MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin on Thursday pledged that he would not be influenced by Western pressure following the poisoning of his main national critic, Alexei Navalny.
Nonetheless, a mysterious shaking reported to a Russian intelligence agency and other Putin comments suggest that the Kremlin has been forced to at least try to demonstrate the distance between the president and those who could be behind the poisoning of Navalny with the military nerve agent Novichok.
Speaking to Russian businessmen, Putin said he personally allowed Navalny to leave Siberia for Berlin for medical treatment, which saved the life of the opposition leader. Hours later, Putin sacked the deputy director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), General Sergei Smirnov, according to an article in a respected business newspaper, RBK. General Smirnov oversaw a department of the FSB which has been linked in UK media to the poisoning.
“The official reason was age – Smirnov was 70 – but considering why his second serve was famous, it could be the punishment for not doing a clean poisoning job.“
Navalny, a 44-year-old anti-corruption activist and opposition leader, collapsed in a plane from Siberia to Moscow on August 20. visit his sickbed in the hospital, as he was surrounded by FSBs and police. According to a report in The Guardian, one of the departments managed by General Smirnov, the so-called second service of the FSB, was behind the poisoning of Navalny by Novichok.
The FSB upheaval has become a big day for Kremlin watchers, who at best find it difficult to uncover the centers of power behind the doors of the Kremlin and the FSB. Of course, the general’s dismissal could have other explanations than the poisoning.
However, the Russian media are questioning a link between Smirnov and Navalny. Pavel Lobkov, a news anchor, was on Rain TV Thursday for the President’s speech. “We first heard Putin stammering his usual exercise on the evil West and how we relaxed. But after 6 p.m. he started talking about Navalny and we saw the biggest news of the day: Putin deposed General Smirnov, ”Lobkov told the Daily Beast. “The official reason was age – Smirnov turned 70 – but considering why his second serve was famous, it could be the punishment for not doing a clean poisoning job. As the FSB is a completely closed and secret service, we were unable to find a competent person to comment on Smirnov’s case.
Smirnov had worked in the KGB and FSB since 1974, first in Putin’s hometown of Leningrad – now St. Petersburg – where Putin also served in the Soviet KGB, and then in the FSB central apparatus in Moscow.
News agencies published excerpts from Putin’s speech to the Russian elite and his comments on Navalny. He was reading a text on a piece of paper, quite unusual for Putin, who usually speaks for hours without looking at his notes. His announcement of his personal role in the Navalny evacuation was mixed with defiance. “Looking at what is happening in the world, in other countries, I want to say to those who are still waiting for Russia to gradually disappear: we only worry about one thing: how not to catch a cold at your funeral. “
“Putin is afraid of Navalny, the only real leader of the opposition, who will certainly return to Russia.“
Navalny, who is still undergoing medical treatment in Germany after being in a coma for nearly three weeks, said Putin was personally responsible for his poisoning. In his first interview, with Der Spiegel Magazine, Navalny said that only the most influential people in the secret service, FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov and Foreign Intelligence Bureau Chief Sergei Naryshkin, could order the attack on Novichok without the approval of the Commander-in-Chief of Russia. Navalny also accused Putin of ordering the attack in his interview with Russia’s most popular blogger, Yuriy Dud, seen by more than 21 million people.
“Putin is afraid of Navalny, the only real leader of the opposition, who will definitely return to Russia, will fight to be registered in the presidential elections in three years and will win the election to be the next president of Russia”, a relative Navalny’s ally, Lyubov Sobol, told the Daily Beast in a recent interview.
An investigative reporter at The bell, Anastasia Stognei, said General Smirnov was in charge of several key departments of the FSB, including Department K, which deals with economic crimes. The department was famous for several high-profile domestic-related arrests, including the cases of ex-Minister of Economic Development, Aleksey Ulyukayev, and the owner of the Summa group, Ziyavudin Magomedov.
Last April, the FSB arrested three of its own officials from the K department of Smirnov on suspicion of taking multi-million dollar bribes from Russian bankers. “Smirnov was directly involved in the banking sector. Our sources explained the high-profile arrests with “insider fights” within the FSB between Smirnov’s clan and Sergei Korolev, the head of the economic security service, who they say will replace Smirnov as deputy head. of the FSB, ”Stognei said.
The intrigues in the Russian secret service have far-reaching consequences, said Sergei Parkhomenko, a commentator on Russian politics. Parkhomenko said Smirnov was a lost chess piece in the Russian Secret Service fight. “There are several ‘cleaners’ around Putin who do the dirty work in the dirtiest way; Putin could comment on some personalities, his services respond to what they believe to be the boss’s wishes, and then we hear about the assassinations of Anna Politkovskaya or Boris Nemtsov, the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko or a less successful poisoning attempt of Sergei Skripal or Navalny, ”Parkhomenko said. The Daily Beast Thursday. “But we have no idea. Perhaps there have been more than 100 successful poisoning attempts, when young and healthy people died quietly.
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