Primakov Tightens Grip
On Russian Media And
Strategic Enterprises
Global Intelligence Update
Anticipating parliamentary and presidential election campaigns, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov is strengthening, at an accelerating pace, the regime's control over the media and strategic industries. Primakov headed Russia's intelligence service from 1991-1996, and since he took office as Prime Minister in September 1998, he has appointed former KGB colleagues to key positions throughout the country. Former Soviet spymasters have now been installed as head of the government administration, the Presidential Chief of Staff, the director of the Department for Special Programs, and the chief of the Main Control Directorate. On January 25, the former public relations boss of the Russian Federal Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), successor to the KGB's international directorate, was appointed First Deputy Director of the Russian press agency ITAR-TASS. To increase the state control over the strategic enterprises, Primakov named a former KGB colleague as chief of the state weapons company Rosvooruzheniye, and launched a major restructuring of the Russian oil and gas industry that included personnel changes in the administration of many major companies. Primakov's appointment of loyal Soviet-era cadres to strategic posts is not merely building a strong political faction that is loyal primarily to him, but one that controls the commanding heights of the communications and large-scale industries.
Since becoming the Russian Prime Minister five months ago, Yevgeny Primakov has assumed the vast majority of powers from the ailing President Boris Yeltsin. During this time, Primakov has systematically appointed "his" people to key positions in Russia -- "his" people being former officers of the KGB and its successor agencies. In September 1998, former SVR official Yury Zubakov was appointed head of government administration. Later last year, Primakov succeeded in installing Grigory Rapota, who has no experience in weapons trade, as the new head of the arms exports monopoly Rosvooruzheniye. Rapota, who had worked for the KGB since 1966 as an agent in Western Europe and the U.S., was named by Primakov in 1993 as the number three man of the Russian intelligence service. Primakov had to face serious obstacles to win the Rosvooruzheniye post for Rapota and was able to succeed in this effort only due to his post as a chief of the state military-cooperation committee.
A number of other former Soviet spymasters were recently named into key positions. Former high KGB and border guard officer Nikolai Bordyuzha was named as President's Chief of Staff in December 1998. According to the Russian magazine Obshchaya Gazeta, Bordyuzha, as well as Zubakov, and the head of the president's secretariat Robert Makaryan, were appointed to their posts late last year on advice from Primakov. Other posts currently occupied by former KGB agents and bureaucrats include head of the Department of Special Programs, held by former FSB deputy chief Viktor Zorin, and head of the main Control Directorate, held by Nikolai Patrushev, also former FSB official. Former KGB agent in Germany, Vladimir Putin, is now acting as first deputy chief of the president, responsible for the administration's relations with Russian regions.
Most recently, Primakov was involved in promoting the SVR's public relations department chief, Yury Kobaladze, into a high position in the Russian media. Last week, Russian newspapers reported that Kobaladze would soon be named director of the state-owned management company VGTRK, which owns the RTR and Kultura TV channels, Radio Russia, and a number of regional radio and TV stations and transmission systems. Kobaladze confirmed he was offered the position and announced that he was retiring from the Foreign Intelligence Service on January 22. However, on January 25, Kobaladze was not placed at the helm of VGTRK, but rather was named First Deputy Director of Russia's leading news agency ITAR-TASS. The move is further evidence of Primakov's serious, possibly long-term political ambitions.
Following the abject failure of neoliberal economic reforms in Russia, the state has been gradually increasing its control over the industrial sector. The main contributor to the state budget in Russia is the oil and gas sector, which had been partially liberalized during the last couple of years. Foreign investors have been allowed to make major investments in the sector, and a number of joint ventures with foreign partners were established. Foreigners mainly contributed financial investment and technical know-how to the Russian oil and gas sector. However, it is becoming clear that the Russian government is now moving away from liberalization and towards renewed dominance over this industry. The Russian Ministry of Fuel and Energy has recently designed a plan for founding a national oil company by merging such oil companies as Rosneft, ONAKO, and Russia-Belorussian Slavneft. Also, the government plans a major restructuring of the gas giant Gazprom, including all-encompassing personnel changes.
We have predicted and subsequently tracked Russia's increasing assertiveness in its foreign policy and Russia's rebuilding of its empire. As Moscow, with the old Soviet crew back in charge, reverts to familiar foreign policy patterns, the same clearly holds true in domestic policy. Primakov, backed by his Gorbachev-era supporters and colleagues among the security apparatus, is now asserting control over the institutions of government, the media and the military and extractive industries. Those Primakov has placed in charge are quickly and systematically reasserting familiar patterns of heavy-handed control over Russia's internal politics. After briefly flirting with economic and political liberalization, the Russian polity is quickly reverting to a familiar form.
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