Russia’s most feared cop and head of the shadowy Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin has resigned as President Vladimir Putin continues to shake up Russia’s security services, news reports said on September 27.
However, Kremlin spokesmnan Dmitry Peskov said he said he was unaware of the development when asked by journalists, nor of any Kremlin plans to disband the committee altogether as some reports suggested.
Set up as an alternative to the general prosecutors office, which heads the police force, the Investigative Committee is answerable only to the president. Bastrykin's departure if confirmed comes amid a broader reshuffling of the government by Putin and strengthening of the security services and his personal control over them. Bastrykin is seen as a valuable Putin loyalist, but the resignation fits with reports that the president intends to create a new Ministry of State Security (MGB) resembling the old Soviet KGB where Putin served as an officer.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin's Peskov declined to comment further on the reports: "For the time being all this is circulating in the form of rumors, and, as is known, we do not comment on rumors," the news agency quoted him as saying.
bne recently speculated that the emerging MGB may be an attempt by Putin to crack down more effectively on institutional corruption in the government and state-owned enterprises (SOE). Russia is expected to run a deficit on the order of $30bn a year for at least the next three years. But after Putin promised that taxes will not be raised until after the 2018 presidential elections and oil prices are not expected to rise above $55 per barrel before 2019, the estimated pool of $300bn lost to corruption is the only easily obtainable cash to fund the deficit. However, bne columnist Professor Mark Galeotti argues that if is Putin’s plan, it is likely to fail.
Bastrykin submitted his letter resignation to Putin on September 20 and it is currently being considered, RBC reports. It is not clear if Bastrykin initiated the process or if this is part of Putin’s reshuffle.
The Investigative Committee has recently been rocked by a series of high-level dismissals and arrests as part of ongoing corruption investigations. Bastrykin himself railed against the officials “betrayal” and “besmirching” of his department’s reputation. Other top Russian officials have also be forced to leave for incompetence and corruption, such as Vladimir Yakunin, the former head of Russian Railways (RZD).
Earlier this month, RBC reported that Bastrykin would step down after Russia's parliamentary elections. He has led the Investigative Committee for nearly a decade, beginning in 2007, when the agency was still a part of the General Prosecutor’s Office. The Investigative Committee’s spokesman Vladimir Markin also reportedly tendered his resignation earlier this month but has remained at his post. Markin on September 2 dismissed the rports of his boss's rtesignation as "fraud", TASS reported.
During his tenure as committee chief, Bastrykin pursued some of the highest profile and political cases in the country.
In one example, the leading liberal economist and intellectual force behind Russia’s relatively liberal reform plan under then president Dmitri Medvedev in 2008, Sergei Guriev, fled the country when Bastrykin questioned him during a renewed investigation into former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
“Am I a witness or a suspect?” Guriev asked committee officers during an interview, according to bne IntelliNews sources familiar with the meeting, when the questioning became aggressive. Guriev moved first to Paris and then to London where he was appointed chief economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) at the start to September. He told bne in London he has no plans to return to Russia, “while there is the smallest chance that I will lose my liberty”.