Today finishing off our story about Sergei Naryshkin’s appointment, while also revealing the burning question coyly avoided by writer Sergei Krutikov – namely, who was this mysterious Mr. X? A man who represented everything that was wrong in a world of bureaucratic goofballs.
Well, without further ado – tada! Mr. X is Sergei Vinokurov. How do I know this? Is it because I am so intimately acquainted with the personnel of Russian politics? Not exactly. I just happened to see the answer to this puzzle in the Comments section to Krutikov’s VZGLIAD piece. When reading a story, it often pays to read the Comments section as well. Krutikov himself might have been constrained (by his editor), what with libel laws and a’that. But anarchy aka Freedom of Speech still reigns in the Commentariat. Vinokurov, by the way, is a solid Slavic name. It means something like “Wine Brewer”. Giving a possible hint as to his Third Estate family origins, possibly as a merchant family (?) way back when.
Anyhow, this other piece from Kommersant, dated September 5, 2012, dishes the dirt on Sergei Vinokurov’s recent appointment to a high position in the Russian Intelligence Service, as Deputy Director under Mikhail Fradkov. Vinokurov received this plum position as a “booby prize” — just a few months earlier he had been relieved of his previous gig curating Presidential elections in the small breakaway Republics of South Ossetia and Transnistria.
Allow me to explain how this works: Both of these small unrecognized “republics” survive in a cruel world grace of Russia’s protection. In a logical world, they would most likely (and majority of their citizens would prefer) to simply be absorbed as regions of the Russian Federation. In an imperfect world, they must pretend to an independence they do not actually possess. As part of Russia, they would have regional leaders and regional elections. In their pretense of being independent countries, they have “Presidents” and “Presidential elections”.
In the year 2011, in both of these highly dependent areas, both having elections which Mr. Vinokurov was in charge of overseeing, Russia’s preferred candidate lost the election. Which was a pie in the face both to Mother Russia, and to Mr. Vinokurov personally.
Now. Westie propagandists always have a field day with this type of situation, and whenever it happens they see this as evidence that Moscow is losing its grip on these wayward regions; or that the people therein (such as Ossetians or Moldavians) secretly yearn to be liberated from Russia’s grip and absorbed by their NATO neighbors. But this is not actually the case and just represents wishful thinking on the part of the Westies. Majority of people in these unrecognized “republics” (with Abkhazia being the exception, which I don’t have time to talk about here) actually yearn to be reunited with Russia. But they can’t, because of international laws and NATO pressure. This is separate from local politics, where people have a mind of their own and frequently rebel against the Moscow-imposed choice. Which is what happened here.
Ossetian/Transnistrian Elections of 2011
Long story short, the South Ossetia election of 2011 was a disorganized free-for-all. Ossetians are a Christian people traditionally loyal to Russia, but they are also Caucasians, with clan-based loyalties, fiery personalities and an intense interest in local politics. Moscow’s preferred candidate was a man named Anatoly Bibilov. Bibilov won the first round, but Ossetia’s Supreme Court overturned the results when a series of protests on behalf of the other major candidate, Alla Dzhioyeva, almost turned into an armed rebellion. Dzhioyeva won the second round of voting, but in turn, had victory snatched out of her jaws by the usual back-handed deals. In the final vote, the winner was a guy named Leonid Tibilov, but as a consolation prize Dzhioyeva was given the post as Deputy Prime Minister. In the end, the only comfort that Russian analysts could draw from this whole mess, was that “the elections completed without bloodshed.” Vinokurov was justly blamed for not having a basic understanding of the issues and personalities involved.
A similar situation occurred in Transnistria, where Vinokurov openly backed Anatoly Kaminsky, the unpopular Speaker of the House. But Kaminsky was rejected by the people and, after another free-for-all and a couple of rounds later, Oppositionist candidate Evgeny Shevchuk became the President of Transnistria. Moscow continues to dislike Shevchuk; and, as an interesting sidebar, our current hero Sergei Naryshkin, along with the other Sergei, Vinokurov, was noted at the time rooting for Kaminsky.
Naryshkin apparently did not suffer any consequences for his pro-Kaminsky activities; but the other Sergei, Vinokurov aka Mr. X, was relieved of his duties in April 2012, by order of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Recall that Krutikov, in his piece, hinted at some other scandal involving Mr. Vinokurov. He wouldn’t come out and say it, and I can’t find anything about it on the internet; but he hinted at some incident involving bad and scandalous behavior at a polling place and possibly also involving alcohol; and he said the incident was recorded on video, but my search of the internet didn’t pull anything. That’s about all the gossip I can dish about this for now.
Sinecures For Dinosaurs
Moving along with the main story: Krutikov uses the Mr. X 2012 appointment as a fable, how the SVR had been transformed into a sinecure and “alms-house” for wayward bureaucrats such as Mr. Vinokurov. And this as just the continuation of a whole dynasty of similar dinosaurs such as Viktor Yerin of Yeltsin times; not to mention the men who clustered around Evgeny Primakov, who, Krutikov notes coyly, when filling out demographic questionnaires, all noted their birthplace as Tbilisi, Gruzia.
Krutikov then goes to talk about the “clan wars” within the SVR, pitting “Eastern language” experts against the other side (presumably Europeanists). Primakov, himself an Arabist by training, silently supported men whose claim to fame was, say, a knowledge of the Tamil language, accompanied by claims that mastery of an obscure tongue was a mark of true intellect in a man.
Sergei Naryshkin’s recent appointment to replace Fradkov as head of the SVR (Russia’s analogue to the American CIA) denotes that attention is being paid to the need for administrative reforms. This coincides with a reshuffling of responsibilities in related agencies. The FSB (Russia’s analogue to the American FBI) recently acquired authority to conduct operations outside of Russia’s borders, but this mandate is limited to issues of organized crime, narco-trafficking and economic crimes. It is not the same thing as good old-fashioned spying, which is still the purview of the SVR.
At one time there had been talk of merging the SVR with the GRU (Military Intelligence), but those nightmarish rumors have died down as well. The GRU conducts a completely different kind of work, focused on servicing the intelligence needs of the army.
Krutikov concludes his meandering piece on an upbeat note: The SVR has proved itself to be a not-bad mechanism in recent years; but has need for a multitude of minor reforms involving the routine work it does. Some of the dead areas are symptoms suffered by all intelligence agencies the world over; while others are specifically inherited from Soviet times. None of the problems is unsolvable, including the cadre issue. A balance must be found between reforms and maintenance of the existing structure.
The fact remains, that given the challenges Russia faces on the world stage, a fully functional Foreign Intelligence Service is needed now like never before, since the end of the Cold War.