Today continuing our story about Sergei Naryshkin’s appointment, while also meandering along a few other uncharted paths. The main theme of this post is something like “Whither Russia’s Next Generation of Chekists?”
Where we left off, writer Evgeny Krutikov was weaving a sort of “Fathers and Sons” analysis of at least three generations of Soviet/Russian spies; and the generational differences therein.
There was the late-Soviet generation of Chekists, characterized by routinism and even mediocrity, agents unable to think outside the box, yet at the same time masters of their craft. Espionage as an “applied science”, and agents possessing cultural and linguistic fluency within their specializations.
One generation down, and we have the sad sacks of the 90’s, operatives who no longer studied any languages or cultures, and many of whom were transformed into simple agents of corporate espionage.
Another generation down — and the situation starting to improve, things starting to get fixed. Krutikov is upbeat about the progression, but there are still some unsavory stains. For example, the story of the so-called Geländewagen spies. This story happened a couple of months ago, back in July. Krutikov links this piece by fellow-VZGLIAD reporter Petr Akopov. Here is the gist of the story, which illustrates a bratty elitist element of the Russian education system — like they’re starting to turn out Eton boys — gasp!
The Mercedes-Benz Spies
So, at the end of July the Russian FSB (successor to the Soviet KGB, as all Russophobes know) graduated their senior class at the Moscow FSB Academy. Some of the spy school graduates decided to rent a fleet of Mercedes-Benz Geländewagens and drive through Moscow honking their horns and going “Woooo” in celebration. Here is the youtube video of their escapade:
In the scheme of things, this was not overly egregious; however, Moscow citizens and the Russian public in general were highly disapproving of this show of Bertie Wooster style aristocratic japerie. Worse, some of the graduates were said to have posted even more stuff on social media, photos and videos, and even including family names. These students broke the first rule of spying: Stay unnoticed. Remain incognito.
The scandal grew and acquired legs. A criminal investigation was launched. A few leading figures in the FSB Academy were either sacked or demoted. Participants in the convoy were disciplined and some may not receive the choice assignments they were hoping for.
What The Future Holds
Juvenile japery aside, Krutikov is optimistic about the changes in the Russian spy service. Languages and culture have been reintroduced. Entire regions of the world are back in play now. Entire university faculties have sprung up to study, and specialize in, the nations of the former Soviet Union, and other areas such as Afghanistan, Africa, and the Middle East. Rare languages are once again being taught. Textbooks are being written all over the place — for example, a textbook on technical military translation from Serbian!
This is all good, but there is still the issue of cadres, and of leadership. Krutikov says he is not going to throw any stones; and he then proceeds to throw stones at an unnamed man who, he says, was appointed to a very high position, back in 2012, in Yasenevo, despite a huge cloud over this man’s head.
Let’s call this man Mr. X, shall we? X was born in 1959 and from the moment he left his mother’s womb, he worked his way up through the ranks of the bureaucracy. In 2004, X was appointed Assistant to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov himself. In 2007, X continued to serve under the new Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov. In July of 2008, X was appointed Head of the President’s Commission on Inter-regional and Cultural Relations — this was basically a euphemism for curating the unrecognized post-Soviet republics such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria. In this latter post, X did something stupid, something which harmed Russia’s interests and resulted in a geo-political failure of tectonic proportions. Krutikov only hints at what occurred — I will discuss it in more detail in tomorrow’s post. Suffice it to say, for now, that X was relieved of his position due to this blunder. And as icing on this tort, X was also involved in a more personal scandal as well, possibly involving alcohol; his misdeeds were caught on video. X’s wingman was sent away in disgrace to become a sort of “mall cop” at the Norilsk Nickel company; and recall that Norilsk is inside the Arctic Circle and happens to be the northernmost populated city in the entire world.
Four years later, and X himself, suddenly rejuvenated and rehabilitated, receives a juicy appointment at the Yasenevo spy agency, once again working under his old mentor Fradkov.
All of this highly interesting story in the purpose of Krutikov tossing stones at Fradkov’s departing spine. His point being that, under Fradkov, the Russian Foreign Intelligence agency was turned into a haven of sinecurists, lifers, and dissolute dinosaurs.
[Stayed tuned for the next installment: In which I reveal the identity of the secretive Mr. X!]