Guest Post: Speedbox – Politics, Russian style

There has been some commentary recently about the various factions and their influence on President Putin so I thought I would set out some details of the main factions, their sub-groups and specific individuals.  The web of factions and influencers is like a tangled bowl of spaghetti and whilst I have done my best to disentangle that web into a readable format, brevity requires that some details have been compressed or omitted.

The factions have evolved due to a number of factors such as ideology, strategy, background and opportunity but it is important to note that the relative influence of the factions will shift from time to time and especially the influence of the various sub-groups.  In addition, even though an individual may be aligned with one faction, that same individual may also be nominally aligned with another faction.

This is particularly evident in the Security Council of the Russian Federation (SCRF) where the intelligence and defence factions have extensive cross-over and enjoy mostly equal footing.  For the purposes of this post I have ignored the Duma and the Federation Council who wield important powers, but there is no question that the SCRF is the inner sanctum with Putin as its Chair.  If you don’t sit on that Council, your influence may be constrained although there are exceptions such as Yevgeny Prigozhin and others who are discussed later.  Nevertheless, the fact that the SCRF is the dominant internal Council tells us a great deal about Russia, namely, that national security trumps all else.  

The SCRF consists of thirteen permanent members and eighteen others who may be called as required.  Those eighteen have some ‘stand-alone’ influence on Putin but they would also be well aware of their position in the grand scheme of things.   

Intelligence

Intelligence shares equal billing with Defence as the most influential faction.

As Putin is ex-FSB, it will be no surprise that the FSB sub-group have considerable influence in the Intelligence faction.  Led by Alexander Bortnikov, the FSB is in charge of internal security and counterintelligence, as well as other aspects of state security and intelligence gathering in some countries, primarily those of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).   Bortnikov sits on the SCRF.

Next is the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) headed by Sergey Naryshkin who also sits on the SCRF.  The SVR is Russia’s primary civilian foreign intelligence agency tasked with gathering information outside the CIS.  It reports directly to President Putin on foreign intelligence collected via human/electronic signals and cyber methods. 

The Federal Protective Service (FSO) has a range of functions which extend far beyond protecting the President, members of the government and assorted VIPs.  The FSO is charged with defending Russian government networks and has extensive electronic eavesdropping capabilities through its subsidiary, the Special Communications and Information Service.   The FSO is represented on the SCRF by Anton Vaino.

Special mention must be made of Nikolai Patrushev who was formerly the Director of the FSB.  Since 2008 Patrushev has been the Secretary of the SCRF placing him third (after Putin and Medvedev) in that hierarchy and giving him enormous influence.  Patrushev and Putin served together in the KGB and have known each other since 1976 – some believe he is Putin’s closest friend and confidant.  For a number of reasons, Patrushev is occasionally referred to as the most dangerous man in Russia which is quite a feat considering some of the others. 

Defence

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu is an obvious member of this faction and sits on the SCRF.

Next is the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) which is Russia’s primary military intelligence agency and is responsible for Russia’s military intelligence service and special forces. The GRU answers to the Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, and the Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu.  The GRU does not sit on the SCRF and nor does Gerasimov – both are represented by Shoigu which magnifies his influence.  (Gerasimov is a member of the second tier to the SCRF).

Although not part of the official defence establishment or a member of the SCRF, Yevgeny Prigozhin (founder of the Wagner Group) is a known influencer and confidant of Putin.  He is also the Head of the Internet Research Agency which engages in online operations on behalf of Russian business and political interests, primarily through social media channels.  Prigozhin straddles at least three factions. 

Political (inc Foreign Affairs)

There are numerous sub-groups: Foreign Affairs led by Sergey Lavrov; the State Duma and United Russia Party faction led by Boris Gryzlov; the Rodina faction led by Dmitry Rogozin; the Presidential Executive Office faction led by Anton Vaino (also represents the FSO on the SCRF); the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) led by Leonid Slutsky; and, the Communist Party faction led by Gennady Zyuganov.

Lavrov has considerable influence as does Gryzlov as he heads the State Duma and in particular, Putin’s political party, United Russia.  But Lavrov has the advantage as he sits on the SCRF whereas Gryzlov doesn’t.  (Not relevant but Lavrov is known to have a short temper and will use very undiplomatic language in describing his opponents and in private, the Heads of other governments). 

Zyuganov (Communist Party) has influence as Putin is aware there is still a sizable rump of Russians (~17%) who believe Russia would be better off under the old ways.   In fact, the “Communist Party of the Russian Federation” (and its affiliates) is the second largest after Putin’s United Russia party.   However, Zyuganov does not sit on the SCRF nor is he one of the second tier advisors. 

Leonid Slutsky (LDPR) appears to wield more influence than his party’s results at the most recent election would suggest.  Note that there is nothing ‘liberal’ (as we normally recognize it) or democratic about Slutsky or the LDPR.  He does not sit on the SCRF or the second tier advisors but is well known as a cunning and unforgiving individual.  

Industry/Business (inc the oligarchs)  

Oligarchs have an unusual alliance.   Collectively, they control trillions of dollars’ worth of entities both publicly and privately owned.  But it is an inescapable fact that every oligarch owes their continued existence to Putin and would also recognise that their fortune, not to mention potentially their lives, could be snatched away should they step away from the path.  Therefore, whilst industry/business is well settled behind Putin, it is difficult to know how many of the oligarchs do so for ideological reasons or, whether it is simply prudent.

It isn’t surprising that individuals such as Igor Sechin (CEO, President and Deputy Chairman of Rosneft) and Viktor Zubkov (former Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and now Chairman of Gazprom) have direct access to Putin and are known to be very close allies.  In many respects, they speak for the oligarchs as a whole although a few individual oligarchs also have access to Putin.  

No oligarch or business leader sits on the SCRF or is a second tier advisor. 

———

Above all, Putin reigns supreme and his hold on power is unchallenged.  The members of the SCRF are all Putin appointees and have strong allegiance to him.  In a number of cases their careers almost mirror Putin in that they have risen through the ranks from relatively obscure roles in regional centres to the pinnacle Council – and that cannot always be mere coincidence. 

There are no individuals who display moderate/pro-west characteristics in either the first or second tiers of the SCRF, or almost anywhere else.  In part, this leads us to understand why some in the west consider Russia ‘unreformable’ into a western style democracy (and all that entails*) and their solution is the dissolution of the Russian Federation – a preposterous idea that fails every known fact about Russia and Russians yet it still gets traction with a few. 

Russian politics is tough and marked by the ebb and flow of alliances resulting in the periodic ascension of one faction, or individuals within that faction, over another.  Control over these factions and individuals requires a deft hand and although Putin is very likely to anoint a successor prior to his retirement, it is unclear who that may be.  Names currently include Dmitry Medvedev, Sergei Shoigu, Sergei Lavrov and Nikolai Patrushev. 

Whatever happens, there is no doubt that in more ways than the west cares to admit, Putin is a valuable force that keeps the more extreme elements of the government under control.  But that is not an acceptable viewpoint for most – Putin is routinely cast as a deranged oppressor who might unilaterally launch nuclear missiles at the west or at a minimum, nuke Ukraine.  Western media also frequently carry stories of an imminent political coup against Putin but both stories are just fairy tales manufactured by mainstream journalists (that, or CIA planted). 

Instead, I suggest Putin is the cork in the bottle and his undoubted powers of manipulation have served the west well.  To be clear, I’m not implying Putin is a good guy but in the current circumstances, believe we are better off with the Devil we know, at least until the Ukraine conflict is over.  With any luck, negotiations between Russia and the USA (Zelenskyy will be told to acquiesce) will occur sooner, rather than later.  

If Putin suddenly leaves his position through terminal ill health with the conflict still underway and fails to fully anoint a successor, some of the alternative Presidential contenders who hail from strong factions will be much less appealing to the west, and especially for Ukraine. * Some in the west still cling to an alternate vision that Russia develops a reformist approach that builds and expands on the changes introduced by Gorbachev.  This would see the current structure largely dismantled and the wholesale re-organisation of the political, defence, business and social elements of the nation.  Consequently, Russia would engage in vastly increased co-operation with the west (at the expense of many of its current alliances) and adopt the western approach on a raft of issues.  Forget it.  The coalition of reformists have very low national support having secured only 13 seats in the 450 seat Duma, have no influential bloc and, if nothing else, the forces who would oppose their ascent to power are solidly entrenched and utterly ruthless.

34 thoughts on “Guest Post: Speedbox – Politics, Russian style”

  1. One thing I know. I would rather have a Russian politician if I wanted a politician at all than the spineless, manipulative softcock grifters that pass for the majority of Australian polimuppets.


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  2. Russia reveals key mobilization numbers

    Planned conscription for the Ukraine campaign is complete, the defense minister has announced

    Russia’s partial mobilization has been completed, with 300,000 reservists drafted as planned, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin on Friday. The draft was announced in September amid Moscow’s ongoing military operation in Ukraine.

    “The dispatch of citizens conscripted for mobilization was completed today,” Shoigu told Putin. “Citizen notification has been discontinued. The task set by you – 300,000 people – has been fulfilled.

    “No additional tasks are planned. Military commissariats within the framework of the special military operation will continue to replenish the troops only by accepting volunteers and candidates for military service under the contract,” he said.

    “13,000 citizens, without waiting for summonses, expressed a desire to fulfill their duty and were sent to join the troops as volunteers,” the minister added.

    Shoigu noted that more than 1,300 representatives of executive authorities at various levels, as well as more than 27,000 entrepreneurs, were drafted into the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

    According to the defense minister, 82,000 mobilized troops were sent to the conflict zone. Another 218,000 draftees are getting ready for combat duty at training centers and at training grounds.

    The average age of the reservists called up as part of the mobilization was 35, he revealed.

    Shoigu also acknowledged problems with the equipment for conscripts, however, explaining that these were experienced only at the initial stage and have already been resolved. Putin, in turn, noted that difficulties were inevitable, since mobilization had not occurred for a long time.

    Partial mobilization in Russia was announced on September 21. In the disclosed part of the presidential decree, no data was provided on how many people were planned to be drafted. Shoigu said that 300,000 would be conscripted. The partial mobilization will officially end only when Putin signs the relevant decree.


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  3. The Russian constitution stipulates that in the event of the death or incapacitation of the President, the Prime Minister – Mishustin at present – steps into the office temporarily. That adds an intriguing dynamic to any struggle for succession.


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  4. Good summary of the state of play.

    Interesting thing about the GRU is that for a long time it was officially “invisible”, despite being active around the globe.

    The KGB was the “shop front” for general consumption, even though it was essentially a “homeland” organization, even to the point of having its own military forces, complete with armour and air-power. Primary task: “internal security”. This could include the usual tradecraft applied to all and sundry “foreign” visitors, but not usually extending beyond USSR borders. They were quite open in their goal of “protecting the “Motherland”” and even re-badged, that remains their primary role; the tools and tactics may have been upgraded a bit, however.

    The GRU, on the other hand, was quietly subverting people and organizations “offshore” with the intent of acquiring material, and strategic information, as well as “human assets”. This essentially shifted the “battlespace” to the global theatre. All in the finest tradition of the best “defence” being a good “offence”.

    LOTS of countries run two or more security services, each with reasonably well-defined responsibilities. Somewhere, there is a small bunch of folk who collate and compare the “stuff” acquired by these services. THAT assessment and summary process, as also in all GOOD financial / business operations, MUST be ruthlessly honest with itself and not let strange fantasies OR deliberately-planted falsehoods corrupt it. Good luck with that, everybody!


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  5. Thanks Speedbox. It’s some time ago now buy didn’t Putin imply that he would wrest control and money back from the oligarchs when he came to power? Other than a very small number of them, they largely seem to have retained everything. What does the average Russian in the street think of that?


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  6. What influence the orthodox church?

    It is a de facto arm of the state, just as in Tsarist and post WWII Soviet times.

    The current Patriarch is a former KGB agent, as was his predecessor.


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  7. Petros says:
    October 29, 2022 at 10:21 am
    Thanks Speedbox. It’s some time ago now buy didn’t Putin imply that he would wrest control and money back from the oligarchs when he came to power? Other than a very small number of them, they largely seem to have retained everything. What does the average Russian in the street think of that?

    He didn’t just imply it, he flat out said it. I will heavily paraphrase but he effectively said “You can join with me or you can fight. If you choose to fight, you will lose”.

    It’s actually a really good story and one day I might write a post about it. A handful decided to fight and, well, you can guess what happened. The others saw the outcome and extinguished any lingering thoughts of opposing Putin.

    The average Russian is not particularly concerned about the oligarchs. Some do resent the way in which a few gathered their assets, particularly the biggest State owned assets, immediately after the collapse of the USSR, but corrupt practices are endemic in Russia. It’s just ‘how things are done’. And almost every Russian would tell you that if they had an opportunity, they would have done (or would do) the same thing to make more money.

    The spirit of entrepreneurialism is alive and well in Russia.

    Small scale example: I have a mate who is the manager of a government works depot in Russia. On weekends, he rents out depot equipment and trucks to people who need it. Kind of like Kennards Hire here in Australia. Everything must be returned by early Monday morning at the latest. Lots of people know about this and he pays the depot Director a percentage. This has been going on for years. He also uses government buses to take paying tourists for scenic tours around the area and into the mountains. Corrupt? Sure, but it’s ‘just how things are done’.


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  8. There are no individuals who display moderate/pro-west characteristics in either the first or second tiers of the SCRF, or almost anywhere else.

    Not unreasonable give the festering pile of shit that the west has become.


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  9. Thanks Speedbox. My memory hasn’t completely gone. Very interesting. Will look forward to that article if you do get around to it. Personally I think I would be quite peeved that they got away with it, so to speak. Different times, different folk.


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  10. pete of perth says:
    October 29, 2022 at 8:30 am
    What influence the orthodox church?

    I had to leave the church out just like I didn’t delve into the Duma or the Federation Council. They are probably posts all by themselves.

    But Putin is devout and somewhat unusually he was actually baptised, in secret, as a child. Yet he grew up to be in the KGB which, as we all know, repressed the church on the basis of official USSR atheism and that the church may foster counter-revolutionary activities.

    But, in the last 25 years (and especially under Putin) the church has flourished. Over 20,000 churches throughout Russia have been remodelled, refurbished, constructed…..

    Given Putin’s conservatism, the church is delighted and we can say with confidence that there are no conflicts between church and State and the church rewards Putin with extensive support.


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  11. Speedbox – do they still wear jackboots?

    It’s a serious question. What they might wear in public (e.g. badly tailored suits in hideous patterns) could differ greatly from what they wear in private. Which might just resemble this, for example.


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  12. Putin is going nowhere, and has the support of the vast majority of Russians, in and out of Govt.
    Just last week he gave a speech, then allowed questions, for over four hours!
    All unscripted, with Putin answering without notes.

    Do you think Biden, Sunak or our own intellectually challenged PM could do that?


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  13. But Putin is devout and somewhat unusually he was actually baptised, in secret, as a child. Yet he grew up to be in the KGB which, as we all know, repressed the church on the basis of official USSR atheism and that the church may foster counter-revolutionary activities.

    My problem with this is that he was not just in the KGB, but he was in fact a Colonel in the KGB.

    What did he do in East Berlin?
    Can you get a commissioned rank, let alone a field grade rank (perhaps, one promotion off a one star general) without ideological commitment to communism and hatred of Western values?

    (Checking my own post, I see he was apparently only a Lt Col, and western “sources” claimed in 2015/2016 he was only a major…).


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  14. Just last week he gave a speech, then allowed questions, for over four hours!

    What a nice man.

    I am sure none of the participants or questions were vetted or written by his own staffers.


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  15. Good analysis, but I think more appropriate for Dec 2021. Now that the velvet glove has been removed to expose the mailed fist of US hegemonic control to threaten Russia and by extension the rest of the world, there is no illusory veil left for Russia and by extension the rest of the world to not defang the US and it’s imperial enabler, the dollar instrument. Sort of explains the aggression and derangement on exhibit by the US and it’s NATO lapdogs. I think Putin’s last few major speeches on mobilisation, Astana and Valdai are particularly informative and scathing. Probably reflect the trajectory that Russia and co are on now.

    This chilling article by a senior Russian mitary analyst on escalation scenarios is worthy of a read


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  16. I am sure none of the participants or questions were vetted or written by his own staffers.

    Let’s say they were. Still pretty impressive given the length of the talk and q&a session that followed. I’m actually going to put up a post about Putin at the Valdai Discussion Club this week.


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  17. Just saw this:

    “Active discussions” are being held to find Russian President Vladimir Putin’s replacement, according to Ukraine’s top spy chief, as he said it’s “unlikely that he survives” the war.

    Ukraine’s head of intelligence, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, also outlined how he saw Ukraine winning the war, saying the key was in forcing Russian troops back to Ukraine’s 1991 borders, which he added might happen as early as next year.

    Hahahahahahahahaha Drunk, drugged or just insane? And to think this tosh is actually published as ‘news’.


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  18. Excellent and useful analysis but I cannot see how anything less than pushing Russia 100% out of Ukraine won’t act as a huge incentive for Putin to do it again. If the deal is essentially sacrifice 50k – 100K of young Russian men to gain say 15% of Ukraine’s surface area he’ll back again as soon as he’s re-armed.


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