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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FSB Boss? Everyone's Heard but Him

Interfax news agency has reported it. Izvestia put it on the front page. Reuters and Associated Press spread the word. It appears that the only ones who are in doubt about the appointment of Colonel General Mikhail Barsukov to head the Federal Security Service are the Kremlin and Barsukov himself.

Barsukov, 48, purports to be astounded by the rumors, despite widespread speculation in the press that his nomination was imminent.

Ever since former Federal Security Service (FSB) chief Sergei Stepashin was sacked on June 30 in the wake of the Budyonnovsk hostage crisis, Barsukov has regularly appeared on Kremlin-watchers' lists of those most likely to succeed him in the post.

In fact, according to Interfax, Barsukov has been offered the position four times in the past two years, but has repeatedly turned it down, preferring to retain his powerful job as chief of Kremlin security and the impressive title "Commandant of the Kremlin."

On Thursday, Interfax reported Barsukov's nomination to head the KGB-successor organization as fact, prompting rapid and categorical denials.

"There are no documents on the nomination of Mikhail Barsukov to the post of director of the Federal Security Service, either in the president's staff, in his secretariat, or his press office," said presidential press spokesman Sergei Medvedev.

But Medvedev's credibility has not been enhanced by the flap surrounding a photo of ailing President Boris Yeltsin that the press office released as a new picture, when it was, in fact, identical to one taken over three months ago. So his denials of Barsukov's nomination just stoked the fires of speculation.

If Barsukov does end up taking over the FSB, he will be the next in a long line of Yeltsin loyalists to receive top positions for past favors. According to a profile published in Komsomolskaya Pravda, Barsukov, a career soldier who has spent most of that career in the Kremlin, is a close friend of presidential bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov.

He remained close to Korzhakov and his powerful patron during the years of Yeltsin's exile from the Kremlin. After the 1991 coup, when Yeltsin returned in triumph, Barsukov became commandant of the Kremlin and the head of the Chief Security Directorate of the Russian Federation.

He is rumored to be a ladies' man, who is fond of dressing well and partying hard. The article in Komsomolskaya Pravda says that his capacity for drink is legendary, and he likes nothing better than to toast Western dignitaries under the table.

But he is first and foremost a career military man, a professional with a history of firmness in dealing with adversaries.

"He is a military man, someone who would fit in well with the current philosophy of establishing order in the country," said Alexander Tsipko, an analyst with the Gorbachev Foundation.

"It used to be much more difficult to make a career like his. Former KGB chiefs were usually at least partly politicians."

Tsipko paused, and laughed, "If he gets the job, he will be more of a professional than even [former KGB chief Yury] Andropov."