Feeling a little jittery in the Kremlin, are we?
With all eyes on the protests over Alexei Navalny’s arrest and prison sentence, it appears President Vladimir Putin is quietly shoring up his support.
It seems the Russian leader may not be feeling as secure as he might like, these days. What with tens of thousands taking to the streets and his pals in the Kremlin getting a tad concerned over the way he is handling things.
According to the Jamestown Foundation, there is plenty of trouble at home.
This would include Moscow’s geopolitical failures in “managing” the Moldovan elections, the growing strength of Turkey in the South Caucasus, the continuing political crisis in Belarus, combined with Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s disloyalty to Moscow, as well as Russia’s worsening economic situation due to the pandemic.
Ongoing declines in Russians’ personal incomes are translating into declining support for the government. According to the latest poll by the Public Opinion Foundation, 52% of Russians criticize the authorities for their handling of the economy, the Jamestown Foundation reported.
Also controversial was the adoption of a package of federal laws designed to consolidate this year’s slate of new amendments to the Russian Constitution. The amendments solidify and extend Putin’s hold on power.
To make matters worse, the new US Secretary of State is hinting that President Joe Biden may take action over the amateurish attempted poisoning of Navalny, the de facto Russian opposition leader, which contravenes international conventions.
That means yet even more sanctions against Russia in the offing, and a worsening of foreign relations with the West.
All in all, it’s not a very secure time for Putin, which is why he is quietly tightening things up across the board and relying on the people most loyal to him, empowering them to pursue increasingly repressive domestic policies.
According to Intelligence Online’s, sources, the Kremlin is considering replacing 65-year-old Valery Guerassimov as chief-of-staff of the Russian army, a position he has held since 2012.
Guerassimov took what appeared to be a first step towards retirement when he was appointed to the honorary but prestigious position of president of the Academy of Military Sciences at the end of last year.
Alexandr Dvornikov, 59, is being tipped to succeed him.
A native of the Russian Far East, Dvornikov commanded the Russian contingent in Syria at the start of Moscow’s military intervention in September 2015, receiving a “Hero of Russia” medal from President Putin at the end of his mission in 2016, Intelligence Online reported.
The head of the turbulent southern military district, Dvornikov was sanctioned by the European Union (EU) in 2019 for his presumed role in the interdiction of three Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch Strait in 2018.
According to sources, there appears to be an intelligence shakeup in the cards as well.
The Kremlin is beginning to think generational change in Russia’s security structures, Intelligence Online reported.
The governor of Tula, Alexei Dyumin, Putin’s former bodyguard, is being tipped for appointment as head of the security service, the FSB, after the legislative elections in September, when the ultra-loyal Alexander Bortnikov, who has headed the FSB since 2008, reaches retirement age.
Lower down in the hierarchy, other young generals who have shown loyalty to Putin seem headed for more prominent roles, Intelligence Online reported.
These include Dmitry Mironov, the 53-year old former deputy interior minister who became governor of the region of Yaroslavl in 2016.
Mironov is in charge of a sensitive area — youth policy — at the Council of State, a consultative body made up of regional leaders whose role was recently included in the new Russian constitution, Intelligence Online reported.
Another rising star is Mikhail Babich.
Appointed assistant to the minister for economic development a year ago after serving as Russia’s ambassador to Belarus, Babich recently became assistant to the director of the highly-strategic Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation.
The other silovik, or member of the president’ security close guard, who has been promoted is Evgeni Zinichev, who was given the rank of army general on December 20, Intelligence Online reported.
A former member of the FSO, which protects Russian VIPs, Zinichev protected the then prime minister Putin from 2008 to 2012.
He was appointed deputy director of the FSB in 2016 after a less than stellar period in Kaliningrad, first as head of the FBS’ regional office and then as interim governor.
In 2018 he was appointed minister for emergency situations, a position that current defence minister Sergey Shoigu occupied for a long time, Intelligence Online reported.
One area likely not to be touched, is the Russian diplomatic corps.
Look for President Putin to rely on his squadron of battle-hardened diplomat-spies to help fight his cause in areas that are strategic for Russia, before the Biden administration gets America back on track.
As for rumours of Putin’s ill health, which played big in UK tabloids last fall and was roundly denied by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, it is highly unlikely the 68-year-old plans to resign anytime soon.
The statement came after The Sun reported, citing sources, that Putin was planning to quit in 2021 after showing possible symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
The lower house of Russia’s legislature also passed a law that would provide Russian ex-presidents immunity from criminal prosecution in their lifetimes, not merely while in office, Al Jazeera reported.
(Note: Asia Times would like to extend a special thanks to Pierre Gastineau at Intelligence Online, which specializes in news about corporate and government intelligence in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia.)