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Reporters Find No Substantial Links between Vladimir Putin and Gennady Timchenko

For years, media sources have been opining about the purported links between Vladimir Putin and Gennady Timchenko.  Journalists quote sources—particularly those whom for one reason or another cannot substantiate what they state—claiming Vladimir Putin and Gennady Timchenko are “close friends.” Still others argue the Russian Prime Minister holds “secret shares” worth millions in Gunvor, an oil trading company owned by Gennady Timchenko.

Vladimir Putin is obviously in the public eye: there’s no escaping that fact. As such, he’s the aim of praise and in equal or greater measure, criticism.  But Gennady Timchenko is a different story. The Finnish businessman and oil trading head of Gunvor has wisely stayed out of the public eye for the entirety of his career, excepting his annual placement on Forbes’ billionaires list.  Nevertheless, Gennady Timchenko’s been reeled into the media circus surrounding Russian politics and the country’s leading officials such as Vladimir Putin. 

In 2008, Gennady Timchenko authored an open letter to say that the media’s speculation that he enjoyed special ties with Vladimir Putin was “overblown.” More recently, numerous media publications have published public apologies, corrections, or retractions for waging baseless claims about Gennady Timchenko’s purported connection to Vladimir Putin.  Or, more quietly, news sources have indicated that no meaningful links between Vladimir Putin and Gennady Timchenko have been found to date. 

One example of the media’s fallibility when it comes to Gennady Timchenko is perhaps best illustrated with The Economist.  The magazine published a dizzying dog-chasing-his-tail story on corruption in Russia that mentioned Gennady Timchenko’s alleged links with Vladimir Putin.  What happened after? The Economist issued a public correction to the story and admitted it published inappropriate and unchecked information about Gennady Timchenko.  An excerpt of The Economist apology reads as follows:

“We are happy to make it clear that when we referred to the ‘new corruption’ in today’s Russia, we did not intend to suggest that either Gunvor or Mr Timchenko obtained their Russian oil business as a result of payment by them of bribes or like corrupt inducements . . . We accept Gunvor’s assurances that neither Vladimir Putin nor other senior Russian political figures have any ownership interest in Gunvor. We regret if any contrary impression was given.”

Now that Russia’s election season has begun, let’s hope the media can keep their attention on the political candidates and leave today’s leading businessmen alone.


Federation Council: Putin shows he’s still the on to decide

A former mayor of St. Petersburg and an ally of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been named speaker of the upper house of the national parliament. A move showing that Vladimir Putin’s influence over Russian politics has nowhere diminished and is one more sign the current Prime minister of Russia shall soon move back to the Kremlin.

Valentina Matvienko was elected to the post Wednesday by 140 of the Federation Council’s 166 members, with no votes against. The choice, following months of political maneuvering, was expected.


The previous speaker, Sergei Mironov, leads the Just Russia party, a grouping widely seen as a Kremlin creation aimed at siphoning votes away from the Communists. Mironov was removed in May after criticizing the Putin-led United Russia party that dominates national politics.

Federation Council members are appointed by regional governments. As mayor of Russia’s second-largest city, Matvienko was ineligible for appointment, so she resigned from that post in August.



Russian priests allowed to get into politics

The Soviet era is finally over! Orthodox priests are now allowed (in very specific cases) to get into politics… A religious revolution for Russia.

Russian priests may be allowed to be involved in politics in a case of “a church dire need,” Echo Moskvy radio station reported citing a chairman of the Synodal Department for Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church and Society, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin.

Russia Orthodox Church developed a draft document under which priests may be allowed to nominate candidates for election to any authorities.

“That does not mean that any priests will be able to run for the State Duma,” Chaplin said. “We are talking about exceptional cases,” he continued.


Russian spies’ traitor identified, living in the States

The group of ten Russian spies arrested last June in the US by the FBI and later deported to Russia in a spy exchange was revealed by Moscow last week to have been betrayed by a high-ranking double agent in the Foreign Security Service (SVR)– the successor of the First Main Directorate of the KGB, known as PGU.

Last week, the alleged SVR traitor was exposed as “Colonel Shcherbakov”– no first name was given (Kommersant, November 11). This week, unidentified intelligence sources told Russian journalists that “Colonel Shcherbakov” was indeed a double agent who fled to the US “several years ago.” It was not Shcherbakov, however, who betrayed the ten spies but another SVR colonel, Aleksandr Poteev, who allegedly fled to the US with his family several days before the arrests began. Poteev was reportedly a deputy chief of the SVR “S” Directorate, which prepares deep cover agents for work abroad (Interfax, November 17;, November 17).

The leak that led to the publication concerning the betrayal of the “illegals” apparently originated from the Federal Security Service (FSB) (Kommersant, November 17). After the collapse of Communist rule in Russia, then President Boris Yeltsin split the all-powerful KGB into five independent entities. Under President Vladimir Putin (a former KGB colonel), the Border Guard Troops and the government communications agency returned under the FSB mantle. Today, only the SVR and the Federalnaya Sluzba Okhrani (FSO) –Federal Guarding Service (formerly the KGB’s Ninth Main Directorate and the Russian equivalent of the US Secret Service)– retain organizational independence. The core of the FSB is Obshaya Kontrrazvedka (General Counterintelligence), the former Second Main Directorate of the KGB and a traditional rival of the PGU. Today the FSB is investigating the alleged betrayal in the SVR headquarters that led to the mass spy exposure. The case may lead to serious changes in personnel and possibly in the organization of the intelligence community in Moscow, namely the subordination of the SVR to the FSB, to root out negligence and corruption (Kommersant, November 17).

Western intelligence services do not plant “sleeper” spies in Russia and the essence of “illegal” spying seems to be little understood. Anna Chapman (28), the redheaded beauty who previously lived in Britain and held both UK and Russian passports due to her 2002 marriage to a British man, Alex Chapman, became an instant tabloid sensation and a trademark of the busted spy ring. In fact, there was no “spy ring”– the “illegals” did not know each other or Chapman, who was in fact not an “illegal.” Chapman and Mikhail Semenko (30) resided in the US under their true identities.

Retired military intelligence (GRU) Colonel Vitaly Shlykov told Jamestown that “illegal” spies are a Russian (Soviet) trademark. Their main task is to activate in the event of war or a prewar crisis when diplomatic ties are severed and the “legal” Russian resident spies from diplomatic missions are forced to leave. The “illegals” must then step in and handle local agents that are normally handled by the “legal” resident spies. During the Cold War, caches of arms and radio communications equipment were buried on the territories of Western and other foreign nations to allow the “sleeper” spies to communicate and organize “diversions” (terrorist attacks). The essence of being a Russian-style sleeper spy is to lead an ordinary, moral and uneventful life; to blend as much as possible into the background of middle class society until an order is given to begin operations. “Illegals” tend to have stable marriages and children, and typically both spouses act together as a spy team. Some “illegal” spies live undercover abroad for decades while maintaining loyalty to their home country, like the eldest of the deported ten, Mikhail Vasenkov (66). Known in the US as “Juan Lazaro,” Vasenkov was married to Vicky Pelaez (55), a journalist born in Peru. Such missions, according to Shlykov, require immense dedication and self-sacrifice.

Sleeper spies in deep hibernation were specifically ordered to refrain from recruiting agents or any other spying activities that could blow their cover, though they could report back to Moscow on potential agents that might later be approached by “legal” recruiting officers using diplomatic cover. The FBI, which shadowed the Russian agents after their true identities were betrayed, apparently recorded no sinister activity and the sleepers did not seem to have much to reveal. A former Russian “legal” spy who was posted in the West under diplomatic cover and who asked not to reveal his identity told Jamestown that in most cases the exact locations of the arms and explosive caches that were secretly planted by “legal” spies were not revealed to the sleepers. Instead, the sleepers would receive the locations and the list of targets to attack simultaneously with their activation orders from Moscow. Unlike the true “illegals,” Chapman in New York and Semenko in Washington seem to have been in regular contact with the “legal” Russian spy residencies in both cities.

The possible exposure of any one of the sleeper spies could not have led the FBI to the others. Only a betrayal in Moscow in the SVR headquarters by a double agent could have revealed the list of Russian “illegals” without diplomatic cover in the US. Death threats have been publicly issued in Moscow, alleging an assassin has been sent to kill the traitor, just as Leon Trotsky was slain in 1940 in Mexico City by Ramon Mercader, a Spanish communist sent from Moscow by Josef Stalin (Kommersant, November 11). The threat seems to be empty, however, intended only to undermine the morale of the alleged double agent, according to intelligence sources in Moscow. The damage has already been done, therefore making an assassination a senseless and high-risk endeavor (, November 17).

Today, unlike during the Cold War era, the prospect of all-out war or a severing of diplomatic relations between Russia and major Western nations appear remote. Keeping an “illegal” spy network seems increasingly senseless. In any case, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace the deported spies with men and women of equal ideological dedication in today’s lawless and corrupt Russia. According to State Duma deputy and former FSB colonel Gennady Gudkov, the apparent serial betrayals of colonel after colonel within the SVR is the result of the “total moral degradation in Russia, where everything is up for sale” (Interfax, November 11).


PM Putin’s chief of staff is the new Moscow Mayor

Observers who predicted that Luzhkov’s ousting was a sign of Dmitry Medvedev’s emancipation and growing political independance were once again wrong. Luzhkov has been replaced by Sergei Sobyanin, who is even closer to Vladimir Putin.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff was nominated Friday as Moscow’s next mayor, a move seen as bringing the capital’s sizable political and business interests under the direct control of the Kremlin.

The Moscow city legislature has to approve the nomination of Sergei Sobyanin, which is widely seen as a formality. It also locks Putin’s grip on power ahead of presidential elections in 2012. President Dmitry Medvedev put forward Sobyanin’s name.

Putin appointed Sobyanin as his chief of staff in 2005 during his first presidency, and hasn’t ruled out another term. Putin has been the dominant leader in a ruling tandem with his protege Medvedev, and does not appear to want to recede from politics as speculation mounts about which of them will run for president.

Sobyanin is set to replace Yuri Luzhkov, who was dismissed by Medvedev last month after 18 years in office.

If confirmed, the appointment would bring the Kremlin control over politics and money flows in the capital: Luzhkov was one of the last remaining power bases in Russian politics not under the direct influence of the Kremlin.

“This is very difficult work, with a lot of responsibility,” Medvedev told Sobyanin in a televised meeting. “But you’re up to it.”

Sobyanin, who can be counted upon to get out the Moscow vote for the ruling United Russia party as one of it’s highest-ranking members, was enthusiastic in response.

“For me, this is a big responsibility and vote of confidence, and I’ll do everything to justify it,” Sobyanin said. “I’ve been living in Moscow for a few years and I know the issues it faces. A lot has been done in the last few years, but at the same time there are serious problems that need solving immediately,” he said.

Medvedev said a reason Sobyanin was nominated was that “Moscow should be completely integrated with federal authorities, so confidence can be maintained.”

Sobyanin promised to work closely with the federal government.

Medvedev gave a “loss of faith” as his motivation for firing Luzhkov, after the 74-year-old mayor criticized the president in a newspaper article. He suggested that Luzhkov, or at least his staff, may face investigators over alleged corruption during his time in office.

Medvedev said that among Sobyanin’s priorities was rooting out graft, an area in which “very little has been done in recent times, and in several situations schemes were used that should, as a minimum, be checked for their compliance with the law.”

Medvedev also charged Sobyanin with making Moscow more open and competitive for business, and addressing the capital’s perennial traffic problems.

Sobyanin, 52, was born and raised in oil-rich Western Siberia. Before Putin brought him to Moscow he had risen through the political ranks to the chief of the Tyumen region. He headed Medvedev’s presidential campaign staff in 2008.


Russia ex-spy Sergei Tretyakov mysterious death in Florida

Former Russian spy Sergei Tretyakov, who defected for the United States in 2000, has been reported dead in Florida by a local newspaper. The way he died raised many speculations: he choked to death on a piece of meat.

Tretyakov defected to the US while in a espionage operation at the United Nations in New York in 2000. Since then, he was living in Florida where he died on June 13 according to local media.

A Florida medical examiner’s report shows that Sergei Tretyakov also had a cancerous tumor in his colon.

At this point, no evidence indicate that Tretyakov could have been murdered but as usual many speculations arise over Russian secret services methods.


Ukraine says no to gigantic gas merger

Vladimir Putin celebrated last March the election of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine president. Party time’s now over! The face of Ukraine has changed but the core problem between Ukraine and Russia remains : gas! Viktor Yanukovych just said no to Putin proposal to merge Russian giant Gazprom with its ukrainian counterpart Naftogas. It’s getting complicated!

Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych put a pin in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “impromptu” trial balloon to merge Russia‘s gas monopolist Gazprom and its Ukrainian counterpart Naftogaz and again burnished his pro-EU foreign policy stance, saying any merger would have to be done with concerted talks with the EU.

“If we decide to begin talks [about the merger] we should include the EU at a certain stage as the main consumer of gas and the main partner,” Yanukovych said reports The Moscow Times.

Yanukovych has been widely tarred with the accusation that he is “pro-Moscow”, however, his actions during his first months on the job suggest exactly the opposite.

However, reading too much into Yanukovych’s comments is dangerous as domestic politics also play a big part in this issue as Naftogaz is seen as a national treasure (rightly so) and the president cannot be seen to give away the company to Russia without doing lethal damage to his standing at home – especially in the east of the country.

Yanukovych made his first public comments on the merger since Putin floated the idea during meetings with Ukrainian officials last week. Moscow will certainly be disappointed as the point of the deal was to cut the EU out of any involvement in the gas transport over Ukraine’s territory.

“The most important thing for Ukrainian national interests is that its gas-transportation system is reliable,” Yanukovych said.

A subsidiary deal to the $40bn discount Russia has handed Kyiv is a badly needed project to upgrade the aging pipeline network. Kyiv has been in both Brussels and Moscow to look for help with paying for new pipes, but it has also made it clear that it would rather do the work together with both Russia and the EU rather than favouring one over the other.

The upgrade would mean an extra 200 billion cubic meters of Russian gas could be sold to Europe per year within five years, up from 120 billion cubic meters now, the president said.

The politics of the upgrade are also complicated by Russia’s plan to build a new pipeline called South Stream that would deliver gas to southern Europe and by pass Ukraine completely. However, analysts have questioned the economic viability of this project and an expansion of the Ukrainian pipeline network would he a far cheaper option and further undermine the viability of South Stream. Where the gas would come from to fill South Stream is another unresolved question hanging over the project.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said last week that the deal would most likely take the form of an equity swap between the two firms. Gazprom may use about 5 percent of its own shares to acquire Naftogaz, Kommersant reported Tuesday, citing Peskov.

Analysts have pointed out this is unlikely as it would reduce the state’s stake in Gazprom to below 50pc – something banned in Russian law. Other analysts have suggested that if the deal goes ahead a joint venture of some sort is much more likely.

Naftogaz said Wednesday that it paid more than $419 million for April gas imports from Russia, which included a discount of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters of fuel.

Still, the deal is not a right off. Putin knew this deal was going to be hard to negotiate and even harder for Yanukovych to sell at home. But if it happens it would at a stroke end the fears over energy security for western Europe as well as giving the cash-strapped Ukraine access to more money that the gas sales generate. So it is very tempting.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was cautiously positive in statements on Wednesday, obviously suggesting that Moscow should supply more details.

“The proposal merits attention. We’ll naturally examine it because it was made by the prime minister of a very large state, our neighbour, out of good intentions,” Azarov said.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said the energy ministers of Russia and Ukraine would meet in Moscow with the management of Gazprom and Naftogaz after the May holidays (after May 10) to discuss the details of a possible merger.