Putin’s New Moves to Make National Guard Totally Loyal to Himself Exacerbating Intra-Elite Conflict

June 13, 2016
President Vladimir Putin with Viktor Zolotov, his former chief bodyguard and now head of the new National Guard. Photo by TASS

Russians Mark or Don’t Mark Their ‘Most Controversial State Holiday’

Staunton, VA, June 12, 2016 — Twenty-six years ago, the First Congress of Peoples’ Deputies of the RSFSR adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the RSFSR, an action the Russian government and many Russians at the time and later informally celebrated as Russia’s declaration of independence from the USSR and thus the nation’s Independence Day.

But in the last decade, with Vladimir Putin regularly expressing regret about the demise of the Soviet Union which this declaration helped bring about, ever more Russians are uncertain about this holiday or even hostile to it, viewing it “in a certain sense as the most controversial of state holidays.”
As Regions.ru points out in a headnote to its survey of the opinion of Duma deputies about this holiday, the view Russians have about the Day of Russia is “far from positive: in other words, a significant if not a large part of our fellow citizens do not understand what is being celebrated and consider it simply as another day off.”
With each passing year, the news agency says, there have been proposals either to cancel this holiday altogether or to shift it to another date. Last year, some in the Duma proposed moving it to September 20 in memory of the 1862 erection in Veliky Novgorod of a monument to the 1000th anniversary of the foundation of Russia.
This year, Gennady Zyurganov, the head of the KPRF, suggested shifting the holiday to July 28 which is already the day of remembrance of Prince Vladimir and the Baptism of Rus. The prince, the communist leader says, “played an historic role in uniting the peoples on our lands.” That makes for a better national holiday than June 12 which was about division.
The breakaway communist group, the Communists of Russia, followed by proposing that the Day of Russia be shifted to November 7, the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, even though as Regions.ru points out, “many view this as an anniversary of destruction and not the foundation of the Russian state.”
Into this mix has jumped Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant leader of the LDPR. He is calling for celebrating as the Day of Russia September 21 which is the anniversary of the formation of a centralized Russian state. According to him, that would “unite everyone. Medieval Rus, the Empire, the Soviet period, and contemporary Russia.”
“As always in such arguments, the position that is gaining ground is ‘don’t shake up society, leave everything as it is and don’t touch it,’” the news agency concludes. But of course, a better comment about Moscow’s inability to find a date everyone likes is Chernomyrdin’s observation in another context.
As the former Russian prime minister famously pointed out, “we tried for something better but things turned out just like always.”
Putin’s New Moves to Make National Guard Totally Loyal to Himself Exacerbating Intra-Elite Conflict
Staunton, VA, June 12, 2016 – Vladimir Putin’s creation of a national guard is, as Andrey Piontkovsky observed at the time, an effort by the Kremlin leader to create a force totally loyal to himself and to escape the influence of the FSB out of which he sprung but in which he has lost confidence.

Several recent Putin moves, as US-based Russian commentator Kseniya Kirillova points out in a new commentary, not only confirm Piontkovsky’s observation but strongly suggest that tensions among the various Russian security services are rising fast and likely to intensify further with unpredictable political consequences.
A few days ago, the head of the new National Guard demanded that everyone working in the new force declare whether they have relatives in other force structures, a requirement nominally intended to fight corruption but one that in fact suggests the Kremlin wants this structure to become as independent of FSB and the others as possible.
Yet another sign of Putin’s intentions in this regard that is certain to spark problems in relations between the National Guard and the other siloviki and intelligence services is the broadening of the new force’s responsibilities to include powers over the private ownership and sale of guns.
That takes powers away from the interior ministry as well as the FSB and suggests that this new palace guard will not only defend the existing regime and social order but spread its activities into areas that other force structures have traditionally viewed as their own. Indeed, its involvement in gun control likely presages even more expansion of its authority in the future.
Putin’s press spokesman, Dmitry Peshkov, admitted as much when he observed that “the authority of the National Guard intersects with the Interior Ministry and the FSB and that possibly this will require the introduction of changes in existing legislation” to clarify who is responsible for what.
As a result of all this, Kirillova observes, “the FSB is losing not only the Kremlin’s trust but also its reputation as the chief repressive organ within the country.” More than that, it may soon lose its role as the chief battler against organized crime, if a Duma deputy’s comments are to be believed.
Competition among the siloviki is also intensifying because the anti-narcotics agency and the Federal Migration Service have now been disbanded and their roles assigned to interior ministry agencies, thus bringing yet another player into such conflicts, Kirillova argues. And it is also angering many who may lose jobs as well as duties.
Thus, she concludes, what began as a fight between Putin’s people and Ramzan Kadyrov against the FSB months ago now “threatens to grow into ‘a war under the rug’ which will take place on the basis of the principle: all against all,” one in which the National Guard will be pitted against traditional players like the FSB, the GRU, and the interior ministry.

In this battle which Putin has triggered in order to defend himself, the players will be fighting not only for resources and jobs but also for influence – and that means for political power as well, something that could make the next round of elite conflict in Russia still nastier and perhaps shorter as well.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick