Ex-spook cult now running most of Russian politics

Russian political life has been usurped by "siloviki" -- ex-spies -- who have apparently seized power from the small network of hyper-rich plutocratic "bankers" who rose to power after the Wall came down. The siloviki are a tight mafiyeh whose methods include high-profile international assassination of defectors (the assassins walk free and then run for high office).

Virtually all key positions in Russian political life -- in government and the economy -- are controlled by the so-called "siloviki," a blanket term to describe the network of former and current state-security officers with personal ties to the Soviet-era KGB and its successor agencies. The unexpected replacement of former Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov by former Federal Financial Monitoring Service Director Viktor Zubkov is the latest consolidation of this group's grip on power in Russia. Although Zubkov is not an intelligence officer by background, he has become one de facto during his years at the Financial Monitoring Service, and he has intimate knowledge of where the country's legal and illegal assets are to be found.

The core of the siloviki group, led by former KGB officer and Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Vladimir Putin himself, comprises about 6,000 security-service alumni who entered the corridors of power during Putin's first term. Now, as Putin's second term winds down, their clout is virtually unassailable. Their locus of power is in the presidential administration: deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin cut his teeth in the KGB's First Main Directorate, which oversaw foreign intelligence operations and has since been transformed into the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Fellow deputy chief of staff Viktor Ivanov worked for the KGB's main successor organization, the FSB, which is responsible for counterintelligence operations.

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