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Putin Reorganizes Russian Security Agencies - 2003-03-11

President Vladimir Putin has reorganized Russia's security agencies, giving greater authority to the KGB's main successor, the FSB (Federal Security Service). Mr. Putin previously worked for the KBG and headed the FSB. The shake-up also calls for abolishing Russia's main communications surveillance agency, along with the federal tax police.

The Russian president announced the changes in televised remarks to his cabinet Tuesday. Chief among the measures is the strengthening of the FSB's powers, which will now include overseeing the country's border guards and government communications.

It is the second time during his presidency that Mr. Putin has announced major changes in the Russian security structure. He said the action is well-considered and enjoys broad support.

President Putin said the changes were necessary, in part, to address what he said were inadequacies in fighting the war on drugs. President Putin said Russia could not claim that it's government agencies have been successful in the war on drugs so far.

He also said he hopes the changes will bolster the fight against terrorism.

President Putin also named the border guards' former director as Russia's new representative to NATO. And he appointed the former tax police chief to be Russia's new representative to the European Union.

The Deputy Director of the Moscow-based research organization the USA-Canada Institute, Victor Kremenyuk, said he believes President Putin took the action for one reason only: to consolidate his hold on power.

"It is an attempt to meet two challenges. One, is the failure of the civilian sector to stir up developments, economic and social developments, and the expectation that this failure will be followed by some rising protests all around the country. So I think that in the wake of this the president wants to strengthen his security power," Mr. Kremenyuk said.

Mr. Kremenyuk adds that the moves definitely boost the FSB's hold on power.

Asked how he thought Tuesday's changes would be received, Mr. Kremenyuk said that for many people in Russia, it will be business as usual. But he said others will likely challenge the changes.

"I think there will be people who may try to protest against that and will of course draw the parallels with the Soviet period. So, I don't think Russia will be indifferent to that," he said.

Mr. Kremenyuk says most Russians will also note that the new powers granted the FSB come from President Putin, a 16-year KGB veteran, who headed the FSB before becoming Russia's prime minister and then president.