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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Barsukov Has It All to Prove at FSB

The appointment of Mikhail Barsukov as head of the Federal Security Service did not come exactly as a surprise.

Even before the decision was prematurely reported last week, there had been rumors that President Boris Yeltsin had offered Barsukov the job on a number of occasions and that he had declined, preferring to stay on as head of Kremlin security, where he enjoyed power and influence alongside his friend and close colleague Alexander Korzhakov.

This time Barsukov accepted the post and doubtless he was promised a free hand to run the service as he would wish -- a power that was denied his predecessor, Sergei Stepashin, whose declared intention to introduce reforms came to nothing.

Given Barsukov's tough reputation and his links with the shadowy Kremlin bodyguard, which has already demonstrated its willingness to use force to deal with opponents -- as in the case of the raid on the headquarters of MOST-Bank last December -- his installation at the top of an organization such as the Federal Security Service, or FSB, does not augur well.

As the successor to the KGB, the FSB already has its work cut out to gain public confidence and show that it has cast off the repressive practices that were its trade in the past. For it to develop closer ties with another equally unaccountable and powerful organization does little to help this cause.

But in truth, it is unwise to prejudge Barsukov. Yeltsin's preference for an outsider to head the FSB may show that he is guarding against the chance that the service should spin beyond political control and follow its own, inevitably black agenda.

The promotion of an agency insider, Viktor Zorin, to the No. 2 position under Barsukov should be sufficient to ensure the operational efficiency of the service. By putting his own man at the top, Yeltsin has shown a determination to keep a close eye on those operations.

And that is all to the good, provided, of course, that the purpose of having close control over the FSB is not to abuse the service's powers to political ends -- or in other words, against Yeltsin's perceived enemies.

A number of liberal politicians are warning against Barsukov's appointment, precisely due to the Kremlin guard's aggressive record in dealing with political rivals such as MOST-Bank chief Vladimir Gusinsky.

The fact is that almost any appointment to head the FSB would give cause for concern. It is up to Barsukov to show that he has been placed in charge of the former KGB, not to abuse its powers in the Kremlin's interests, but to ensure that the agency operates professionally and within the bounds of the law.