- Anticipating parliamentary and presidential
election campaigns, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov is strengthening,
at an accelerating pace, the regime's control over the media and strategic
industries. Primakov headed Russia's intelligence service from 1991-1996,
and since he took office as Prime Minister in September 1998, he has appointed
former KGB colleagues to key positions throughout the country. Former
Soviet spymasters have now been installed as head of the government administration,
the Presidential Chief of Staff, the director of the Department for Special
Programs, and the chief of the Main Control Directorate. On January 25,
the former public relations boss of the Russian Federal Foreign Intelligence
Service (SVR), successor to the KGB's international directorate, was appointed
First Deputy Director of the Russian press agency ITAR-TASS. To increase
the state control over the strategic enterprises, Primakov named a former
KGB colleague as chief of the state weapons company Rosvooruzheniye, and
launched a major restructuring of the Russian oil and gas industry that
included personnel changes in the administration of many major companies.
Primakov's appointment of loyal Soviet-era cadres to strategic posts is
not merely building a strong political faction that is loyal primarily
to him, but one that controls the commanding heights of the communications
and large-scale industries.
- Since becoming the Russian Prime Minister
five months ago, Yevgeny Primakov has assumed the vast majority of powers
from the ailing President Boris Yeltsin. During this time, Primakov has
systematically appointed "his" people to key positions in Russia
-- "his" people being former officers of the KGB and its successor
agencies. In September 1998, former SVR official Yury Zubakov was appointed
head of government administration. Later last year, Primakov succeeded
in installing Grigory Rapota, who has no experience in weapons trade, as
the new head of the arms exports monopoly Rosvooruzheniye. Rapota, who
had worked for the KGB since 1966 as an agent in Western Europe and the
U.S., was named by Primakov in 1993 as the number three man of the Russian
intelligence service. Primakov had to face serious obstacles to win the
Rosvooruzheniye post for Rapota and was able to succeed in this effort
only due to his post as a chief of the state military-cooperation committee.
- A number of other former Soviet spymasters
were recently named into key positions. Former high KGB and border guard
officer Nikolai Bordyuzha was named as President's Chief of Staff in December
1998. According to the Russian magazine Obshchaya Gazeta, Bordyuzha, as
well as Zubakov, and the head of the president's secretariat Robert Makaryan,
were appointed to their posts late last year on advice from Primakov.
Other posts currently occupied by former KGB agents and bureaucrats include
head of the Department of Special Programs, held by former FSB deputy chief
Viktor Zorin, and head of the main Control Directorate, held by Nikolai
Patrushev, also former FSB official. Former KGB agent in Germany, Vladimir
Putin, is now acting as first deputy chief of the president, responsible
for the administration's relations with Russian regions.
- Most recently, Primakov was involved
in promoting the SVR's public relations department chief, Yury Kobaladze,
into a high position in the Russian media. Last week, Russian newspapers
reported that Kobaladze would soon be named director of the state-owned
management company VGTRK, which owns the RTR and Kultura TV channels, Radio
Russia, and a number of regional radio and TV stations and transmission
systems. Kobaladze confirmed he was offered the position and announced
that he was retiring from the Foreign Intelligence Service on January 22.
However, on January 25, Kobaladze was not placed at the helm of VGTRK,
but rather was named First Deputy Director of Russia's leading news agency
ITAR-TASS. The move is further evidence of Primakov's serious, possibly
long-term political ambitions.
- Following the abject failure of neoliberal
economic reforms in Russia, the state has been gradually increasing its
control over the industrial sector. The main contributor to the state
budget in Russia is the oil and gas sector, which had been partially liberalized
during the last couple of years. Foreign investors have been allowed to
make major investments in the sector, and a number of joint ventures with
foreign partners were established. Foreigners mainly contributed financial
investment and technical know-how to the Russian oil and gas sector. However,
it is becoming clear that the Russian government is now moving away from
liberalization and towards renewed dominance over this industry. The Russian
Ministry of Fuel and Energy has recently designed a plan for founding a
national oil company by merging such oil companies as Rosneft, ONAKO, and
Russia-Belorussian Slavneft. Also, the government plans a major restructuring
of the gas giant Gazprom, including all-encompassing personnel changes.
- We have predicted and subsequently tracked
Russia's increasing assertiveness in its foreign policy and Russia's rebuilding
of its empire. As Moscow, with the old Soviet crew back in charge, reverts
to familiar foreign policy patterns, the same clearly holds true in domestic
policy. Primakov, backed by his Gorbachev-era supporters and colleagues
among the security apparatus, is now asserting control over the institutions
of government, the media and the military and extractive industries. Those
Primakov has placed in charge are quickly and systematically reasserting
familiar patterns of heavy-handed control over Russia's internal politics.
After briefly flirting with economic and political liberalization, the
Russian polity is quickly reverting to a familiar form.
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