A Spokesman for Our Time

May 20, 2013
December 2009. Vladimir Markin (far right) at a ceremony of the transfer by the Investigative Committee of icons of the Kazan Mother of God to the Hermitage.

[Vladimir Markin, head of media liaisons for the Russian Federation Investigative Committee, has recently become the main supplier of political news. His commentaries and interviews not only lead to feverish discussion about who’s in and who’s out in the Kremlin, they arguably result in the immediate firings of the ill-favored: That’s what happened after Markin denounced Vladislav Surkov, the former Deputy Prime Minister, after the latter criticized the Investigative Committee at a talk in London.  So how did a man who’s not even the head of a ministry, but only the head of one of its divisions, acquire so much influence in so little time?  The New Times spoke with people who have known Vladimir Markin during various parts of his life. — Ed.]

In the last six months, Vladimir Markin has already shaken the news media three times. In late 2012, after giving an interview to five television channels, Dmitry Medvedev, not realizing the cameras were still on, commented on the actions of investigators in the search of film director Pavel Kostomarov: “They are goats for coming at 8:00 am in the morning.” Markin immediately published a reply to the prime minister on the Investigation Committee’s (IC) site. It said that the actions of the investigators were absolutely lawful and that “it was very strange to hear commentary that not only insulted the Russian IC, but undermined the authority of all law-enforcement agencies of the country.” At the White House, this reply was considered outrageous, and the comment was removed from the IC’s site.

On 12 April of this year, commenting on Alexey Navalny’s criminal case in an interview for Izvestiya, Vladimir Markin said that Navalny “could fight corruption from prison as well” – which sounded like a premature sentence. In addition, he essentially confirmed that law-enforcement’s intense attention toward Navalny was caused by his political activity. Finally, the last sensational story was the public polemics of Markin (also through Izvestiya) with Vladislav Surkov, which was followed by the vice-premier’s resignation. (See “Looking from London, Don’t Blame the Mirror”).

How has the press secretary of the Investigative Committee acquired such influence?

Sociable Fellow

All the people with whom The New Times spoke who are personally acquainted with Markin note that for a person who never had any “starting capital,” he has made a dizzying career. Vladimir Markin was born in 1956 in Chelyabinsk. In school, he loved the humanities, and wrote good essays. He graduated from school without any medals and went into the army; the first six months he spent in training in Lithuania, then another six months in Pavlodar, in what was then the Kazakh SSR. Markin served as a signal officer, and in 1977 transferred to the reserves with the rank of sergeant. In 1980, he entered Moscow State University’s Department of Journalism, and studied in a group where journalists were prepared for radio.

Markin’s fellow classmates describe him as a vivid, cheerful, bright and sociable fellow. His close friend at university, Aleksandr Pominov told The New Times that Markin was active in sports and the student theater, at the Viktyuk Studio.

The director Roman Viktyuk remembers Markin well – he tried out for a role in the play “Cinzano” by Ludmila Petrushevkaya but didn’t get the part. “He had an inclination for heroic roles. Markin was a typical Oleg Koshevoy from “Young Guard.” But in “Cinzano,” there were roles of people who were unhappy with life, drunkards. In fact, when I learned that he had become a general, I called him up and invited him to our performances. He said that when he would ‘get a little free time’ he would definitely come. I wonder if he has kept the mannerisms of Oleg Koshevoy?”  Markin himself said in an interview with The New Times that he played in “The Inspector General” – “as either Bobchinsky or Dobchinsky. I don’t recall now.”

After graduating from university, Markin was assigned to employment in his home town, where he worked for a brief time as a correspondent in the newspaper Vecherny Chelyabinsk. In 1986, he returned to Moscow and was immediately hired at the main propaganda editorial office at the All-Union Radio.

Creative Functionary

“At that time, to get a job in media at the federal level, to obtain prestigious work which enabled you to socialize with various levels of directors – both Party and minister – was a great fortune for a journalist,” recounts Sergei Medvedev, the former press secretary for Boris Yeltsin, who also worked in 1991-1992 at the All-Union Radio. “Markin was a very energetic, clever person, who fit in quickly to the collective.”

For more than five years, Markin worked in the social and political department and ran the programs “Time, Events and People” and “Man and the Law”. In 1991, he transferred to Central Television, where he produced his own program, “Career,” intended, in Markin’s own words, to cover the problems of a market economy. When the project was closed in 1997, Markin left journalism and went into public relations, becoming the director of public liaisons for the Reforma international fund. (The fund had a bank by the same name that crashed in 1999, and as a result of the scandal over defrauded account-holders, a criminal case was opened.) The fund was headed by Martin Shakkum, among other things famous for running for president of Russia in 1996. (Now he is a member of the United Russia faction and first deputy chair of the State Duma Committee on Land Relations and Construction.) Shakkum declined to comment on Markin’s work in the fund.

Markin then went from the fund not just anywhere, but into the government of Moscow region, to the post of first deputy minister for press and information. “He came to the team after Boris Gromov won the gubernatorial elections, that was in January 2000,” Tatyana Poret, former head of the governor’s press service told The New Times. “The Ministry was headed by Elena Markova, the widow of the actor Leonid Markov. Markin was her deputy and managed the work related to the media, devising topics for reporting on the government, activities for journalists. It was all creative and interesting, especially in comparison with what had been before him. I am not surprised that he is now in the Investigative Committee – the skills needed in any press service are the same. The main rule of the press secretary – to be calm and not succumb to provocations – he observes brilliantly.”

In 2001, Markin returned to television, but already as a producer, first to NTV, and then to the Russia television channel. None of the former NTV people remember him there, but Markin himself says that he was mainly involved in work with Tatyana Mitkova (after the dispersal of the old NTV team, she was the editor-in-chief of the TV company) and Vladimir Kulistikov, who at that time was the first deputy general director of NTV. Mitkova declined to give any comment to The New Times, and we were unable to reach Kulistikov.

Markin worked as a producer for nearly four years, but his career was apparently stalled because in 2004, he once again went back into PR, heading up the public liaison service of the Foundation for Intellectual Technologies.

Kinship Ties

This foundation exists to this day. Its official partners are the State Duma, the government of Saint Petersburg, the Russian Academy of Science Institute for Control Sciences, the Guild of Kremlin Suppliers and a number of other private companies included Vladimir Potanin’s Interros holding company. “We have been involved mainly with scientific and technical problems. We have been solving relatively modest problems, but the projects themselves are major, for example, hydrogen energy, development in Yakutia of a new major uranium field. There were various topics about which we had to prepare serious documents and comprehend them, that’s what Vladimir Ivanovich was working on,” Igor Bryantsev, chairman of the board of the Foundation told The New Times. “Markin was also involved in a number of investment projects; he traveled to Ukraine, met with the local entrepreneurs, and discussed the question of creating a powerful logistics system outside Kiev. There were also various PR functions – meetings, presentations. We were working jointly with the Russian Academy of Sciences at that time on a major scholarly problem which was related to the modeling of political situations.”

According to Bryantsev, Markin virtually never interacted with the government of St. Petersburg or the State Duma, but on the other hand he had good contacts in the area of finance – apparently from the time that he worked at Reforma.

According to sources for The New York Times, Markin was invited to work at the Foundation for Intellectual Technologies because his father-in-law was well-acquainted with the leadership. When The New Times asked who his wife’s father was, Markin replied curtly, “He is a military man.”

The New Times has learned the details. While he was still a student at the university, Markin married Yana Beskova, a student at the economics department of Moscow State University. Her father, Boris Beskov, was a graduate of the Red Banner Institute of the First Main Department of the USSR KGB (which is now the Andropov Academy of Foreign Intelligence); from 1981-1982, he fought in Afghanistan in the Cascade detachment, and from 1987-1991 was deputy head of the third department of the KGB representative office at the German Democratic Republic’s Ministry of State Security. From 1991-1992, he headed the Vympel [Pennant] special division. In the only interview he has given to the press, Beskov said that he was well acquainted with the head of Yeltsin’s security, Alexander Korzhakov and Mikhail Barsukov, director of the FSB from 1995-1996. Beskov resigned from intelligence in 1992, and headed up the Vympel-Union Association of Veterans and Special Intelligence Employees.

Whether his father-in-law helped Markin at other stages of his career path is not known for sure, but there are rumors. In an interview with The New Times, Markin did not answer a single question about his patrons. Alexander Samoylenko, actor and co-founder of Mayak, the famous Moscow club, who at one time was friends with Markin and did joint projects with him in television, told The New Times that he “was in shock” when he learned that Markin had gone to work at the Investigative Committee. “When I saw him on television, I realized that likely, the people who worked in radio and television were very often recruited. Maybe he worked parallel there.”

Failed Politician

In 2007, the Investigative Committee was created at the Prosecutor General’s office (the ICP) which was headed by Alexander Bastrykin, deputy prosecutor general and former classmate of Vladimir Putin. A year before the formation of the new agency, Markin registered with the correspondence department of the Law Faculty of the Institute of Economics and Culture. Perhaps the position that he took immediately after the ICP was formed had been promised to him earlier, but he knew that he would need some legal education. Markin himself, in an interview with The New Times, called his entry into law school “prophetic.” In 2009, Markin obtained his law degree which enabled him first to become a 3rd-class state counselor of justice, and after the Investigative Committee was made into an independent agency in 2011, a Major-General of justice. (Under the law, the rank of general can be obtained only by Investigative Committee officials with higher legal education.)

That same year, Markin unexpectedly went into politics – he ran for the primaries in the All-Russian Popular Front (APF) in Volgograd, and then became head of the anti-corruption commission of the APF. “We never did understand what that was all about,” said Valentina Aparina, a State Duma deputy from Volgograd region and a member of the Communist Party of Russian Federation faction. “After all, he has no connection to this region, he hasn’t lived or worked here.” Those close to Markin say that he wanted to bring Vladislav Surkov into the State Duma, who at that time was still the all-powerful deputy head of the Kremlin administration. They say that Surkov even called Bastrykin and asked him to allow his subordinate go into politics. There is a story that Markin was supposed to become the lobbyist for the IC’s interests in the State Duma.

But the plan didn’t work out. First, Agora, the human rights association, raised a fuss about the fact that Markin, as an officer of the Investigative Committee, had become a participant in a political movement. Markin parried that he was not a member of the party, and that meant that he wasn’t violating any law. But then the Prosecutor General’s office presented the same complaints, finding in Markin’s actions a violation of the Law on the Investigative Committee (officers of the IC are forbidden to take part in civic associations) and the Law on State Civil Service (officials must not give preference to some civic organizations over others). As it happened, Markin lost the primaries at the end of the summer, and the conflict went away on its own.

But in the fall, a new scandal broke out and once again, the Prosecutor General’s office was involved. The prosecutor’s office conducted an inspection of the Institute for Economics and Culture, where Markin received his second diploma, and uncovered a mass of violations in the institute’s work and demanded that the licensing and diplomas issued be annulled.

“When they came to visit us from the prosecutor’s office, they made a condition for the rector: either you provide the information that Markin received the diploma illegally, or we will close your institute,” says Vladimir Antonov, the dean of the faculty of law of the Institute of Economics and Culture. “I was told this at the Prosecutor General’s office, they tried to convince me to provide some testimony. But I couldn’t give any testimony – Markin studied in the full three-year correspondence program, passed the state exams, and defended his dissertation. I became acquainted with him when after the first year, he requested to be transferred to an individual study plan. He wrote his dissertation with me, his topic was related to the tactics of using the media in investigating crimes.”

Even so, the Russian Ministry of Education inspector declared Markin’s diploma invalid in 2011 – they found something wrong in his records. Sources close to Markin say that the Prosecutor General’s office intense interest in him was caused by a conflict between two agencies which was exacerbated in 2011 in connection with the “Casino Affair.” (Investigators caught red-handed a network of illegal casinos in the Moscow region and learned that the business had been protected by high-placed officials in the suburban Moscow prosecutor’s office and other power agencies. The media cited the name of Anton Chaika, son of the Prosecutor General.)

Nevertheless, this story ended favorably for Markin – in January 2012, his diploma was restored; an additional inspection found no violations.

The Voice of the IC

Absolutely everyone who has talked to The New Times is convinced that Markin is not an independent figure, that his sensational statements and attacks on prominent figures is a consequence of his close relations with the head of the Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, who, in turn, is considered a protégé of Igor Sechin and who, it is claimed, receives direct instructions from Putin on political cases. Political strategist Igor Bunin notes that Markin’s position in the government’s vertikal [line of authority] should not enable him to descend on Vice Premier Vladislav Surkov with criticism. “I am certain that Surkov began investigating who sanctioned that article, that it was not Markin’s ‘independence,’ and from that Surkov drew the conclusions about his position,” said Bunin. Political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin agrees with him: “The command was give above him.”

“The Investigative Committee is one of the key agencies through which the internal political problems are governed; why does the figure of Markin bother you?” a source in the presidential administration asked The New Times in surprise. “It’s not that Markin was given voice. It’s that the Investigative Committee was given voice.”