Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has called on his siloviki to take into account economic realities when planning their annual budgets. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin called a private meeting with Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, National Guard head Viktor Zolotov, the FSB head Alexander Bortnikov, as well as several other officials. Russia’s President, who has significantly improved his personal security by creating a completely new security service—the National Guard—held the meeting after the Finance Ministry proposed to freeze federal spending for the next three years, which amounts to a 20 percent spending cut for the government.
This meeting took place amid one of the biggest ongoing shake-ups in the FSB’s history. As we previously wrote, the 6th Service of the Interior Security Department of the FSB, the agency’s most secretive and opaque department, has been gaining more and more power by destroying its rivals among the security services. Created in 2008, the 6th Service apparently consists of only 35 people, and according to several sources close to it, is operating under the protection and guidance of the above-mentioned General Zolotov, who was Putin’s long-time head of security until he was recently appointed to lead the newly-formed National Guard.
Its most recent victim has been Directorate K—officially known as the “Counterintelligence Department for Securing the Financial-Credit Sector of the Economic Security Service of the FSB”—a department that has its paws on the financial sector in Russia, the most profitable part of Russian economy.
Since the military and intelligence services have been growing while federal revenues have been shrinking, Putin has told his siloviki to become more self-sufficient—in other words, he has instructed them to shake down businesses to support both themselves and his National Guard project.
Putin’s system is looking more and more like that of his young protégé in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. The Chechen leader has built himself a personal army of 25,000 well-trained combatants that doesn’t answer to any federal military body. These fighters’ salaries are at least partially financed through a personal slush fund, named after Ramzan’s father, which all Chechens are forced to pay into. Independent journalists have confirmed that public employees are stripped of at least 10 percent of their monthly salaries, private sector employees cough up as much as a third of their pay, and business owners are ordered to give as much as half of their profits to this murky fund. The total annual revenue of Kadyrov’s oprichnina activities was as much as 40 billion rubles—more than two thirds of Chechnya’s official budget for 2015. (None of this money appears on the official books.)
The 6th Service has been busy lately. Apart from the very public arrests of three governors and a mayor, the department has succeeded in getting Mikhail Prokhorov, the seventh richest billionaire on Forbes‘ list, to sell all his businesses in Russia. And beyond the headlines, there are dozens of smaller businessmen who have been crushed and pushed aside by the siloviki—dozens of stories that the media hasn’t yet written.
The oprichnina is being spread all over the country now—and it’s not Kadyrov’s, but properly Vladimir Putin’s own version.