Eric Seth Rubin, who has been nominated for US Ambassador to Sofia, knows the Russian special services quite well. As Deputy US Ambassador to Moscow, he was preparing the visit of FBI Chief Mueller and his meeting with Aleksandr Bortnikov, Head of the FSB (counterintelligence) and Mikhail Fradkov, Head of the SVR (foreign intelligence). This emerged from the WikiLeaks’ archives of secret diplomatic cables where dozens of documents signed or classified by Eric S. Rubin can be found.
In a cable to the FBI, dated April 23, 2009, Rubin paints the portraits of the above two directors and of the Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliyev. He characterizes them as “three skeptics” and “pragmatic hardliners who share a worldview of Soviet xenophobia and distrust of the West that portrays the U.S. as actively working to destabilize Russia”.
The Deputy Ambassador further analyzes the trend of divisions in the elite between the hardline “siloviki” (drawn disproportionately from the security and intelligence services) and more moderate proponents of Russia’s political and economic development. The secret services chiefs are “the leading defenders of the status quo and advocate a “tightening of the screws” against domestic opposition and their alleged external supporters — principally the U.S. and its Western allies rather than any loosening of political or social controls.
The Services as Political Players and Heirs of Imperial Okhrana (secret police)
The Russian “security service leaders play a far more open political role than their counterparts in the West …by virtue of their ability to initiate legal charges against political enemies — turning the courts into weapons of influence rather than independent arbiters”. The Siloviks “control large numbers of men and resources — the MVD alone has more than 190,000 soldiers in its internal security divisions”. However, Bortnikov, Fradkov and Nurgaliyev are not considered to be within the “inner circle” of Kremlin decision-making, Rubin writes.
He further stresses that “State (regime) security remains the services’ primary responsibility and all three organizations devote considerable attention and resources to counter-intelligence and domestic intelligence work”… particularly “after the “color” revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine”. Тhe ideological model is that of the Imperial Okhrana (secret police) rather than the one of the Western law-enforcement services. Notorious crime boss Sergei Shnaider (better known as Semyen Mogilevich) is noted as an example, as he “was brought in by Gazprom to manage gas sales to Ukraine through the shady RosUkrEnergo venture”, but was arrested in January 2008, “only when he lost his political cover for reasons that are unclear.”
However, Mueller’s visit coincided with the announcement of Obama’s “restart” of relations between the U.S. and Russia and with a demonstration of Kremlin’s willingness to cooperate, and this “may be an opportunity to help re-build US-Russian relations,” Rubin notes. Тhe “vigor in which the FSB has pursued” the FBI visit (“including stumping up the money to cover the refueling and airport fees”) is seen by him as indicative. According to Rubin, the U.S. could at a minimum “expect the Russian side to welcome your continued advocacy for the Joint FBI-MVD working group on organized crime, efforts to jointly work to fight cybercrime, and other cooperative projects”, which after Mueller’s previous visit to Russia in 2004 have achieved some success.
Expert on Russian Energy Policy
The future Ambassador to Sofia was in Moscow at the time when the “gas war” between Russia and Ukraine flared and led to the suspension of deliveries to Bulgaria. He monitored the conflict closely and provided a detailed summary after its conclusion. The cable cites numerous contacts and sources, such as senior executives in Gazprom, Lukoil and analysts of banks and energy companies. Most remarkable, however, is Rubin’s in-depth knowledge. In his final comments, he forecasts a new gas conflict between Ukraine and Russia which indeed happened a few years later.
On Putin the Soldier and Rogozin the Hooligan
While serving in Moscow as Deputy of former U.S. Ambassador to Sofia John Beyrle, Eric Seth Rubin carefully monitored the developments in Kremlin and the Russian government then dominated by Putin. Informal contacts with sources from the entourage of the Prime Minister are particularly interesting and their cooperation was used to derive short but meaningful analyses – for example the one on “Putin the Soldier” for approaching his job as a “soldier” who has a duty to serve Russia, and appears to work tirelessly
Former Russian Permanent Representative to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, is referred to as “the hooligan” for his ability to “shake things up” and it is noted that “the seemingly harsh nature of Rogozin’s public statements regarding NATO… were tame in contrast to the cables he sends back to Moscow”. Rogozin’s hooligan style was manifested full force after the conflict in Ukraine and the seizure of Crimea with militaristic tweets like “I will fly over Romania in a strategic bomber”.
In conclusion, we encourage Bulgarian diplomats to not limit themselves to this brief summary of the works of Eric Seth Rubin, but to buckle down and read all of them in their entirety, provided free by Wikileaks in the Public Library of American diplomacy PlusD. This will hardly give them a strategic advantage, because thanks to the NSA Rubin will read their masterpieces, even the most secret ones, but at least they will learn the meaning of pragmatic style and eloquence.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian