Ten months ago, Russian president Vladimir Putin named the 48-year old chief of staff, Army General Anatoly Kvashnin, overall head of Russian intelligence services (as we reported in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 128 on October 3, 2003). The union of the armed forces and the intelligence community under a single chief was an audacious step for Russia. Before Putin, every Kremlin ruler had scrupulously kept Russian military intelligence-GRU separate from the foreign intelligence service, the SVR, successor to the Soviet KGB.
However, this week, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Moscow sources have learned that the Russian president has had a radical change of heart. Disappointed with Kvashnin’s performance and his failure to prise open the secretive doors of Russian intelligence agencies, he pinned on Kvashnin the blame for the June 22 terrorist attack in the Ingush capital of Nazran that left 98 people dead, 67 of them local and Russian national security officers.
According to our sources, the assault was carried out jointly by Ingush and Chechen separatist rebels who were in training for the operation from May. Putin put Kvashnin on the carpet as commander in chief of all Russia’s security branches including GRU, which failed to pick up the elaborate preparations made for the attack by several hundred people in the two southern provinces of Chechnya and Ingushetia. President Putin gave the general notice of his summary dismissal from both his august posts and his sidelining as one of the deputies of the Russian National Security Council, a job that provides an office with secretarial service, a chauffeur-driven limo, a monthly salary and no authority in the armed forces or security agencies.
Until this moment, the NCS has received no notice of their new appointee.
Putin was formally correct in accusing Kvashnin. The terrorists carrying out a textbook operation suffered some losses but killed an inordinate number of Russian and Ingush victims. Terror prevention is in the remit of general staff military intelligence, GRU. Therefore, the finger of blame pointed justly at Kvashnin. At the same time, the body with real responsibility on the ground in Ingushetia is the interior ministry in Moscow, which has at its command an autonomous intelligence agency, military units and special operations units in the province.
Putin knows this perfectly well, but he needed an excuse to axe Kvashnin and the Ingushetia massacre came ready to hand.
According to our Moscow sources, Putin was persuaded to get rid of the chief of staff by defense minister Sergey Ivanov, the man thought closest to Putin in the Kremlin and sworn enemy of Kvashnin. Rumors in Moscow claim that Ivanov is not done yet. The sacked general will not last long even in his NSC sinecure; some factions in the Russian general prosecutor’s office are banding together with Kvashnin’s opponents in the military prosecution to court-martial him for the damages he allegedly caused the armed forces during his tenure. This would also be a way of transferring some heat on this issue away from Putin himself.
But Kvashnin has friends as well as enemies in the top military echelons and they are fighting hard to save him from dismissal, although it is likely to be a losing battle. Tuesday, June 29, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Moscow sources report the general under sentence of dismissal called a closed general staff meeting, to which he invited his supporters from the parliamentary defense committee, which is headed by General Victor Zavarzin. The main address, delivered by the military intelligence chief General Valentin Korabelnikov, focused on the existential military dangers Russia faced and imminent security threats.
Painting America’s situation in Iraq in gloomy terms, he urged Russia’s military powers-that-be to brace for the US army’s departure from that country and the possibility of the Pentagon opting to transfer the departing troops to Central Asia instead of sending them straight back home.
General Korabelnikov stressed that this would be unacceptable to Moscow and called for a pre-emptive move to torpedo the American move.
Our military sources note that the purpose of this alarmist treatise was to frighten the lawmakers into blocking any drastic changes in the general staff at a time of grave peril, especially if they touch on the chief of staff. This pro-Kvashnin solidarity conference was attended by all the top men of the general staff and defense ministry excepting only Minister Ivanov.
However, the dismissed general’s friends may be too late. After firing Kvashnin, Putin set in motion sweeping reform measures in the Russian security establishment, including a paring down of the powers of the general staff and its chief and their transfer to the rising overlord, defense minister Ivanov.