Russia’s Byzantine security community, so long united in their mistrust of the West and support for President Vladimir Putin, are increasingly parading their rivalries more openly as the prospect of political change opens up new opportunities for empire building and the settling of personal and institutional scores.
On 1 October, three officers of the Federal Drug Control Service (Federalnaya Sluzhba Narkokontrolya Rossii: FSNK), including operational support department head General Alexander Bulbov, were arrested at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport by a joint team from the Federal Security Service (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti: FSB) and the General Prosecutor’s Investigations Committee.
Accused of illegal wire-tapping, protection racketeering and bribe taking, they were quickly arraigned and placed in pre-trial detention. They are awaiting trial and have denied the charges. Viktor Cherkesov, director of the FSNK, promptly wrote a lengthy article for the respected newspaper Kommersant in which he suggested the arrests were actually part of a struggle between security agencies, especially intended to discredit investigators working on the so-called “Three Whales” smuggling case.
This Three Whales scandal first broke in 2000, but was reopened in 2006, with FSNK investigators involved simply because it had become a jurisdictional battleground between police, prosecutors, the FSB and the Customs Service. In Cherkesov’s final confidential report, he claimed several senior FSB officers were involved in smuggling.
Whatever the outcome of the Domodedovo case, it has attracted unprecedented attention to fault-lines within the security apparatus.