Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Viktor Bout's powerful friend in the Kremlin

President Dmitry Medvedev with Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.

A Thai court recently decided that arms dealer Viktor Bout should be extradited to the United States to face charges of aiding terrorists. Bout's incarceration in Bangkok followed a successful US sting operation. According to the Washington Post, Viktor Bout is likely to appeal the Thai court's extradition order to HM the King.

Having surveyed various Russian language media sources, JOTMAN.COM contributor Sanjuro updates us on how Moscow seems to be taking this development:
Several Russian online news outlets (and a prominent journalist Yulia Latynina, and the lawyer Robert Amsterdam) aired that back in the 1980s, while in Africa (Mozambique, or Angola) Viktor Bout knew Igor Sechin who apparently was also involved in the arms trade. Sechin is currently one of the Kremlin's most powerful shadow figures and Putin's right arm (or brain). Interestingly, these Russian sources indicated Stratfor as their original source of the Bout-Sechin connection. 
Concerning the Stratfor report, the Washington Times indicates:
  "According to a report by Stratfor, an American analytic outfit, Bout served with Igor Sechin in Mozambique in the 1980s. Even more interesting is Sechin’s post-African career: According to the same report, he was "the USSR’s point man for weapons smuggling to much of Latin America and the Middle East."
Igor Sechin is reported to have been instrumental in securing Russian arms sales to Venezuela.  Viktor Bout, of course, was arrested on allegations of having attempted to sell weapons to Columbia's FARC.   

Viktor Bout prior to incarceration.
Sechin's big success was having turned Rosneft into Russia's top oil firm prior to its merger with Gazprom. A Stratfor report describes Sechin as the leader of one of the two remaining Moscow power-clans, both of which are  under Putin's thumb.   Sechin's clan "derives its power from the Federal Security Services (FSB, formerly KGB)."  

According to Stratfor, Surkov, chief of the rival clan to that led by Sechin, has found liberal reformers in government such as Medvedev (called the civiliki) instrumental in his rivalry with Sechin: "The civiliki's plan to fix the Russian economy is based partially on purging forces that have placed personal interests above economic soundness. In this, they are mostly targeting members of Sechin's clan -- the siloviki, or "strong men," who are former FSB agents put in positions of financial or business leadership."   Conceivably, the successful American sting operation in Bangkok against Viktor Bout was the result of a tip from the civiliki.   Whether or not that's what happened, in so far as Bout has a powerful friend in the Kremlin, he probably has enemies there too.


  1. Hi Jotman,

    "Civiliki" (as opposed to "siloviki") appears to be only a fringe term at the moment, not used in the mainstream discussion. They may also be referred to as the "liberal wing" grouped around, or leaning towards Pres. Medvedev, rather than PM Putin. I don't know for sure, but I would imagine that many if not most of these "liberal wing" would have varying degrees of aversion (repulsion even) towards Surkov's ideology, especially his use of youth organizations.

    Re: all the fuss about Viktor Bout. The use of the Ministry Exterior to voice support for Bout seems to have backfired at home. Now more people than last year are pointing at the potential links in the Kremlin - something that was not very evident when Bout was just jailed. This is intensified by the instances of the usual indifference when ordinary Russians overseas are jailed on mundane visa offenses (often through no fault of their own, e.g. in India) or otherwise get in get trouble and the Russian consulates seem to be perfectly comfortable with that.

    Much-publicized cases of the past, when the Russian government expended enormous efforts to repatriate somehow "valuable" criminals (e.g. Yaponchik, Adamov) now seem to contribute to this negative impression.

    Whether the current Kremlin figures were really implicated in the illegal arms trade, or they simply wanted to use the case for anti-Western PR at home, this time their efforts to release him are firing back at them. The recent chain of natural and man-made disasters was an eye-opening experience for many.


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