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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Press Reports Mixed Reactions to Shake-Up

MTWednesday's headlines depicting various takes on President Vladimir Putin's security sector reshuffle.
President Vladimir Putin's reshuffling of the security sector and appointment of Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko as his envoy in northwestern Russia was cautiously welcomed on the front pages of Moscow's leading newspapers Wednesday.

Reporters and commentators took pains to explain the complex restructuring of the security agencies, many of them using graphs to illustrate which agency would move where. But the overall assessment of the reform's importance differed, as reflected in headlines such as "Personnel Revolution" in Izvestia and Gazeta's "Rearranging the Furniture.''

All the reports, however, agreed that two aspects of Tuesday's reshuffling had long term implications -- Matviyenko's appointment would lead to her grooming as governor of St. Petersburg, while the strengthening of the Federal Security Service would put the agency on a level comparable to its Soviet-era predecessor, the KGB.

None of the observers appeared to mourn the demise of the Tax Police, whose functions will be folded into the Interior Ministry. The department's buildings, funding and some staff will be used to build the new anti-drug agency.

After all, a Vedomosti editorial reminded readers, the now-disbanded Tax Police was the same agency that recently frightened businessmen and human rights activists by proposing the use of lie detectors and family members to spy on suspected tax evaders.

"Using violence against criminal businesses [drugs] is better from an economic viewpoint than using violence against the shadow economy, a practice carried out by the tax police," the paper said.

Many newspaper reports saw the merging of the border guards with the FSB as an efficient, consolatory move.

"A separate border guard department has lead to a substantial increase in spending for the agency and a break in a united system of command,'' Vremya Novostei wrote. "After more than a decade, the flaw has been corrected.''

Kommersant reported that the Federal Border Service has an annual budget of 22 billion rubles and 210,000 staff members, compared with the FSB's 9.5 billion rubles and staff of 80,000.

Izvestia described the creation of the new drug control agency and super FSB as a partly logical, partly illogical move.

"In a country, where the government administration is very inefficienct and is subject to radical reform, creation of monster ministries may result in two things: In form, this giant is trying to interfere in literally every aspect of life, while in essence, it is unable to regulate any," the paper said.

Apart from Boris Berezovsky-controlled Nezavisimaya Gazeta and Kommersant, which put the renaissance of the former KGB in the main headline, the perceived dangers of the superagency for democracy took a backseat in most of the reports to the main question every commentator asked: Is this the beginning of something bigger?

Several reports asked if the shake-up would spill out from the Putin-controlled security sector into the economic sector, which is controlled by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and appears much harder to reform because of its internal divisions and strong bureaucratic resistance to change.

Izvestia reported sources in the government as saying that Putin's decision to reshuffle set "a good example" to Kasyanov, who is unable to reform his economic ministries.

"The ministries categorically refuse to part with their controlling functions and, to the contrary, propose to broaden their powers," the newspaper said.

Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center predicted in an interview with Gazeta that no major reforms are likely to happen before the elections.

"Putin is not interested," the paper quoted Ryabov as saying. "The more stable the situation, the higher the ratings and the better the chances for a good win in the elections."

In the meantime, Matviyenko received support Wednesday from Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who met with the newly appointed presidential envoy to the rival northern capital to discuss the upcoming celebrations of 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg.

Luzhkov, who organized an elaborate celebration for Moscow's 850th anniversary that coincided with his failed campaign for the presidency, promised to help Matviyenko out, Interfax reported.