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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Reform: Round 3

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The rumors that President Vladimir Putin was planning to form a single super security agency, the Federal Investigations Service, have not come true, at least not yet. Instead, Putin abolished or broke up a number of security agencies on Tuesday: FAPSI, the Federal Border Service and the Tax Police. He also created one new agency, the State Committee for the Control of Narcotics.

In the short term, the shake-up could be viewed as part of the struggle for power and influence in the crucial security and intelligence sectors -- either as a reaction to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, or as a preemptive strike ahead of the upcoming national elections. The changes can also be viewed as part of Putin's long-term strategy for government reform, and in this context Tuesday's reshuffle is the third round of these reforms.

In the Soviet era, the state's security and intelligence services were concentrated in three agencies: the Defense Ministry, KGB and Interior Ministry. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the big three quickly disintegrated, leading to a sharp increase in the number of agencies -- a dozen or so in the early 1990s. By the end of the decade, 14 agencies possessed armed troops. This diffusion of responsibilities and functions led to confusion, the lack of a unified command and loss of manageability.

After the first war in Chechnya, the Russian leadership's concern about this disintegration hardened into a resolve to make some fundamental changes. Under a decree signed in July 1998, all agencies containing armed forces were ordered to redraw the borders of their territorial subdivisions to conform with Russia's military districts. However the reform, in which Putin was involved first as a member of the Security Council and later as its secretary, was not implemented in full at that time.

Round One of Putin's reforms took place on May 13, 2000, with the decree creating seven federal administrative districts. One week later Viktor Cherkesov, deputy director of the FSB, was appointed a presidential envoy along with Deputy Interior Minister Pyotr Latyshev, Tax Police General Georgy Poltavchenko, two army generals and two civilians. Over the next three months the envoys assembled their staffs, assigning officials from the so-called power agencies a leading role. All federal security and law enforcement agencies created federal district subdivisions except for the FSB.

Round Two. In March, 2001, Sergei Ivanov, secretary of the Security Council, took over as defense minister, while his first deputy, Mikhail Fradkov, was installed as Russia's top tax cop. Boris Gryzlov moved into the interior minister's office, and the former minister, Vladimir Rushailo, became head of the Security Council. Far-reaching staff changes were soon carried out in all four agencies.

Round One of the reform established federal district-level divisions as the structural center of the reorganized agencies. In Round Two the so-called chekists seized control of the main power agencies. And in Round Three, Putin has redistributed turf and resources among the power agencies.

So, who are the winners and losers in all this?

The last round of transformations has substantially strengthened the three traditional Soviet power agencies. Putin's St. Petersburg allies in the power agencies -- Nikolai Patrushev at the FSB, Ivanov and Gryzlov -- are joined by Cherkesov, whose anti-drug agency has been given the disbanded Tax Police's buildings, funding, equipment and personnel.

The logic of giving such a powerful agency the task of policing the narcotics trade doesn't become clear unless the new committee's purview will be substantially broader than announced, and will include the war on terrorism, as Putin has suggested it may.

The decision to abolish the Tax Police makes rather less sense. If the tax police are thrown into the war on drugs, the Interior Ministry will have to spend considerable time and resources training new ones.

The replacement of Cherkesov with Valentina Matviyenko as presidential envoy to the Northwestern Federal District is particularly intriguing. For starters, none of the envoys has been replaced until now, despite the fact that several of them are obviously incompetent. What's more, the Northwestern Federal District, which contains Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, is both crucial and particularly complex. It only made sense that Putin put Cherkesov, a trusted ally, in charge of it. Has Cherkesov, like Schiller's Moor, "done his job?"

Under his watch, many regional law enforcement officers were replaced, particularly in St. Petersburg; criminal cases were opened against four deputy governors of St. Petersburg and other members of the administration; and a network of obshchestvennye priyomnye were opened across the federal district, complete with rather nontransparent sources of funding. The task of intimidating Governor Vladimir Yakovlev and blocking his plans to get re-elected to a third term has effectively been achieved. However, Cherkesov has been far less successful vis-a-vis preparations for St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary and in his work with Kaliningrad.

Nonetheless, Cherkesov's appointment to head a new powerful law enforcement agency is clearly a promotion (and apparently something that he lobbied for himself).

It's still too early to say what problems and benefits Putin's sweeping changes will produce. On the one hand, strengthening the security agencies could improve their ability to work together and maximize their resources. On the other hand, the lack of transparency and civilian control increases the risk that a monster like the KGB will be resurrected. This lack of control is already evident in the way the changes were made: by presidential decree, in violation of existing law, and with no discussion in parliament.

Nikolai Petrov, head of the Center for Political and Geographical Research, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.