By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
What's going on with Aleksandr Bortnikov, head of the Federal Security Service?
Remember how when Putin was missing in early March, there was all this theorizing that there was 'a war" between the FSB and Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov? And that supposedly on one side was Putin, the MVD (Interior Ministry), FSO (Federal Protective Service) and Shoigu? And on the other side was the FSB and...what, Ivanov? And where was Defense Ministry Shoigu, actually? "Sidelined," they said? (Except, he's not sidelined, Putin just had a very visible meeting with him. If anything, he's on side with Putin.)
But what's the deal with the FSB, the Sword and Shield of the Communist Party Putinism?
My theory is that something is going on to suppress the FSB's leading role right now. It's not exactly a public organization -- you know, the reason they call them the secret police is because they are secret! (As Max Shachtman said in his day.)
But still, when there is a big case like Nemtsov's murder, and the annual collegium or meeting of the board, Bortnikov should be everywhere.
He last spoke on Nemtsov's case on March 7. That was a long time ago. He seemed to seize the case from Bastrykin at the Investigative Committee, and to be sure, they are in a "joint" or "inter-agency" working group created by Putin (and it's that working group, not Putin that is to take "personal" responsibility -- this was widely misreported).
You would think that if Nemtsov's murderers were related to Kadyrov (and they are, but we just don't know if they are really the ones who did it or if they did it, who ordered them, really) and the FSB was thereby "reining in" Kadyrov, we would see not less of the FSB but less of Kadyrov.
But we're not.
We've had a lot of Kadyrov -- his prizes, his Instagram professions of loyalty, etc. but nothing really to show that he is "reined in" unless we speculate that the ex-FSB guy who is his army/police liaision, Daniil Martynov, his long-time loyal friend, is the eyes and ears of the FSB on Ramzan -- but maybe not.
The TASS coverage of the annual meeting has NO picture of Bortnikov himself, just the whole line up, which is from "right to left" as TASS decided to do it, as follows: Sergei Ivanov, Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev, Bortnikov, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, Security Council Chairman Nikolai Patrushev.
Putin is featured speaking at the meeting, which is "as it should be" but not Bortnikov, although in past years, he was, no? Or was that just at the year-end press conference? In any event, he's just not featured here, even at his own annual meeting.
Instead, Ivanov gets a picture, with Lebedev of the Supreme Court under the big shield, which is the Sword and Shield of...whatever it is the Sword and Shield of.
Ivanov, chief of staff, is supposed to be the "hardliner" and more "religious" Orthodox former KGB man who is "to the right" of Putin -- but who knows. The only evidence we have for that is his showing up at the ROC meeting with all the other top officials from Naryshkin to Sobyanin on down (the ROC Encyclopedia) when Putin was gone.
Lebedev was the official with whom Putin met right after he was missing -- and he met with him at his residence of Novo-Ogaryovo. Is there some kind of legal thing going on?
Bortnikov not being featured at his own annual meeting might arguably "mean nothing" if the spotlight could not be removed from Putin, but him not speaking since March 7 -- three weeks ago -- "is something."
All the leaks that have come out have been from "near the investigation" and some have demonstrably cited FSB agents, such as the false lead published by Komsomolskaya Pravda, whereby it is claimed without a shred of evidence, and only as disinformation, that a pro-Kiev and anti-Moscow Chechen, Adam Osmayev is somehow to blame, which he vigorously denied.
The latest round of leaks bring us back to "Viktor M./Yevgeny" (same guy) who supposedly saw the murder on the bridge -- but he was also quite a ways back from the scene, with headphones on, and staring at his iPhone. That fellow describe somebody different as the suspect, not Dadayev. But his description, if you actually look at this picture of Dadayev, it seems to fit -- a dark hoodie, a waist band, and wavy hair -- and also thin. (I'm actually not sure this is Dadayev, as he seems to have straight hair in other pictures; it might be another one of the defendants. However, this is what regional media has reported.)
Something's not adding up here, but the FSB is not the one speaking about it. Again, this may be perhaps "as it should be" -- if there's nothing to say or nothing they want to say. But still, it's odd. There's the issue of Ruslan Geremeyev, for one -- still under arrest and being questioned "as a witness" presumably by the FSB.
I'm just not persuaded that the FSB -- the formal structure of the FSB such as it is -- is actually holding its own against those other KGB agents Putin, Ivanov and -- whomever.