Newsbud Exclusive- Putin’s Instructions to the FSB, 2015-2017: An Analysis

Every year in February or March, the Russian president Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Security Service (FSB) Board. He uses this occasion to evaluate the FSB work during the previous year and to chart the priorities for the future.

In the three-part investigative article published by Newsbud earlier this year, I have analyzed the 2016 FSB public releases, as published on the FSB official website, in order to assess the FSB activities in the fields of counterespionage, counter-terrorism, cyber defense, and other law enforcement matters.[1] In this article, I will extend my analysis by discussing the president Putin's view of the role and mission of the FSB as presented in his three latest annual addresses, in 2015, 2016, and 2017. I believe that this analysis will shed important light on the main concerns of the Russian foreign policy as well as demonstrate in what ways (if any) they have changed over this period of time.

The 2015 Annual Address

In 2015, Putin addressed the FSB Board on March 26.[2] The photos from the event show that Putin was accompanied by both the present and former FSB chiefs, Alexander Bortnikov and Nikolai Patrushev. In fact, it was Patrushev who succeed Putin as the FSB chief in 1999. All three come from the 1970s Andropov's KGB milieu and have known one another for a long time. There has been very little variation in the leadership of the Russian intelligence community in the last twenty years.

Putin began his address by referring to what he called "a state coup" in Ukraine. He stated that the way Russia reacted to it caused "outright irritation" in the West. According to Putin, the West had devised and put in place a long-term geopolitical strategy based on "the deterrence of Russia." This involved putting a great deal of pressure on Russia from the outside as well as trying to destabilize it internally. Putin declared that "this does not work with Russia; it never had and never will." Thus Putin sent a clear message that Russia would not bow down to the Western foreign policy grand designs. Russia would use all means at its disposal to defend its territorial integrity and internal political and economic stability.

Putin directly accused the U.S. of "toppling the foundation" of the post-Cold War international order by unilaterally withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. He stated that the expansion of NATO sought to create a nuclear disparity in Europe in favor of the West and that Russia would not allow it. According to Putin, the only way to clip the wings of the Western triumphalism was for Russia "to become stronger." The FSB had a significant role to play in this strategic endeavor, especially with regard to the counterintelligence component of its work.

Putin stated that the Western intelligence services had stepped up their operations against the Russian targets both inside and outside Russia. He cautioned that the foreign funding transformed many Russian non-governmental organizations into the covert outlets of Western intelligence geared toward destabilizing the 2016 parliamentary and the 2018 presidential elections. He stated that while the Russian government was open for constructive criticism and a dialogue with the opposition, it was "pointless" to engage in discussions with "those who are operating on orders from the outside in the interests of some other country rather than their own." Thus Putin explicitly directed the FSB to be on the lookout for the enemies from within. In fact, he provided the concrete number of the exposed spies and traitors during 2014: 52 foreign officers and 290 Russian agents.

Another important area of work for the FSB, according to Putin, was combating terrorism. He praised the FSB for lowering the number of terrorist incidents and crimes 2.6 times since 2013 and 9 times in the preceding five-year period. Putin remarked that the Islamic State had been training terrorists in Syria for use in the future terrorist attacks on the Russian soil. He implied that something had to be done about it. And, indeed, Russia began its military intervention in Syria in September 2015, about six months after his FSB address.

Putin pointed to cyberspace as a very important domain for ensuring the protection and defense of the Russian national interests. He stated that Russian state institutions and organizations had experienced and successfully "curtailed" more than 74 million attacks in 2014. At the same time, the law enforcement agencies identified 25,000 illegal publications resources on the internet and closed down 1,500 extremist websites. According to Putin, the guiding idea was the insistence on law and order, and not censorship.

Lastly, Putin spoke about the increase in salaries and pension benefits for the FSB personnel. He also promised to improve the existing housing situation and emphasized that the Russian government had invested in the construction of 65 apartment buildings with 5,200 apartments for the needs of the FSB officers and their families.

It is indicative of Putin's high esteem for the FSB that he ended his address by thanking the FSB officers for their "service that the country needs so much."

The 2016 Annual Address

In 2016, Putin addressed the FSB Board earlier than in 2015, on February 26.[3] He was again accompanied by Bortnikov and Patrushev. Judging from the photographs of the event, he wore the same necktie as the previous year.

Putin began his 2016 address in a more conciliatory tone toward the U.S. than in 2015. He emphasized the February 22 adoption of the joint U.S.-Russia statement on the cease-fire in Syria and the beginning of the intra-Syrian peace negotiations. However, the optimism about the U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria was short-lived as the cease-fire failed soon after it was supposed to begin.[4]

Putin stated that the Russian military intervention in Syria, which began in September 2015, was motivated by the interest to stop terrorists in Syria before they attempted to enter the Russian territory. Its rationale was the defense of the Russian national security goals. He rejected the Western media claims that the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe was exacerbated by the intervention. He pointed to the fact that, for example, so many refugees on the Macedonian border were from Afghanistan and then asked a rhetorical question - "what have Russia's operations in Syria got to do with them?"

Just as in 2015, Putin stressed that Russia was ceaselessly targeted by the operations of the Western intelligence services. He stated that the FSB counterintelligence put a stop to the activities of more than 400 foreign officers and their Russian agents, 23 of whom faced criminal prosecution. It is interesting that, in contrast to 2015, in 2016, Putin did not state specifically how many of them were foreign officers and how many were Russian agents.

Another difference from 2015 is that, in 2016, Putin spoke of the FSB work against organized crime and noted that 98 groups were put under arrest, involving more than 2,200 individuals. He also urged the FSB officers to be vigilant against corruption and abuse of power in state procurement and defense industry, which frequently involve "large sums and enormous resources."

Putin noted that cyberspace remained the domain of Russia's highest concern. He stated that during 2015 there were 24 million cyberattacks against state institutions and organizations and that 1,600 extremist websites were shut down. While the number of the closed websites remained almost at the same level as in 2014, the number of cyberattacks was radically reduced, from 74 million to 24 million. Putin did not explain the factors behind such a dramatic change. Perhaps this is some kind of a typo or a misreading.

Lastly, Putin raised the issue of the FSB housing. He stated that the construction of 98 apartment buildings was completed and that 7,300 apartments were made available for the FSB officers and their families. There was no mention of any salary increases.

The 2017 Annual Address

In 2017, Putin addressed the FSB Board even earlier than in 2016, on February 16.[5] He was accompanied by the same people as in 2015 and 2016, but his necktie was different. For the first time, the Kremlin official website provided the video of his address.

Putin began by praising the FSB for positive results in all areas of activity, especially stressing "a series of successful counterintelligence operations." He noted that the global situation was not improving and that, in fact, threats to Russian national security were becoming "more acute."

Putin pointed out that the July 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw produced a declaration which singled out Russia as "the main threat to the alliance for the first time since 1989." He stated that NATO accelerated its efforts to contain Russia by expanding the reach of its strategic and conventional weapons.

Putin was very explicit about the NATO intentions: "They are provoking us and are trying to draw us into confrontation." This kind of language was missing from his 2016 address, which shows that the Russia-NATO relations had seriously deteriorated in the meantime.

Putin accused the Ukrainian government of trying to break up the Minsk Accords and impose its agenda in the Donbas by the use of force. He warned that the official Kiev also spoke of "organizing sabotage and terrorism" on the Russian territory.

Overall, however, Putin stated that the terrorist incidents and crimes had been reduced. According to him, the FSB prevented 45 terrorist-related crimes in 2016, including 16 planned attacks. This is more than was acknowledged by the FSB public press releases.[6]

In contrast to 2016, in 2017, just like in 2015, Putin provided the concrete number of the exposed

spies and traitors: 53 foreign officers and 386 Russian agents. While the number of foreign officers remained constant, the number of discovered Russian agents increased by almost 30 percent in two years.

In addition, Putin asked the FSB to work in close cooperation with the SVR in guarding the Russian diplomats abroad, in light of the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov. He also stressed the need of collaborating with the partners from the Shanghai Security Organization (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the United Nations.

Putin noted that it was clear that the long-term, successful fight to root out international terrorism required "restoring dialogue" with the U.S. and NATO intelligence structures, but that it was not "Russia's fault" that they remained intensely hostile.

In terms of the cyberspace issues, Putin stated that the number of cyberattacks on Russian state institutions and organizations tripled from 2015 to 2016, but did not provide exact numbers as in his previous annual addresses. He also did not say how many extremist websites were shut down.

Putin urged the FSB to continue its campaign against corruption and state funds embezzlement in connection to defense and infrastructure projects because the "public expects greater results" and "regrettably, we still see many cases [of such illegal activities]." However, he made no mention of either the salary increase or the FSB housing issue as in earlier years. It appears that the current state of the Russian government finances allows no further investment in the security apparatus and this may spell trouble in the years to come.

Conclusion  

The comparative analysis of Putin's three annual addresses to the FSB Board shows little variation in the Russian foreign policy orientation and the main issues of concern. The emphasis on the inhospitable international environment in which Russia finds itself is ever present as is the stress on the valiant efforts the Russian intelligence community is making to defend Russia's right to an autonomous voice in international politics.

Putin is clear that Russia seeks partners in the international community but only among those who will treat it with equality and respect. Neither he nor the FSB feel intimidated by NATO's war-mongering or by U.S./NATO spies and agents of influence. While it appears that the number of the Russians who spy on their country keeps growing, it is interesting that the number of exposed foreign officers remains constant. Whether this is by design or by coincidence is difficult to tell.

In my opinion, there is a sense of increasing frustration in the top Russian leadership that the overall global situation is not getting better. The more this kind of global instability is allowed to run unchecked, the more difficult it will be to contain the forces of war and social chaos and preserve world peace. The fact that the main responsibility for this state of affairs falls on the corrupt Western neoliberal elite will be of little consolation if there is a nuclear war.

# # # #

Professor Filip Kovacevic, Newsbud Analyst & commentator, is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles & conference presentations and hundreds of newspaper columns and media commentaries. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco. He can be contacted at fk1917@yahoo.com

NOTES

[1] http://www.newsbud.com/2016/12/28/newsbud-exclusive-security-threats-to-russia-the-analysis-of-the-2016-fsb-press-releases-part-1-counterespionage/ ; http://www.newsbud.com/2017/01/05/security-threats-to-russia-the-analysis-of-the-2016-fsb-press-releases-part-2-counter-terrorism/ ; http://www.newsbud.com/2017/01/12/security-threats-to-russia-the-analysis-of-the-2016-fsb-press-releases-part-3-hacking-other-challenges/

[2] http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/49006

[3] http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/51397

[4] https://www.rt.com/news/334303-31-ceasefire-violations-syria/ ; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35861376

[5] http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/53883

[6] http://www.newsbud.com/2017/01/05/security-threats-to-russia-the-analysis-of-the-2016-fsb-press-releases-part-2-counter-terrorism/

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