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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Korzhakov: Cause to Be Concerned

Alexander Korzhakov is a lieutenant general now, and is hands down one of the most powerful men in Russia, not in the formal sense of his position, which still is not much, but in the very real sense of his access to the president and influence over the country's security services.

Last weekend, Korzhakov added a few extra strings to his bow. In addition to his existing fiefdom -- which already included the Kremlin guard, a staff, an analytical center and Russia's crack Alpha special forces -- he now also holds sway over the nationwide bodyguard service that has representation throughout the country.

Exactly how many people this involves is not known. But by some estimates, Korzhakov now controls as many as 20,000 in staff and troops. Not bad for a personal bodyguard.

The truth is that Korzhakov has for some time enjoyed that kind of power because one of his closest friends and colleagues, his former mentor, Mikhail Barsukov, had headed the Main Security Department until last week. Now Barsukov has been promoted to head the Federal Security Service. His old job has been folded into Korzhakov's, and the man President Boris Yeltsin has described as his closest confidant finds himself pulling the strings of a conglomerate creeping toward the scope of the former KGB.

What this signifies is hard to say for sure. Nobody who heads a security service is likely to be a liberal activist for human rights -- in any country. But the little we do know about Korzhakov is not reassuring.

We know, for example, that he sent his troops, fully armed and unidentified, to surround the headquarters of MOST-Bank in central Moscow last December. Far from being apologetic, he then joked about how he liked "Goose hunting," punning on the name of MOST-Bank chief Vladimir Gusinsky.

We know also that numerous Kremlin aides have said in whispers that Korzhakov has bugged their offices, that he controls the flow of all documents and visitors to the president and that he runs a parallel, unpublicized analytical center to provide his version of events to Yeltsin.

All of this speaks of a shrewd and ambitious man who is ruthless about his choice of methods. And little by little, he is gathering in additional power from his seat in the Kremlin.

How will Korzhakov use this power if it becomes clear that Yeltsin will not, or cannot run for reelection -- an eventuality that would leave Korzhakov out in the cold? What might he not do to ensure that elections go to plan? By what rules does he play? The answer is that we do not know. And that is cause enough to worry -- and to watch.