The Dangers of Becoming Over Mighty


In Russia dangerous games are played for high stakes. There exists sufficient freedom of action to allow for an extraordinary accumulation of wealth or raw political power. But the beneficiary never quite knows when someone above will decide enough is enough. The billionaire Andrei Borodin, now in what is I think still the most expensive house in Britain (Henley-on-Thames), has a chauffeur cum bodyguard and a car that has as much armour plating as good money can provide. In addition to his voluminous fortune in Britain, Borodin has now managed to secure his more than one hundred million euro of bank accounts in Switzerland from Russian government hands. But will he ever be secure? He can never be certain. Chronic back pain is the least of his worries.

Another interesting piece appeared in Novaya Gazeta, on 18 August. It deals with the security services (Andrei Sukhotin, “Operatsiya ‘Vertikal’ ”) and tells the story of General Oleg Feokistov, once a humble border guard in the KGB who rose to the top of one of its successor organisations as a sluzhbist (officer of the FSB).

Feokistov became the architect of the FSB’s enforcement of both law and order and tax regulations of Russia: something even the KGB never achieved (FBI and IRS rolled into one). He was effectively the Mr Big of the Russian economy.

The story began in 2004 when Feokistov was put in charge of the 6th service of the FSB’s directorate, handling witnesses, victims and suspects; the emphasis being on roughing up the latter, listening in on their phone calls and recruiting undercover agents in unlimited number to spy on them. So much so that his section was nicknamed the “Inquisition”. His latest achievement last autumn was the arrest of the Minister for Economic Development Alexei Ulyukaev, an event that sent shudders through the élite.

Well, he has now frightened too many important people and is out of a job.