Apparently the most beneficial credit to have on one’s resume in Russia today is a Judo background. A common attribute among many of Russia’s most powerful men, from business oligarchs to the leaders of the security apparatus, is a common affinity for Putin’s sport of choice.
Currently there is much speculation regarding who will become the next Commander of the Interior Ministry’s VV paramilitary troops. The current head, Nikolai Rogozhkin, is currently nearing the mandated retirement age, and due to the fact that the VV troops play an important role for internal security (including the repression of demonstrations or societal agitation) a loyal successor has to be found.
In anticipation of Rogozhkin’s retirement, Putin has tapped his loyal friend and former judo sparring partner Viktor Zolotov to become the Deputy Head and nominal successor of the VV.
In addition to tapping Zolotov as Rogozhkin’s successor, there are also rumors that Zolotov would be in charge of creating a National Guard compromising the VV, MChS Emergency Situations and select units from the military like the VDV-Airborne troops (This is not the first time there have been rumors about the creation of a National Guard, dating back to Yeltsin’s presidency).
Russian security expert and NYU Professor Mark Galeotti analyzes the rationale and possible motivations behind the appointment in his always insightful “Silovik’s and Scoundrels” column for The Moscow News.
“Putin has demonstrated that he understands the need to keep the siloviki competing with each other and not let anyone become too powerful. You do not need a common badge to make sure an OMON riot cop, a VV trooper and an FSB sniper play well together. Besides all of that, the Kremlin already has the muscle it needs.”
And whatever the motivations, it is clear that Putin’s grasp on the security services is only getting tighter. The placement of such loyal supporters portends problems for the future of protests in Russia.