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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Turf War, Putin Scolds Ally and Gives Him a Job

President Vladimir Putin waded into a turf war among the security agencies over the weekend, creating a new state committee to fight illegal drugs and naming Viktor Cherkesov as its chief.

The move, announced on the Kremlin's web site Saturday, came a day after Putin publicly scolded Cherkesov on the pages of Kommersant, leading commentators to speculate that the president was trying to play a balancing act amid the infighting.

The battle between the Federal Drug Control Service, which Cherkesov heads, and the Federal Security Service and Prosecutor General's Office broke into the open earlier this month when Cherkesov wrote a scalding letter to Kommersant that accused the other two agencies of picking the fight, which he said could threaten national security. Cherkesov, a long-time ally of Putin, spoke up after FSB agents detained several of his officers.

Putin criticized Cherkesov for airing dirty laundry.

"It is wrong to bring these kinds of problems to the media," Putin told Kommersant. "When someone behaves that way and ... claims that a war among security agencies [is going on], he should, first of all, be spotless."

Putin denied that there was any infighting going on among the secret services, and he said he had not read Cherkesov's letter.

Details about the new state drug control committee, created by a Putin decree, were scarce Sunday. The decree said it would coordinate the work of regional committees, which would be led by governors and meet at least once every two months.

Cherkesov's appointment as its chief is a cunning move that shows Putin is not taking sides in the dispute, criticizing Cherkesov one day and naming him to a state post the next, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.

"Nobody knows who is winning," Pribylovsky said.

The committee's power is unclear, and the Kremlin did not say whether it would report directly to Putin, as does the Federal Drug Control Service, or the prime minister.

"I have no information on that," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday.

"Nobody understands where the committee will be," said Andrei Soldatov, an analyst with the Agentura.ru investigative Internet portal.

Cherkesov's appointment means both he and FSB director Nikolai Patrushev now head a state committee. Patrushev heads the National Anti-Terrorism Committee.

Cherkesov's letter pushed into the open what analysts described as a long-running struggle between Cherkesov and Igor Sechin, Putin's powerful deputy chief of staff, and other members of Putin's inner circle. The letter, published Oct. 9, followed the arrests of Alexander Bulbov and two other drug enforcement officers Oct. 1 at Domodedovo Airport. Bulbov was accused of ordering illegal wiretaps and accepting bribes from private firms in exchange for official protection.

Putin said in the Kommersant interview that law enforcement bodies should understand that their activities are being supervised.

"It would have been worse if law enforcement bodies had the illusion that nobody supervised their work. I understand that law enforcement agencies dislike it when measures to keep order affect them," he said.

"The court should be the only judge in this situation," he added.

Bulbov was involved in a corruption investigation into Tri Kita, a Moscow furniture store accused of evading millions of dollars in import duties.

Media reports have linked senior FSB officials to the business and speculated that the FSB struck back at Cherkesov's agency by arresting Bulbov and the other officials. Commentators have described the infighting as a battle for control over money flows and markets.

In his remarks, Putin appeared to be aware of accusations of wrongdoing against FSB officials in the furniture case. "We are talking about violations in customs, suspicions that a part of the law enforcement system protects the activities of [customs] inspectors," he said.

"In place of those people who defend the honor of the uniform, I would not accuse everyone in response. Especially through the media."

Putin paid a visit to the FSB headquarters Oct. 8, a week after Bulbov's detention, in what some interpreted as a show of support for the agency. But analysts said Putin had not taken sides.

"Putin is famous for saying something and meaning exactly the opposite," Soldatov said.

"He was really annoyed that an agent went public in this way. [There is] a rule in the security services that says that dirty laundry should be washed at home," said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who tracks Kremlin politics and the security services.

The FSB and the Federal Drug Control Service refused to comment Friday.

"I'm not allowed to comment on what the president says," a Federal Drug Control Service spokesman said.

A spokesman for the Investigative Committee, which is investigating Bulbov, said he could not comment.