Vladimir Putin yesterday fired nine high-ranked siloviki—members of Russia’s various security and military services—five of whom were appointed by Dmitry Medvedev when he was President of Russia. Medvedev’s men include a Major-General of the police, who also happens to be the head of the witness protection program at the Interior Ministry; two chiefs of police in the Tomsk and Omsk regions; the head of the appeals department of the Investigative Committee; and the head of the Investigative Committee in the Khakasia region.
Medvedev’s five lost their positions without further reappointment, while two of the others were reassigned to different positions.
Vladimir Putin has been modifying and reshaping Russian security services for a while now. But the pace seems to be picking up—the most recent siloviki shuffle happened just last week—and these most recent dismissals point to a specific source of Putin’s worries and fears: Many suspect Putin sees Medvedev as one of his most likely successors, whether it’s in 2018 if social discontent and economic problems are too intense, or in 2024, when Putin’s second, and supposedly final, Presidential term runs out.
Although other names are being bandied about—among them the head of the Presidential Administration Sergey Ivanov, and the head of the Ministry of Defense Sergey Shoygu—Medvedev remains the most plausible option for the same reasons he was chosen in 2008 to serve as President, and again 2012 to return to the Prime Ministership. Dmitry Medvedev never second-guesses Vladimir Putin, and is content playing a secondary role. That’s hardly the case with Shoygu and Ivanov.
But despite these quirks of personality, Medvedev managed to gather a group of businessmen around him, several of whom became billionaires during his stint in the Presidency; and he appointed a number of siloviki to prominent positions. (All exactly following in his big brother’s footsteps.)
When it comes to financial support, Medvedev chose to rely on various Dagestani businessmen. (Dagestan’s clans are rivals to those in Chechnya; and Chechnya is ruled by Putin’s closest ally, Ramzan Kadyrov.) The brothers Akhmed and Magomed Bilalov, as well as the brothers Magomed and Ziyavudin Magomedov—cousins of the Bilalovs—have been collectively referred to as Medvedev’s “pockets”.
Akhmed Bilalov was appointed Vice President of the Russian Olympic Committee in 2009. At the same time he headed the board of Northern Caucasus Resorts, a state-run company the Kremlin launched to develop skiing destinations elsewhere in the Caucasus after Russia won the bid to host the Olympics in Sochi. Magomed Bilalov owned the Krasnaya Polyana company, one of the major Olympics contractors.
Ziyavudin Magomedov’s Summa Group holding company won a tender for the reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theatre in 2009, and in 2011 acquired 25% plus 1 share of Novorossiysk Commercial Sea Port, Russia’s largest commercial sea port operator.
In 2013 Akhmed Bilalov was dismissed from the Olympic Committee after Putin criticized him for overspending, and a criminal case was opened against Bilalov for corruption. Both brothers have fled Russia and now live in London.
This case was described at the time as “Putin’s attack on Medvedev’s oligarchs”. The Magomedov brothers were not directly targeted, although Zivuyadin had to fight over NCSP with state-owned Transneft. By all appearances, Ziyuvadin has managed to stay in Putin’s relative good graces. Last year, Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny alleged that the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov spent his honeymoon on Magomedov’s luxury yacht, although Navalny failed to provide any hard evidence. And in March of this year, Magomedov bailed out the struggling Night Hockey League, an amateur league set up by Vladimir Putin several years ago.
Putin appears to have successfully either marginalized or coopted Medvedev’s major financial supporters, and now is turning his attention to his siloviki. If Medvedev is Putin’s successor once again, Russia’s current President needs to be sure his marionette will not have the means to pose a real danger to Putin and his circle. After all, the Russian economy is still shrinking, and the basic rule remains the same: “Why is it impossible to share everything with everyone? Because there are too many of everyone and there is too little of everything.”