Johnson's Russia List
4 September 2003
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A CDI Project
Argumenty i Fakty
September 3, 2003
CAN THE PRESIDENT BE DECEIVED?
How information reaches the desk of President Putin
Author: Vyacheslav Kostikov
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THEY SAY GOD SEES ALL AND CAN NEVER BE DECEIVED. BUT WHAT DO THOSE
WHO HOLD SUPREME POWER IN THIS WORLD SEE AND HEAR? WE OFTEN RECEIVE
READERS' LETTERS WITH QUESTIONS OF THIS NATURE. PEOPLE ARE CONCERNED
ABOUT WHETHER THE PRESIDENT IS FULLY INFORMED. COMMENTS FROM
VYACHESLAV KOSTIKOV, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY TO THE PRESIDENT.
There are around ten files on the president's desk every day:
some permanent, others temporary. The permanent files include agendas
for Cabinet meetings and "discussion materials" - a multitude of
figures and assessments. The president's economic aide needs to point
out any cases of "the prime minister's cunning" or the influence of
The daily menu also includes media digests. A media digest is a
significant channel of influence. Bias in selecting information could
lead the president to "turn against" some particular individual or
There are also daily reports from the Federal Security Service
(FSB), the Interior Ministry, and the Foreign Intelligence Service
(SVR). These are usually one or two pages of dry text. The heads of
these agencies deliver reports to the president in person at their
Reports from the president's advisors also reach his desk.
However, the advisors themselves might be lobbying in somebody's
interests. Some projects requiring presidential approval are worth
billions of dollars. The influence of aides in Putin's team is not as
strong as it was in Yeltsin's team. Many of their functions have been
taken over by directorates of the presidential administration. The
system has grown more bureaucratic. The spectrum of opinions has
become less diverse. Yeltsin, for example, liked to organize a clash
of opinions between his aides, the head of the presidential
administration, the presidential council, and the security and law
enforcement people. It was a way of double-checking decisions. He
never trusted anyone completely.
The amount that the president can read in a day greatly depends
on the head of the president's personal secretariat. This is the
person who places the files on the president's desk. As a rule, there
are many more documents than the president can read in the course of
his working day. Which documents will be at the top of the pile? If,
in the course of several days, the president doesn't read a document
that's "accidentally" ended up at the bottom of the pile, its author
may be told that "the president wasn't interested in it."
Information from the regions comes in via the presidential envoys
and regional leaders. It is supplemented by reports from regional
directorates of the FSB; however, they sometimes seek to avoid ruining
their relationship with regional authorities.
Around once a month, the Kremlin's correspondence office presents
a selection of quotes taken from citizens' letters. An influx of
"letters from workers" may be organized with the help of a regional
leader or the FSB.
In the Soviet era, the regime feared opinion polls like the Devil
fears incense. Only the KGB carried out strictly confidential polls.
In the past decade, opinion polls have been one of the Kremlin's
important sources of objective information for the president. However,
they have now been devalued because the regime has started patronizing
particular polling agencies.
Ever since big business came into existence in post-Soviet
Russia, there has been a new way of presenting information to the
president. An oligarch, a business group, a security structure, or
someone from within the Kremlin itself will order a think-tank to
produce "a report on a set topic." Then part of this "secret" report
is leaked to the media. Articles written to order are published. The
scandal spreads to the foreign media (often in exchange for millions
of dollars). Then the president demands to see the original report.
Mission accomplished. There was such a case recently, involving the
report entitled "An oligarchic coup is being prepared in Russia." Its
authors are known, but it has never been discovered who ordered that
When Vladimir Putin was being trained as an intelligence agent,
he was probably instructed in "the basics of special propaganda and
disinformation." We can only hope that he knows how to protect his own
ears from news that is too good to be true.
(Translated by Sergei Kolosov)