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The Real Winner of Russia’s War? The FSB

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Exactly 25 years ago, the man widely regarded as President Vladimir Putin’s political instructor was hiding in Paris from the Russian police. Anatoly Sobchak, the former mayor of St. Petersburg, was suspected of corruption and was helped to leave Russia on a Finnish private jet by KGB lieutenant colonel Vladimir Putin, who had just been appointed director of Russia’s FSB.

When I interviewed him on my program “Top Secret”, Sobchak seemed a bit confused and unable to imagine the future. But that evening in the lobby of the Hôtel Ambassadeur we talked about the future. As we were leaving, Sobchak said to me, “I understand why Yeltsin chose Putin as his successor — he would never betray you. But I also understand that once he has power, Putin will never give it back to anyone.”

The meaning of these words was then understood by very few people, but Sobchak did not hope to be heard.

A quarter of a century later, Vladimir Putin’s supporters and critics understand exactly what Sobchak meant. Putin has only one successor — himself. The transition of power, about which so many political scientists both in Russia and abroad have speculated, ended in the elections this March.

If Putin still holds power in 2036 — which the sham 2020 referendum enabled him to do — he will surpass Josef Stalin and Catherine the Great to become the longest-ruling leader of Russia. After the outbreak of war with Ukraine, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was asked whether Putin consulted with him, he replied, “Putin has three advisers — Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.”

Having placed himself on the level of the tsars, Putin remembers that power changed only after the monarch’s death. To continue this political tradition, however, two conditions must be met. The tsar must be reliably protected from assassination and must never give up the throne himself.

When Putin became president in the spring of 2000, at a closed board meeting of the Russian FSB, he said from the podium: “The KGB’s task of infiltrating the Russian government has been accomplished.” It is unclear whether he was joking or serious. 

But from that moment on, the influence of the FSB on all the processes taking place in the country grew every year. Until May of this year, the only state institution that was not subject to the FSB’s influence was the army. Putin considered the military to be the most important pillar of power, but he never trusted it 100%.

When Putin approached Sergei Shoigu in November 2012 to take over as defense minister, Shoigu set one condition: that there be no FSB officers around him in the army leadership. Putin agreed, receiving in return a military leadership personally loyal to him. But to balance controlled conflicts within the Defense Ministry, Putin appointed General Valery Gerasimov, considered a close ally of Shoigu, to the post of Chief of the General Staff in the same fall of 2012. The time of the security services, for whom control over the army and its budgets was a cherished dream, had not yet arrived. It was to come later.

Until February 2022, there was a conditional truce between the influential clans in the Russian government. But two years ago, the FSB, whose reports (as well as those of the military) had convinced Putin that victory in Ukraine would be easy, opened its own personal front — an internal one. The FSB’s task was to take control of all spheres of life in Russia, to destroy the opposition and its leaders, to introduce censorship, to subjugate the industrial sector, financial institutions, culture and, of course, the military.

After Putin’s victory in the heavily corrupt presidential election, the Chekists went on the offensive. As journalists at Agenstvo calculated, 21 criminal cases were opened against officials and heads of state companies between March and April alone. Not only was Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov arrested, but also Gennady Sakharov, an executive at the state Rosatom corporation, and Igor Andreev, vice president of Rossiya Bank. The truce among the elites is over.

But despite what the Kremlin says, this is not a fight against corruption. It is a fight for power.

By the beginning of Putin’s fifth term, the FSB had won. Officials from the Culture Ministry can tell you that all films are reviewed by two plainclothes officers before a rental certificate is issued. Raw materials businessmen will tell you how the new board of directors includes undercover FSB officers. The work of the presidential administration is controlled by the FSB’s Second Service (that combats terrorism and “protects the constitutional order”), and the Security Council is staffed only by security officers. To paraphrase Putin’s quote from 2000, Lubyanka has infiltrated the country’s hierarchy of power more successfully than at any other point in history.

Therefore, it was not difficult for the FSB to lobby for its employees to be exempt from military service, remaining to guard the political comfort of the regime in the rear. This decision caused serious irritation among the Defense Ministry and other institutions of power. But Putin sided with his former colleagues from the FSB, whom the historian of special services Andrei Soldatov once called “the new nobility.”

Historically, the Russian nobility was a military class. During the War of 1812, when the Russian army was defending its country rather than attacking a neighbor, representatives of the nobility led the fight. Now, the elites from the FSB, Interior Ministry, Federal Penitentiary Service, and special services remain at the rear.

Their real task in the conditions of the military-political “special operation” is not to protect the people, but to secure the regime. But in fulfilling this task, there is an inevitable temptation for the aforementioned elites to become an integral part of the state, and in the long run — to lead it.

However, this battle of the bulldogs in Moscow may deal the Kremlin a blow far more severe than the drones and missiles coming from Ukraine. The Russian system of political power is now organized in such a way that any bias in the direction of one of the clans can lead to the collapse of the pyramid or a coup by the siloviki. 

And it is not by chance that today. Mikhail Khodorkovsky wrote that in 1996 Russia did not face a choice between Yeltsin and Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party candidate. The choice was between electing Yeltsin and declaring a state of emergency. The FSB and FSO were in favor of a state of emergency that would have turned Yeltsin into a puppet of the security services. “By defending the rejection of the state of emergency, we postponed the FSB’s rise to power for 8-12 years.”

Putin’s new term is just beginning. It will take place under the full control of the FSB, whose presence in government at all levels is growing constantly. Data suggests that in the last years of the Soviet Union, only 3% of officials in top government positions were representatives of special services. During Yeltsin’s rule, the figure was over 30% and has risen to 70-80% today.

Putin’s regime has become a dictatorship of the security services, which will try to ensure the sustainability of this model of government for as long as possible. But that will only be the case until the rising clan of young siloviki sees the 72-year-old president as a weak link in the chain of power.

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COVID guidelines caused millions to suffer. Now Fauci admits ‘there was no science behind it.’

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Michael_Novakhov
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When COVID-19 hit in 2020, I jotted down a makeshift “will” for my four kids under 12. It wasn’t official, just a set of instructions for my children and other immediate family members in case anything happened to me. Bank accounts, passwords, and access to other valuable information the family might need were included.

It was the beginning of the pandemic and we had no idea just how serious things would get.

As a single parent, I worried that if I suddenly caught it and died, my children would languish. The virus was rampant, and the risk of dying seemed high and very real. Fear and anxiety took hold.

COVID-19 deaths weren’t exactly uncommon. The pandemic killed more than a million Americans, and there have been about 104 million confirmed cases in the United States alone. A lot of decisions were rooted in fear and brought with them life-changing consequences. Statewide lockdowns, shuttered businesses, school closings: All were based initially on the social distancing rule of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We’re now getting answers to questions those decisions raised.

In his testimony to the House Oversight and Accountability Committee on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and former chief medical adviser to President Donald Trump, said the 6-foot social distancing rule, which the CDC originally recommended, had not been backed by a clinical trial. This is despite constant claims that COVID-19 protocols were based on science.

These disclosures are damning and maddening for all of us who had structured our lives around these rules for years. As a result, millions of people suffered needlessly.

In testimony, Fauci admits COVID rules weren’t based on science

On Monday, Fauci was also asked to clarify his comments during the two-day congressional testimony he gave in January. The transcript of that testimony was recently released.

He specifically responded on Monday to questions about the 6-foot rule: “It had little to do with me since I didn’t make the recommendation and my saying ‘there was no science behind it’ meant there was no clinical trial behind that.”

In January, Fauci told staff and members of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic that “there was no science behind” the 6-foot social distancing rule that state and local governments repeated for months if not years.

What about the next pandemic:The world desperately needs a pandemic agreement. Will we come together to save lives?

“You know, I don’t recall. It sort of just appeared. I don’t recall, like, a discussion of whether it should be 5 or 6 or whatever,” Fauci said in January’s testimony.

He also admitted in the January interview that there was little science that backed requiring children to wear masks in public and at schools for almost two years.

“Do you recall reviewing any studies or data supporting masking for children?” a staffer asked Fauci.

“You know, I might have,” he answered, “but I don’t recall specifically that I did. I might have.”

These revelations are infuriating. Fauci repeated CDC-based COVID-19 protocols as the mouthpiece of President Trump’s administration. Desperate for guidance, states, local governments, businesses, churches and schools instituted them.

Closing schools because of COVID guidelines hurt kids

The real effect of social distancing − which Fauci basically admitted Monday and in January’s testimony was just an educated guess on how to deter COVID-19 − devastated America’s economy, small businesses and families. It interrupted the fabric of American life. For what?

The CDC’s now-infamous three weeks to “flatten the curve” turned into months for students and families living with the consequences. Here are some.

Closing schools was devastating to kids, especially poor or otherwise disadvantaged children. Remote learning wasn’t as effective as in-person learning, especially in the first year, as teachers had no time to prepare. Kids fell behind their grade levels. Pandemic closings resulted in two decades of learning loss.

Operation Warp Speed:Trump has to disavow his COVID vaccine to keep voters from RFK Jr. and his anti-vax clout

Anxiety and depression skyrocketed, especially among adolescents and teens. Kids with learning disabilities were completely left behind.

Non-urgent but still important medical diagnoses and exams were halted altogether. (This went for adults, too.) When schools did reconvene, masks were treated as sacrosanct, and kids were forced to eat lunch several feet apart.

Children learning to read and write at the beginning of the pandemic are still behind even now. Never mind that kids rarely showed any adverse effects of COVID-19, let alone died from it.

This is not a matter of hindsight being 20/20, either. People, including myself, were calling for schools to open in the fall months after the pandemic began, predicting it would continue to be harmful.

The entire medical profession, well beyond Fauci’s purview, seemed to struggle to understand how to mitigate the virus while continuing to provide medical care to those in need. While most providers pushed everyone to get vaccinated, screenings and routine care were pushed off for fear of COVID-19, even though they themselves were vaccinated.

At one point during the first year of COVID-19, one of my daughters became extremely ill. I phoned our pediatrician. Even though the staff was vaccinated, they would only see newborns. Her pediatrician refused to examine my daughter in person, and we tested negative for COVID-19 three times. She lost weight and refused to eat, sleeping all day.

After about 10 days, she eventually recovered. We still have no idea what illness she had, but her pediatrician’s treatment, based on COVID-19 guidelines, made no sense.

Hundreds of providers endangered patients based on ideas that had no basis in research. We’re only now learning just how much delaying cancer treatments out of the fear of spreading COVID-19 will cost people.

We cannot forget what we learned during the pandemic

Schools were just one example. The economic data, representing millions of families, is no more comforting.

In the second quarter of 2020, 1.2 million jobs were destroyed. In June 2021, 6.2 million people did not work at all or worked fewer hours because their employers closed or lost business. Family-owned businesses were lost, savings wiped, all for rules that had no real scientific basis.

Elderly loved ones, the most susceptible to COVID-19, died alone in hospital beds, with no one holding their hands and whispering last prayers. If funerals were held at all, expressions of affection was banned.

On Monday, Fauci did concede that some COVID-19 preventative measures may have gone too far and led to harmful outcomes. He said it is “very, very clear” that public health officials in the future should consider “the potential collateral negative effects” of controversial ideas like requiring masks and ask “how we can do better next time.”

Still, even this seems too little too late.

While COVID-19 measures were set in place immediately, as hundreds, if not thousands, were at risk of dying from the disease, it became clear within months that the disease disproportionately targeted elderly people and hardly affected kids at all.

An adaptable administration led by Fauci, the CDC and the National Institutes of Health would have observed such shifts and lifted strict lockdowns of schools and businesses. A healthy society quarantines the sick, not the young. A robust economy never shuts down its economy and hopes it will thrive.

Because we live in Texas, which remained largely open save for a couple of months, my kids and I watched as friends and family struggled through the pandemic with shuttered businesses and schools. The contrast between living in a state where responsible freedom was encouraged compared with places where local governments kept businesses and schools closed was obvious and remains cemented in my mind.

COVID-19 was four years ago now, but as time marches on, we must never forget its valuable lessons so we don’t repeat those mistakes again.

Nicole Russell is an opinion columnist with USA TODAY. She lives in Texas with her four kids.


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COVID guidelines caused millions to suffer. Now Fauci admits ‘there was no science behind it.’

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73962049007-mtg-questioningmp-400-01-15-

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Dr. Anthony Fauci disparaged by Marjorie Taylor Greene during House hearing
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene refused to refer to Anthony Fauci as “doctor” during a congressional hearing focused on the COVID-19 pandemic response and the virus’s origins.

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, I jotted down a makeshift “will” for my four kids under 12. It wasn’t official, just a set of instructions for my children and other immediate family members in case anything happened to me. Bank accounts, passwords, and access to other valuable information the family might need were included.

It was the beginning of the pandemic and we had no idea just how serious things would get.

As a single parent, I worried that if I suddenly caught it and died, my children would languish. The virus was rampant, and the risk of dying seemed high and very real. Fear and anxiety took hold.

COVID-19 deaths weren’t exactly uncommon. The pandemic killed more than a million Americans, and there have been about 104 million confirmed cases in the United States alone. A lot of decisions were rooted in fear and brought with them life-changing consequences. Statewide lockdowns, shuttered businesses, school closings: All were based initially on the social distancing rule of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We’re now getting answers to questions those decisions raised.

In his testimony to the House Oversight and Accountability Committee on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and former chief medical adviser to President Donald Trump, said the 6-foot social distancing rule, which the CDC originally recommended, had not been backed by a clinical trial. This is despite constant claims that COVID-19 protocols were based on science.

These disclosures are damning and maddening for all of us who had structured our lives around these rules for years. As a result, millions of people suffered needlessly.

On Monday, Fauci was also asked to clarify his comments during the two-day congressional testimony he gave in January. The transcript of that testimony was recently released.

He specifically responded on Monday to questions about the 6-foot rule: “It had little to do with me since I didn’t make the recommendation and my saying ‘there was no science behind it’ meant there was no clinical trial behind that.”

In January, Fauci told staff and members of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic that “there was no science behind” the 6-foot social distancing rule that state and local governments repeated for months if not years.

What about the next pandemic: The world desperately needs a pandemic agreement. Will we come together to save lives?

“You know, I don’t recall. It sort of just appeared. I don’t recall, like, a discussion of whether it should be 5 or 6 or whatever,” Fauci said in January’s testimony.

He also admitted in the January interview that there was little science that backed requiring children to wear masks in public and at schools for almost two years.

“Do you recall reviewing any studies or data supporting masking for children?” a staffer asked Fauci.

“You know, I might have,” he answered, “but I don’t recall specifically that I did. I might have.”

These revelations are infuriating. Fauci repeated CDC-based COVID-19 protocols as the mouthpiece of President Trump’s administration. Desperate for guidance, states, local governments, businesses, churches and schools instituted them.

The real effect of social distancing − which Fauci basically admitted Monday and in January’s testimony was just an educated guess on how to deter COVID-19 − devastated America’s economy, small businesses and families. It interrupted the fabric of American life. For what?

The CDC’s now-infamous three weeks to “flatten the curve” turned into months for students and families living with the consequences. Here are some.

Closing schools was devastating to kids, especially poor or otherwise disadvantaged children. Remote learning wasn’t as effective as in-person learning, especially in the first year, as teachers had no time to prepare. Kids fell behind their grade levels. Pandemic closings resulted in two decades of learning loss.

Operation Warp Speed: Trump has to disavow his COVID vaccine to keep voters from RFK Jr. and his anti-vax clout

Anxiety and depression skyrocketed, especially among adolescents and teens. Kids with learning disabilities were completely left behind.

Non-urgent but still important medical diagnoses and exams were halted altogether. (This went for adults, too.) When schools did reconvene, masks were treated as sacrosanct, and kids were forced to eat lunch several feet apart.

Children learning to read and write at the beginning of the pandemic are still behind even now. Never mind that kids rarely showed any adverse effects of COVID-19, let alone died from it.

This is not a matter of hindsight being 20/20, either. People, including myself, were calling for schools to open in the fall months after the pandemic began, predicting it would continue to be harmful.

The entire medical profession, well beyond Fauci’s purview, seemed to struggle to understand how to mitigate the virus while continuing to provide medical care to those in need. While most providers pushed everyone to get vaccinated, screenings and routine care were pushed off for fear of COVID-19, even though they themselves were vaccinated.

At one point during the first year of COVID-19, one of my daughters became extremely ill. I phoned our pediatrician. Even though the staff was vaccinated, they would only see newborns. Her pediatrician refused to examine my daughter in person, and we tested negative for COVID-19 three times. She lost weight and refused to eat, sleeping all day.

After about 10 days, she eventually recovered. We still have no idea what illness she had, but her pediatrician’s treatment, based on COVID-19 guidelines, made no sense.

Hundreds of providers endangered patients based on ideas that had no basis in research. We’re only now learning just how much delaying cancer treatments out of the fear of spreading COVID-19 will cost people.

Schools were just one example. The economic data, representing millions of families, is no more comforting.

In the second quarter of 2020, 1.2 million jobs were destroyed. In June 2021, 6.2 million people did not work at all or worked fewer hours because their employers closed or lost business. Family-owned businesses were lost, savings wiped, all for rules that had no real scientific basis.

Elderly loved ones, the most susceptible to COVID-19, died alone in hospital beds, with no one holding their hands and whispering last prayers. If funerals were held at all, expressions of affection was banned.

On Monday, Fauci did concede that some COVID-19 preventative measures may have gone too far and led to harmful outcomes. He said it is “very, very clear” that public health officials in the future should consider “the potential collateral negative effects” of controversial ideas like requiring masks and ask “how we can do better next time.”

Still, even this seems too little too late.

While COVID-19 measures were set in place immediately, as hundreds, if not thousands, were at risk of dying from the disease, it became clear within months that the disease disproportionately targeted elderly people and hardly affected kids at all.

An adaptable administration led by Fauci, the CDC and the National Institutes of Health would have observed such shifts and lifted strict lockdowns of schools and businesses. A healthy society quarantines the sick, not the young. A robust economy never shuts down its economy and hopes it will thrive.

Because we live in Texas, which remained largely open save for a couple of months, my kids and I watched as friends and family struggled through the pandemic with shuttered businesses and schools. The contrast between living in a state where responsible freedom was encouraged compared with places where local governments kept businesses and schools closed was obvious and remains cemented in my mind.

COVID-19 was four years ago now, but as time marches on, we must never forget its valuable lessons so we don’t repeat those mistakes again.

Nicole Russell is an opinion columnist with USA TODAY. She lives in Texas with her four kids.


Share The News