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Assertion of power by former kgb elite { October 28 2003 }

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Affair signals assertion of power by former KGB elite
By Arkady Ostrovsky and Andrew Jack in Moscow
Published: October 28 2003 4:00 | Last Updated: October 28 2003 4:00

The arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the head of Yukos and Russia's richest man, heralds the growing influence of Russia's unreformed security and power institutions on the political and economic process in the country, analysts say.

The operation to detain Mr Khodorkovsky aboard his private charter jet was carried out by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, which has worked closely with the prosecutor's office and police. Their actions are aimed at intimidating the business community as well as society, analysts say.

"The arrest of Mr Khodorkovsky is a dangerous signal of the strengthening of the former KGB and growing totalitarian tendencies in the Russian political elite," says Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a Moscow political scientist.

This month two FSB officers went to the elite Moscow school attended by Mr Khodorkovsky's 12-year-old daughter and asked the head teacher for a list of her classmates. Their explanation was that they were carrying out inspections as part of anti-terrorist operations. But there have been no reports of similar incidents in other schools, raising concerns it was intimidation.

"This is the beginning of a victorious march of the former KGB men and other security services across the country which threatens to expand into other spheres of life," Ms Kryshtanovskaya says.

However, the victory of the former KGB men could be short-lived if Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, is to restore the balance of power within the Kremlin, warns Lilia Shevtsova, senior associate at the Moscow Carnegie Centre.

Since his election as president in 2000, Mr Putin has kept a balance of power in the Kremlin between his former colleagues from the FSB, who occupy key posts in his administration, and the more liberal apparatchiks left over from Boris Yeltsin's time. The arrest of Mr Khodorkovsky is seen in Moscow as a victory for the hard-liners.

"We are seeing a consolidation of different power structures in Russia. The FSB, the army, the prosecutors are acting as one block," says Ms Shevtsova.

Ms Kryshtanovskaya, who has been conducting a study into Mr Putin's political elites, says many of the former KGB men have been integrated into Mr Putin's government over the past four years. "Many ex-KGB officers do not resign, but get 'seconded' to the government," she says.

The FSB, along with the army and the police, remain among the few unreformed institutions since the Soviet era.

"This is the Soviet elite which has been transferred into the post-Soviet era without being converted," says Igor Bunin, director of the Centre for Political Technologies.

Most of the former KGB officers as well as the army were left out in the process of the privatisation of the mid-1990s. With the election of Mr Putin, himself a former KGB agent, they feel their time has come.

According to Ms Kryshtanovskaya, who has conducted interviews with some senior FSB officers, "they are particularly irritated by Khodorkovsky's international activity".

"To them, he is a stooge of the west who acts in the interest of the US and Israel and who should be squeezed out of the country," Ms Kryshtanovskaya says.

"Many of them feel that Mr Khodorkovsky got punished for behaving arrogantly and refusing to leave the country and comply with Stalin's maxim that 'if there is no person, there is no problem'."

Ms Kryshtanovskaya says several of her interviewees from the FSB confirmed that the command to attack Yukos and Mr Khodorkovsky came "from the very top" and they were simply carrying out the orders. "In their view Russia is moving towards totalitarian capitalism," she says.

But while Mr Putin's apparent reluctance to call off the attack may be seen in the short-term interests of the Russian security men, in the long term they may lose out. "The victory of the security forces is a temporary one. Putin is a pragmatist and must restore the balance of power," says Ms Shevtsova.

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