ISSN 2330-717X

Russia: The Boundaries Of Prosecutorial Control – Analysis


By Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan

No matter what the direct causes may have been, the suicide attempt by General Vyacheslav Sizov of the prosecutor’s office called attention to the conflict of interests between the FSB (Federal Security Service), which no one controls, and the General Prosecutor’s Office, which formally is obliged to supervise the special service.

In the Soviet Union the main instrument for supervising the KGB was the party apparat. The 1959 Statute on the KGB reads: “Party organizations … have the right to warn the appropriate party organs of shortcomings in the work of the organs of state security.”


Since 1991 there has been no party control over the special service; these functions were delegated to Lubyanka itself — to the USB (Directorate of Internal Security), and the only department supervising the FSB from outside was supposed to be the prosecutor’s office.

How successful this decision was can be judged from the fact that all the directors of the USB without exception became figures in corruption scandals in the media (of course, by no means did all of them lose their job as a result). The prosecutor’s office remained the only outside controller, but its functions were constantly being narrowed.

However, the rights of the prosecutor’s office were restricted from the very beginning. Article 24 of the Law “On Organs of the Federal Security Service” reads: “Information about persons who have rendered or are rendering assistance to organs of the Federal Security Service on a confidential basis as well as information about the organization, tactics, methods, and means of carrying out the activities of organs of the Federal Security Service is not subject to prosecutorial supervision.” In other words, the FSB’s relationships with agents as well as methods of conducting special operations, for example work in crime groups, is not subject to supervision. But this sphere is in fact the most vulnerable from the standpoint of corruption — suffice it to recall the scandalous subdivision FSB-URPO (directorate on working up and stopping organized crime), whose associates stated in 1998 that they had been ordered to murder Berezovskiy.

The powers of the General Prosecutor’s Office were further curtailed in April 2002 when General Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov and FSB Director Patrushev signed Joint Order No 20-27, which sets new boundaries for prosecutorial supervision. The document emphasizes that “supervision should guarantee equally compliance with human rights … as well as … the procedure for organizing and carrying out operations-search activities.” The order prescribes that “operations-service materials and other documents must be studied in the manner established by normative enactments for handling secret materials, as a rule in premises of organs of the Federal Security Service that meet the requirements of confidentiality. Such materials may be demanded by the prosecutor’s office on an exceptional basis.” Of course, working in someone else’s “territory,” it will be very hard for the prosecutor to conceal from FSB associates exactly who is being checked and why and to avoid pressure.

On 11 February 2006 Putin signed an edict on changes in the list of types of information classified as state secrets. Whereas the old list had 87 points, the new one already had 113. Among the additions, three (Nos 90, 91, and 92) classify as state secrets information that discloses the affiliation of persons with the permanent staff of intelligence, counterintelligence, and subdivisions for combating organized crime. It is understood that these restrictions aim to protect the safety of officers who have been infiltrated into criminal and terrorist groups, but they very soon found a different application. These points very quickly began to be used to restrict access to information about crime in the security organs.

In 2007 we were preparing an article for Novaya Gazeta on the system of record-keeping for crimes committed by associates of the Russian special services. We sent an official query to the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office asking for statistics on criminal cases in which associates of the FSB, FSO (Federal Protection Service), and SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) figured as defendants. It was not a matter of names – we only needed the statistics about the nature of the criminal activity. In response we received a letter from the Military Prosecutor’s Office that said that “in conformity with Paragraph 3 Part 2 of Article 4 of the Law on State Secrets and paragraphs 90-92 of the List of Types of Information Classified as State Secrets the requested information is a state secret and for this reason cannot be given out.”

Having effectively defended itself against prosecutorial control, the FSB was simultaneously intruding on alien territory, in particular on the territory of the supervising structure.

In mid-2000 persistent talk began circulating to the effect that the “M” Directorate (counter-intelligence support for the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs), MChS (Ministry of Civil Defense, Emergencies, and Natural Disasters), and Munyust (Ministry of Justice)) had quietly broadened its powers and was now providing “counter-intelligence support” for the courts and the prosecutor’s office. This report was not officially confirmed but it could hardly have been accidental that Maksimenko, an associate of the “M” Directorate, was appointed chief of the USB of the SK, which at that time was still under the General Prosecutor’s Office. After serving several years on the Investigations Committee (SK) he calmly returned to the FSB after the Internal Security Directorate (USB) was eliminated in March 2009.

The career of Vyacheslav Sizov fits organically into this picture. He was transferred from Amur Oblast to Moscow to be chief of the main directorate for supervision of federal security legislation at the General Prosecutor’s Office. In Amur Oblast he was known to have close ties to Yuriy Aleshin, chief of the local UFSB (FSB directorate) who — here is a coincidence! — was also transferred to Moscow, to the FSB central apparat. Aleshin was a figure in a high profile corruption scandal involving smuggled Chinese goods. In 2006 Aleshin received a high position in the Economic Security Service to which, by the way, the “M” Directorate also belongs.

It is thought that Sizov maintained close ties with his colleagues at the FSB, for which, according to the newspaper Kommersant, he was subjected to pressure from the leadership of the General Prosecutor’s Office in its current confrontation with the special service.

In these circumstances the only thing strange is that the leadership of the General Prosecutor’s Office, having come into conflict with the siloviki (security officers), apparently was counting in all earnest on using the powers that had de facto been surrendered long ago to the department they are supposed to be overseeing.

Published in Yezhednevny Zhurnal, July 14, 2011

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Agentura.Ru is an Russian web-site founded in 2000 as internet-community of journalists monitor and write about Russian, American, British, and other Western security and intelligence agencies. Editor of Agentura.Ru is Andrei Soldatov, deputy editor - Irina Borogan.

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