Volume III, Number 8 Russian Foreign Policy Edges Sharpens

Eurasia Analyst

Volume III, Number 8                                   30 April 2015

Russian Foreign Policy Edge Sharpens as Kremlin Splits Continue

By Susan J. Cavan

When former Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced a sudden shift in personnel or named his personal bodyguard to oversee security forces, questions over his motivation lingered like whiskey on the breath. When looking for the impetus behind Putin’s recent apparat shuffles, lingering suspicion falls on what role Ramzan Kadyrov might have played in events.

Novaya gazeta today published remarks by Kadyrov, announcing his willingness to testify to what he knows, at least as concerns the murder of Boris Nemtsov. (1) It is the assassination of Nemtsov the serves as the fulcrum of a series of disputes among the Kremlin inner circles that culminated in Kadyrov’s “emotional” warning to federal security officers earlier this month: “I am officially stating, if any [security officer], whether from Moscow or Stavropol, appears on your territory without your knowledge, shoot to kill. They have to take us into account.” (2)

The immediate impetus for Kadyrov’s remarks was an operation in Grozny by the Russian Interior Ministry forces’ Temporary Operative Unit of Organs and Sub-groups (VOGOiP) together with Stavropol police that resulted in the shooting and death of a Chechen, Dzhambulat Dadayev, who was wanted on a charge of causing grievous bodily harm to a public official. Kadyrov maintains that the federal authorities did not notify him of the operation. (3) Despite attempts to soothe Kadyrov’s wrath, including a visit from the Interior Ministry’s supervisor for the North Caucasus, Sergei Chenchik, it took Kadyrov a week to soften his remarks, referring to his declaration as based on “emotions.” (4)

The arrest of Chechens in connection with Nemtsov’s murder, notably Lieutenant Zaur Dadayev, who served in the Sever battalion of Chechnya’s Interior Ministry forces, and Kadyrov’s praise of Dadayev as “a true patriot of Russia” and a “brave warrior” have placed Kadyrov’s relations with the Kremlin and the federal security forces in glaring new light. (5)

When coupled with recent personnel moves, Putin’s unexplained absence from public view in March, and rumored changes to siloviki strongholds (such as the Federal Narcotics Control Agency), the sense of instability among Putin’s bulwarks is tectonic. The decision last month to remove the Chief of the FSB’s Counterintelligence Service, Major-General Oleg Syromolotov, and send him to a lesser post as deputy Foreign Minister in charge of Counterrorism was a clear signal of flux in the security services. His replacement, Vladislav Menshchikov, was moved from the Main Directorate of Special Programs (GUSP) where he had charge of the bunkers meant to keep the leadership safe from nuclear attacks. (6)

There is no indication that Menshchikov was being groomed for a high-level FSB position, or that he expected one. According to an acquaintance, Menshchikov “felt entirely comfortable in the post of leader of the GUSP and this is the kind of position that people do not leave voluntarily.” (7) Menshchikov is believed to be a trusted associate of the current Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov. Ivanov has been one of Putin’s closest advisers from the earliest days of his first presidency and the move to place Menshchikov at the FSB may represent an attempt to exert more direct Kremlin control. Menshchikov’s replacement at GUSP is Alexander Linets. (8)

The decision to install Major-General Syromolotov in the Foreign Ministry seems an unusual choice. Syromolotov is perhaps best known for his leadership of security operations during the Sochi Olympics. In 2002, he granted an interview with the BBC, in which he discussed an increasing problem with foreign spies in Russia, who he claimed were operating in a “more aggressive, more conspiratorial and more sophisticated way.” (9) While it is likely his removal from the FSB was the most pressing element of his transfer, his placement in the Foreign Ministry might have been made with an eye to bolstering hard-line elements there.

A more acerbic tone to Russia’s foreign policy certainly has been on display this month, especially as Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev has been more vocal than usual in his remarks on international issues. Patrushev, whose son Andrei was appointed as Gazprom’s new Deputy Chief Executive for Offshore Projects on 6 April, (10) seems to be taking the lead both in smoothing relations with Kadyrov and honing the foreign policy edge.

On March 16, at a meeting specifically designed to address problems of the North Caucasus, Patrushev chaired a Security Council session in Pyatigorsk, attended by Ramzan Kadyrov (but apparently not Putin, who was in the midst of his prolonged absence). Patrushev used the meeting to direct “ attention at corruption of the medium level of the state power bodies, existence of “ethnic groups of influence,” cronyism and clan relations,” noting also that radicalization in public organizations and among youth “take place still.” Official response to such activities, Patrushev found unacceptable with “reaction of local authorities and law-enforcement agencies to extremist manifestations often remains late and limp.” (11) For his part, Kadyrov issued a positive, if formulaic, statement on the meeting, noting “Patrushev and the Russian President’s Representative in the North Caucasus Federal District Sergey Melikov, and also many others highly appreciated the ways that the Chechen Republic uses to solve these problems….” (12)

More recently, at a conference of regional leaders in Voronezh to address national security Patrushev warned of infiltrators: “In the territories of the Bryansk, Belgorod, Voronezh and Kursk regions there is a threat of illegal infiltrations by Ukrainian nationalists and armed groups.” (13) Earlier in the month, Patrushev asserted to a meeting at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that western interest in Ukraine was not supportive: “Western countries do not plan to rebuild the Ukrainian economy. They are going to make Ukraine into an agrarian country. This begs the question of whether they themselves really need the genetically-modified products that they are planning to grow there.” Along with stoking fears of GMO crops, Patrushev asserted Ukraine was the site of a “rebirth of fascism.” (14)

Patrushev also turned his attention to developments in Yemen, which is in the throes of a devastating civil war that is showing all the signs of a growing proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. After declaring that the Russian Security Council watches and analyzes events in Yemen carefully, Patrushev claimed: “The military campaign which is currently under way [in Yemen] has confirmed that a crisis of international organizations is looming on the horizon. The military interference had not been sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council but started with consent from the United States. … Yemen may become not just the ‘second Somalia’ but a full-fledged pirate state. There are apprehensions that escalation of the Yemeni conflict may influence negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program because all main processes in the Middle East are closely interconnected.” (15)

The scope of Patrushev’s public comments this month, which also included a timetable for delivery of S-300s to Iran (6 months), a warning to Finland (which is clearly under a Kremlin microscope at the moment) that its “nationalist and revanchist…socio-political organizations” are having an unwelcome influence on Karelia, (16) and a denunciation of attempts to assert global unipolarity suggest a strengthened position for the Security Council Secretary that bears future monitoring.

The decision to move the FSB’s counterintelligence chief to the Foreign Ministry, as well as the increasingly promoted role of the Secretary of the Security Council suggest an effort to tighten up the message, and perhaps even to fortify the hardliners within the Foreign Ministry. With an apparent conflict (that may have its origins in the economic difficulties arising from international sanctions and which broke open with the Nemtsov murder), still corroding the ties that bind Putin’s intricate arrangement of clan and group interests around the Kremlin, Russian foreign policy seems to be growing more intransigent, and it is likely to remain so until there is a clear resolution of any internecine dispute.

Susan J. Cavan


Source Notes:

1) Кадыров заявил о готовности дать показания по делу об убийстве Немцова, Novaya gazeta, 30 April 2015, via http://www.novayagazeta.ru/news/1693549.html.

2) Russian Interior Ministry Slams Kadyrov’s ‘Shoot-To-Kill’ Remark, RFERL, 23 April 2015, via http://www.rferl.org/content/kadyrov-authorizes-shooting-of-security-oustide-chechnya/26974169.html.

3) Kadyrov warns Federal Interior Ministry, RFERL, 23 April 2015, via http://www.rferl.org/content/caucasus-report-chechnya-kadyrov-picks-fight/26974621.html; See also Meduza, via https://meduza.io/en/feature/2015/04/23/if-they-come-round-shoot-to-kill.

4) “Я на эмоциях сделал заявление.” Kadyrov quoted in Lenta.ru, 30 April 2015, via http://lenta.ru/news/2015/04/30/soemotional/?t.

5) Meduza, 12 March 2015, via https://meduza.io/en/feature/2015/03/12/a-brave-warrior-and-a-true-patriot.

6) Andrei Soldatov interview with Michael Weiss, Edward Snowden is acting very Strange Inside Russia, The Daily Beast, 13 April 2015, via http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/04/13/edward-snowden-is-acting-very-strange-inside-russia.html?via=desktop&source=twitter.

7) Counterintelligence gets its ‘own’ man, by Konstantin Yemelyanov; politcom.ru, 13 April 2015; BBC Monitoring International Reports, via LexisNexis Academic.

8) Ibid. It should be noted that another analyst has suggested “Menshchikov was evidently taken to the post of director of GUSP with a view of further promotion and its movement to the post of director of one of the main services of the Federal Security Service was preplanned.” (Unnamed source noted by Alexei Nikolsky, “From Air Defense to Federal Security Service,” 8 April 2015, Vedomosti, via LexisNexis Academic.)

9) Russia ‘target’ for more foreign spies, BBC World Service, 6 May 2002, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK, via http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1970585.stm.

10) Andrei Patrushev named Gazprom Neft deputy CEO for offshore development, Interfax, 6 April 2015, via http://www.crmz.com/NewsStory.aspx?NewsId=14635370.

11) “Who Pays for the Militants,” By Ivan Yegorov, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 12 March 2015; What the Papers Say, via LexisNexis Academic.

12) R.Kadyrov took part in SC’s meeting, четверг, 12 марта 2015, Chechen Republic Today news agency, via http://chechnyatoday.com/en/content/view/2880/308/

13) ITAR-TASS newswire, 21 April 2015, 12:59 pm GMT.

14) Russian security chief: West plans to grow GM crops in “agrarian” Ukraine, Interfax news Agency, 14 April 2015; BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union, via LexisNexis Academic.

15) “YEMENI CAMPAIGN SIGNALS CRISIS OF INTERNATIONAL ORGANI-ZATIONS,” Izvestia (Moscow issue), April 13, 2015, p. 1, via LexisNexis Academic.

16) Finland’s nationalist, revanchist organizations trying to influence Karelia – Patrushev, Interfax, 20 March 2015, via LexisNexis Academic.

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