MOSCOW — That the Russian Federal Security Service, the famous FSB, is out of control is not a surprise to many people here. But the damage it’s doing to Russia’s standing in the world — and to itself — is really quite extraordinary.
The most recent example: the FSB role trying to hide the doping of Russian athletes from international sports bodies. Moscow’s secret agents, it seems, were busy switching bottles of competitors’ pee.
The result: it now looks all but certain that Russia’s powerful, devoted team of track and field competitors will be banned altogether from the Brazil Olympics this summer.
But the FSB, most likely, will pay no price for that. And anyone connected with it would be surprised if there were a penalty. W see repeated instances, after all, where the institution and its people feel above the law. And it’s easy to understand why.
For starters, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a 100 percent product of the Russian security services. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s Putin served first in the Soviet KGB and then in its Russian successor, the FSB. For over 30 years Putin has been surrounded by officers or veterans and it’s been clear for some time now that the old guard has been raising a new generation of professionals who, like many scions of power and privilege, have no sense of propriety or of limits.
On a recent afternoon, over 60 newly graduated FSB officers in white shirts raced across the Russian capital in black, shiny Mercedes G-Class SUVS. The future secret agents posed quite openly in front of their own video cameras as they broke traffic rules and endangered onlookers. It was as if they were sending a message to the Russian people: We are the real masters of this city, the new generation of “golden youth,” the spoiled jeunesse dorée of Russia, and we are never punished, and we are always allowed anything in this country.
Since the mob wars of the 1990s, when criminal gangs shot each other on the streets of St. Petersburg or Moscow every other day, Russians have associated G-class Mercedes, sort of the Hummers of Europe, with mafia bosses. Gunshots out of a couple black SUVs zooming across Isaac Square or along old alleys of St. Petersburg were not a rare thing to behold. Two decades ago only the criminal world, the mafia fathers and their sons, could afford a vehicle that cost than $200,000.
But the times have changed. The kids of the rich elite show off in the world’s most expensive vehicles, posting pictures on Instagram of their golden-colored Porsches; sons of top officials growl around in their Ferraris or smash their Lamborghinis in European capitals. In May, 20-year-old Ruslan Shamsuarov, the son of the vice president of Russia’s second-largest oil company, “Lukoil,” and his friends raced G-class Mercedes around Moscow, ignoring the police chasing them.
The FSB, theoretically at least, is supposed to answer to a higher calling, and until recently the secret structure of the FSB, which counts more than 100,000 employees, has not been involved in public scandals covered by state television channels. The young officers on a spree in Moscow “betrayed the secret service,” the old school KGB and FSB commanders complained. But the old school was responsible for this new school.
“The shameful point this action makes is that there is no ideology in Russia, even among the elite law enforcement personal,” says Yuri Krupnov, who has cooperated frequently with the Russian Federal Drug Control service and the Security Council of Russia. “Instead of committing a heroic act of, for example, fighting terrorists, the youngsters compete to demonstrate their wealth.“
And in the meantime, the FSB got involved in that much bigger scandal in the international arena.
On Monday, the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, published a 103-page investigative report, confirming that the Russian Federal Security Service helped pull of a major scam in the 2014 Sochi Olympics; and that the scam was directed and controlled by the Russian Ministry of Sport.
The report said that to assist doped athletes, the FSB helped to open sealed bottles with contaminated urine to swap the samples with clean urine during the Sochi games.
As a result of the WADA conclusions, anti-doping officials from several countries suggested banning Russia from participating in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics next month. On Thursday, Russia lost its appeal against an Olympic track ban at the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), so all Russian track and field athletes, involved in the doping scam will be barred from the Rio Olympics.
Many in Russia were upset to hear that the Russian team is not going to Rio. Since Soviet times, the Olympic games were the favorite television show all over the country. Russians love their athletes and even in their worst nightmare could not imagine the decision by the CAS.
A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry called the decision “a crime against sport.” But the ban was inevitable.
“I, personally, think that the punishment for our country was well deserved,” says deputy editor-In-chief of Eko Moskvy Radio, Vladimir Varfolomeyev. “I feel sorry for a few specific athletes, but not for the system, which is so sinful and dangerous that it should be first changed at its root, and only then will international arenas be open for it.”
When it comes to fighting terrorism, over 40 percent of Russians consider the FSB the most effective law enforcement agency, the Russia Public Opinion Research Center reported.
And Russians fear the FSB.
The agency is known for having the power to arrest anybody—Muslims, businessmen, political activists, even bloggers. Indeed, the FSB put pressure on dozens of random bloggers for “liking” or posting critical statements on social media.
Meanwhile there are suggestions the FSB is shaking down businesses. It was always known the FSB connections were helpful. But now it seems to be scrounging for cash, according to Boris Titov and his Party of Growth, which favors a liberal free market economy.
“The FSB seem to be running out of money,” says Ksenia Sokolova, a member of the Party of Growth and candidate for the upcoming parliamentary elections. “So they are now down to hostile attacks on small and mid-level businesses, hitting up everybody who can pay them kickbacks for getting out of jail.”
From breaking traffic rules on the streets of Moscow to breaking the international rules, the FSB, consciously or not, has encouraged lawlessness.
“The Kremlin’s officials set an example for the new generation of FSB cheaters and liars, and the closer you are to The Body [Putin], the more freedom you have to cheat,“ former KGB officer Gennady Gudkov told The Daily Beast.
“Look at Deputy Prime Minister [Igor] Shuvalov,” said Gudkov: “At a time when all FSB officers are banned from traveling abroad, the Kremlin’s Shuvalov enjoys luxurious properties in London and Austria, his dogs fly around to shows on a business jet from Bombardier Global Express — the political elite are totally detached from reality that the majority of population live in.”
Last week, the Fund of Struggle against Corruption published an investigative report about Olga Shuvalova, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov’s wife and her trips with three Corgi dogs on a private jet to international shows. The reports said that eight of such trips cost the Russian state 40 million rubles, around $625,000.
Such tales about supposedly heedless squandering of state resources by the jeunesse dorée are reminiscent of some of the abuses under the Soviet. In the USSR, the nomenklatura kids were children senior members of the Communist Party.
A star among them, the daughter of the General Secretary of the Soviet Central Committee Leonid Brezhnev, Galina was remembered for wearing minks, diamonds, foreign imported clothes, and for climbing through a window into a restaurant. In modern Russia these gilded youth are the new generation of state officials and, as the recent scandal shows, the young officers of FSB.
The Kremlin punished the FSB graduates for the Class-G spree on the streets of Moscow: state media reports said that the participants of the impromptu parade would go to serve “on the other side of the Ural mountains.“
If anything, that punishment “offended more Russians than the obnoxious race itself,“ said Krupnov. The FSB disciplinarians sent these spoiled youngsters to Siberia or the Far East, as if to the Gulag, but these are the regions that Putin says he wants to develop.