court of Human Rights and essentially make pointless Russia’s participation in these institutions under the new Constitution.
It should be noted that the article proposed for amendment is part of the so called “protected” part of the fundamental law. In order to rewrite it, it is necessary, under the Constitution, to convene a new Constitutional Assembly. At a minimum, a referendum must be held. Vladimir Putin was clear that he does not intend to do either. Instead, with a Presidential Decree, he has formed a “working group” (not stipulated under any current laws) whose task it is to amend the fundamental law. He has indicated, however, that Russian citizens are to approve his proposals by some kind of universal vote.
It is highly unlikely that proposals will be rejected, since the majority of the Russian population does not understand that it is Russia’s international obligations that most reliably protect many of their rights, including social rights, given the tendencies of the authoritarian regime. In time, most likely such understanding may develop, but it may happen too late —after the amendment of the Constitution. Therefore, the international community must actively seek to explain this now, while such discussions are underway in Russia. Another point to be explained is that such a ballot would have no legal force; and neither would the follow-on amendments introduced through parliament, as they clearly violate the Constitution.
Understandably, the Kremlin is apprehensive about convening a Constitutional assembly, since the laws governing this procedure have not been updated since 1993. There may be an uproar, and most importantly, a delay. On the other hand, a referendum requires a set of rather precise formulations, which would tie Putin’s hands for the real re-writing of the Constitution. Putin is clearly counting on securing a wholesale consent from the people, and not a detailed, article-by-article approval process. Moreover, a national referendum cannot be combined with Federal Parliamentary or Presidential Elections which is exactly what the Kremlin intends to do.
Putin’s decision to disregard overt requirements of the Constitution is nothing new. Since his very first days in power, he has been consistent in eroding Russian Constitutional government institutions and creating parallel institutions and procedures. Some of the early attacks included establishment of federal districts and the institution of presidential representatives, not prescribed in the Constitution. The Russian State today even features law-enforcement bodies that exist outside the Constitutional framework – such as Rosgvardiya (the National Guard). Rosgvariya is controlled by the Presidential Administration, whose powers are described by the fundamental law as “the president forms his administration”.
The Problem of 2024
In addition to rejecting the primacy of International Law, Putin has proposed to strip the remnants of the autonomy of judges at the highest courts. At the president’s demand, the docile executive authority of the upper chamber of parliament, the Federation Council (the president can even appoint some of the senators) will, under the new Constitution, dismiss judges from the Supreme and Constitutional Courts (“in connection with a loss of confidence” by the head of government.
Putin has also proposed to renounce compliance with the European Charter on Local Self-Governance, ratified by Russia; and to make municipalities part of government authority, absorbing them as structural sub-divisions of regional state administrations. One of the possible goals of this initiative is to exclude independent political candidates from running in and winning municipal elections.
Likewise, the proposed amendment of the Article on Presidential Elections (which introduces a 25-year limit on candidates and forbids candidates with residences in foreign countries) politically neutralizes powerful opposition figures currently in exile.
Putin has also proposed to remove from the text of the fundamental law the stipulation that prohibits the president from running for elections to this post more than twice “in a row”. Putin himself has already used this clause, having essentially served five terms (four as president and one as prime minister), but he wants to preclude his potential successors from taking advantage of it.
The plan will certainly result in a major re-distribution of powers. The State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russians parliament is now in the process of approving the candidate for prime minister nominated by the president. The Duma also forms the cabinet of ministers, with the exception for the so-called “presidential quota”: the heads of the law-enforcement agencies and
possibly the head of the Foreign Ministry. The new Constitution requires the Duma to do so in consultation with the Federal Assembly, and not appoint them without any discussions as now.
Finally, Putin’s proposal legitimizes a government agency (that already exists parallel to the Constitutional realm) – the State Council. Russia’s governors serve at the State Council and are appointed on a rotation basis. It is not clear what the new State Council would look like, how would it be staffed and by whom, and most importantly, what would be its powers. We can be certain, however, that Vladimir Putin has already thought through those details.
Judging from the people whom the president of Russia has appointed to the “working group” to amend the Constitution, the group is a mere formality. There are practically no lawyers among the members of the group; these are extras in a political show. The real draft for Constitutional reform, has most likely already been written by the presidential administration.
One can speculate on the various motives behind the constitutional amendments. It appears that Putin intends to leave the post but remain in power in some other role. He may choose to run the country from his position at the Security Council (to which he has transferred as his deputy the ex-prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, who had resigned after the publication of the address). Although it is more likely that he will head a reformed State Council which will likely be assigned some sort of extraordinary powers under the new Constitution. This is an attempt to formulate something like a system of checks and balances which would guarantee Putin, even in the event he leaves the post of the president, the possibility of running the country.
The international community has very few instruments to block this path of Russia’s self-isolation. Bringing the country into international alliances would not have any effect on the internal situation in Russia. Mobilization of the currently apolitical majority of the population dissatisfied over monopolization of power within the country is the biggest hope for stopping these encroachments. It is for this reason that Vladimir Putin, before rolling out his constitutional reform, has offered a long list of new social perks and benefits, including hot meals for school kids subsidized by the federal budget. He is clearly counting that as result, some positive meme like a “Putin breakfast” (or lunch) would be established. But for now, this is a direct trade where the right of the current ruling class to extend its tenture by at least a decade is bought with a hot meal.
In 2019, Russia regained its status in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. This event caused many fears and sowed the seeds of doubt in the minds of observers and analysts. The team of the Free Russia Foundation reviewed the development of this challenging situation.
The bottom line for spy recruitment comes down to this: look for the losers, especially the ones who want to think they are winners because they hang on to important positions.
Dmitry Medvedev’s new Administration has already been dubbed “the stagnation cabinet” and for a good reason. Despite some rotations, the new government is dominated by well-known bureaucrats who have hopped between various positions within the Putin system for years but have never established themselves as agents of change. There simply are no reformers or rabble-rousers in this cabinet, and consequently, no reasons to expect substantial changes in economic policy. The overwhelming majority of officials from the previous administration have kept their posts, just like Medvedev himself, who has long become the national symbol of stagnation and imitation of competent economic management.
At the same time, certain shifts within the government do offer clues on exactly what kind of adjustments of the economic management style we should expect in the coming years. Let’s discuss this in detail.
The most glaring change is the dramatic beefing-up of the fiscal component of the cabinet. The opposition of the fiscal hawks to all development proposals had figured prominently in all of the previous administrations. As a rule, all breakthrough proposals require either lower taxes or increased spending for purposes of development. The fiscal hawks are categorically against such proposals, as a balanced budget is their foremost priority. This is exactly what type of standoff shook the Kasyanov government in early 2000, when Kasyanov and Gref sought to lower the taxation burden, but Finance Minister Kudrin was opposed.
The most striking feature of Medvedev’s “old new” cabinet is the unprecedented power of the fiscal hawks; they are probably the most powerful they have been in the past twenty-five years. First of all, the government now has a de facto shadow Prime Minister — Anton Siluanov — who has not only been given the powers of a First Vice Minister and now is in the supervisory position over everyone else in the government but has also kept his full control over the powerful Ministry of Finance, the very agency that regulates the state financial flows.
Siluanov will inevitably grow stronger due to the weakness of Medvedev himself, who is by far less proficient financially, and to the new arrangement where Siluanov will oversee the political process of budget negotiations with the Duma lobbyists — he would always have the pretext of telling other agencies: “apologies, you will have to take a hit on this issue due to the current political situation.” A balanced budget and growing reserves to fight off inevitable future crises are the traditional priorities of Siluanov. That means we should anticipate an increasingly restrained discussion of spending increases and, conversely, very lively discussions of tax hikes. Such fixation on balanced budgets and reserve growth is not great news for Russia’s weak economy.
Siluanov is not the only bad news. Tatyana Golikova, the new public-sector czarina, in fact, is yet another fiscally rigid official who has spent years overseeing the budget process at the Ministry of Finance. That fact is even more important than the widely-publicized business interests of the Khristenko-Golikov family in the pharmaceutical industry, — it’s hard to imagine Golikova aggressively demanding dramatic increases in spending for health and education. The opposite is more likely. Against the backdrop of the bureaucratically weak Ministers Skvortsova and Vasilyeva, who were retained in their posts, we anticipate new waves of public sector “optimization”.
In that regard, a telling appointment is that of the new Minister of Science and Higher Education Mikhail Kotyukov. The appointment came a few days after the announcement of the abolition of the Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations (FANO- ФАНО) and the creation of the new Ministry. The scientific community was jubilant— finally, the benevolent President had responded to the pleas of the learned men and fired from the FANO the squad of heartless boys with no real science background who were intent on consolidating their control of the budgets and properties of the scientific sector. But their glee was short-lived, for appointed to the post of the new ministry was precisely the head of the much-hated FANO Mikhail Kotyukov, barely over 40 years of age, who has spent most of his career in finance and has no background in science. This was a sophisticated way for Putin and Medvedev to spit into the face of a scientific community. To put it bluntly, the “old new” Medvedev Administration will basically finalize the process of cashing out Russia’s social services and science — and that explains the current appointments very well.
One should not expect a comprehensive policy of human capital development when everything is administered exclusively by finance cadres with a very different way of looking at things. Veronika Skvortsova can be an award-winning doctor three times over, but we have already seen her real position within the decision-making process. In that regard, the situation has gotten even worse.
Consistent with this overall picture is the reappointments into the “old new” financial block of two ministers — Siluanov and Oreshkin. Before the new cabinet was announced, a broad range of forecasts was floated that Putin may surprise everyone with appointing into the government new strong cadres with a mandate to resuscitate economic policy.
Dirigistes had hoped for the appointment of their own gurus; traditional in-system liberals for Kudrin’s appointment. But it is clear now that Putin is quite content with the people who keep the government piggy-bank under control and keep feeding us fairy tales about the growth which is not even on the horizon.
Of course, there are a number of other odious appointments offensive to those who understand our country’s problems even a little. For example, Mr. Kobylkin, under whose governorship the Yamalo-Nenents Autonomous Okrug witnessed the first epidemic outbreak of anthrax in 75 years, has been appointed the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. Medinsky, with his plagiarized dissertation, has kept his Minister of Culture position. Everyone has heard about Mutko and the Ministry of Construction.
However, the most scandalous appointment, of course, is that of Dmitry Patrushev, the son of former FSB Director and closest friend of Putin Nikolai Patrushev, to the post of Minister of Agriculture. Must we highlight the fact that Patrushev Jr. has only worked in agriculture for…. never! He has never worked in agriculture, not a single day. He has worked in banking, and not very successfully: the Rosselkhozbank (the Russian Agrarian Bank — Россельхозбанк) which he headed since 2010, has not managed to get out of the red, despite numerous promises of the management, and is now one of the largest recipients of government subsidies. The reason — reserves backed by bad debt which consume all of the bank’s interest profits. To put it bluntly, loans were generously issued for random projects and now the taxpayers (that is you and me) are bailing them out. By the way, my personal theory on Patrushev’s appointment to the Ministry of Agriculture is that he was removed from the Bank because he simply was not up to the job, and the Ministry of Finance got fed up with constantly having to bail him out. So, it was an honorary discharge, of sorts. However, considering the high-powered daddy Dmitry Patrushev, this is definitely not the end of his career.
Therefore, the new edition of Dmitry Medvedev’s Administration — is not just a stagnation cabinet, but also a parade of egregious incompetence as well as the first in history barefaced attempt to introduce the corrupt practice of appointing the sons of the new high nobility to ministerial posts (I am struggling to recall such an impudence, frankly).
At the same time, we should note that the numerous forecasts of anonymous Telegram channels foretelling the strengthening of Igor Sechin’s position in the new Administration have not come true. Not only has Sechin not realized any gains, he has lost ground. For example, even the new head of the Ministry of Environment Kobylkin is much closer to Novatek (Новатэк) and Gazprom, but definitely not to Sechin himself, in contrast to the previous head of that agency Sergey Donskoy. It is hard to say whether Donskoy was a “Sechin man” in the full sense of that term, but the obvious trend is definitely not to the advantage of the head of Rosneft.
Sechin’s frenemy ArkadiyDvorkovich has left the government. However, Dmitry Kozak who replaced him as the Energy Czar is not any closer to Sechin. Another obvious opponent of Sechin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, has managed to wrangle an important position of the Chief of Staff for his college classmate Konstantin Chuychenko, despite Medvedev’s conspicuous lack of competence.
However, overall, it would be fair to say that Medvedev’s Cabinet is consistent with Vladimir Putin’s view of the situation. He is content with everything, he does not want any radical changes, he does not want any reforms. All that he is after is further fiscal consolidation. Putin is satisfied with fairy tales about economic growth told him by the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Economic Development. An old joke comes to mind: “Experts say people’s incomes are growing. — But our income has not grown! — Clearly, you are not the experts!”
He is unwilling to undertake any serious attempts to change the situation, just as he is unwilling to alter fundamentally the existing balance between the power clans.
It’s difficult to come up with a better illustration of the term “stagnation” (or in common parlance, zastoy) than the composition of the new Medvedev Cabinet. In some distant future, this Administration will become the textbook example of regulatory stagnation
This Article first appeared in Russian at the Insider’s site.