Kremlin security adviser is as strong as he is weak

Posted in Russia | 13-Mar-04 | Author: Hubertus Hoffmann

"To Moscow With Love": Strengths and Weaknesses of Kremlin Security Adviser Sergey Ivanov

An analysis from Germany by Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann

MUNICH (February 14, 2001) -- Assertive tsarist generals would be proud of Sergey Ivanov, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. Thin and small but courageous, with cheerfully blazing eyes, a youthful smile, analytically very strong, he looked self-confident, and rather elegant surrounded by dour bodyguards at the February 3-4 Munich Security Conference.

When necessary, Ivanov can be more rude than the average diplomat, sometimes with a touch of cynicism, but always open and alert; a very good personnel selection by President Vladimir Putin. Both men knew each other from their state security days, when Ivanov served as a loyal colleague with the rank of general under then-internal security chief Putin. From these roots come the strengths and weaknesses evident in this James Bond of the Kremlin.

Strength Number One: Cosmopolitan World View

Sergey Ivanov knows the world abroad, which he first experienced as an intelligence official in Africa. He knows how to move about confidently in foreign lands. He is fluent in English and knows well how to deal with a broad spectrum of foreigners.

Strength Number Two: Resilience and Toughness

No one will want to have Ivanov as an opponent. Terrorists and other enemies of Moscow will receive rough treatment; this is easily seen in his eyes and in his body language, where he speaks and acts.

Strength Number Three: Concentration on the Dangers to Russia from the South

His top priority is to deal with the dangerous developments in the bleeding wound south of Russia's border -- in the Caucasus and in Central Asia.

Strength Number Four: Economic Foundations of Security and Stability

Ivanov fully recognizes that Russia's economic well-being and development are essential requirements for the country's security and stability.

Strength Number Five: Friendship with Vladimir Putin

The granite foundation of his power is his relationship with his soul-mate Putin. Sergey Ivanov could achieve what Russia's citizens, as well as the West, desire -- security and stability for his crisis-ridden nation. But he is threatened by a wall within his head, a barbed wire of division. Only if he vanquishes these barriers can he truly succeed. Wall and barbed wire are the legacy of his education not only within the dictatorial system of the USSR -- a system full of lies, cruelty, and other inhumanity -- but of his professional chekist training inside the sword and shield of that system. He is the product of a machine that portrayed the United States as mankind's ultimate enemy. Which lead us to Ivanov's weaknesses as a national or international leader.

Weakness Number One: Neglect of Human Rights

When discussing human rights, Ivanov turns grim, unpleasant, and even aggressive. When he was asked at his February 4 news conference about the fate of Hungarians forcibly taken to Russia, he appeared insulted and responded angrily and cynically. No willingness to remember, no word of regret, no touch of humanity -- none of the very things required for him to build Western trust and confidence in his boss, President Putin.

On the contrary, Ivanov shocked the Western security elite gathered in Munich by sharply condemning "NATO's actions in Kosovo as causing the systematic growth of violence . . . and an ecological disaster comparable to Chernobyl." Not a word about the murders and massacres of Moslems carried out by the forces of Russia's ally, Slobodan Milosevic. No, Ivanov exuded pure cynicism in the style of Stalin or Brezhnev -- the very quality, or lack thereof, that prevents the building of trust as a foundation of international cooperation and of a new global order for peace.

Without giving substance to human rights as a cornerstone of democracy, Moscow can never become a respected and equal partner of Western societies, no matter how much some in the West might wish it. Without this sure foundation, Ivanov's policies remain pale, shortsighted, and incapable of success. By bringing such an approach to Munich, Ivanov created a major obstacle to his own -- and Russia's -- future in the international community.

Weakness Number Two: Moscow's Best Friends

One is known by one's friends. Among Moscow's best friends are the world's last remaining tyrants -- Iraq's Saddam Hussein and the rulers of North Korea, Libya, and other dictatorial regimes. These "friends" should be an insult to the Russian people who deserve better. They coldly testify to the staggering failure of Russian security policy. Such partners bring none of the forces for good that Russia and the world vainly seek.

Weakness Number Three: Bunker Mentality

Ivanov sees Russia's security situation like that of a lonely shepherd encircled by hungry wolves. Western wolves. In the early days of Russia's post-Soviet democracy, Moscow welcomed a strong NATO as a good neighbor and peaceful partner that offered secure borders on Russia's potentially unstable western flank. Not so with Central Asia and the disintegrating People's Republic of China to the south and east, where Russia's current partnership efforts may bring short-term tactical gains but could reap increased dangers in the longer term, less than a generation from now.

Weakness Number Four: The United States as the Main Enemy

As in the bad old days, the Kremlin is reflexively describing the United States as the "main enemy," a policy which might make sense within Russia in the short term, but which has not been thought through carefully for its long-term implications. As U.S. missile defense deployment proceeds, Moscow will suffer a crippling public relations blow. Yet in reality, Moscow needs Washington to help develop the basis of a prosperous economy and competitive international trade. Such cooperation and development are Russia's single most important tasks during the next twenty years. Yet they risk being squandered.

Weakness Number Five: Russia's Financial 'Mafiya'

Deadly as rat poison is Ivanov's relaxed relationship with those who have stolen what could amount to billions of Western dollars provided for assistance, investment, and relief to the people of Russia. This relationship has sensitive implications. Putin's accession to power was part of a carefully arranged deal involving another close colleague, Anatoly Chubais, President Yeltsin's former chief of staff. With much money involved and Yeltsin and his family facing potential prosecution, Chubais promised amnesty to the Yeltsin family should Putin become prime minister. The attitude toward this relationship remains today, as Chubais has described privately: "Who is responsible: he who puts a honey pot in the forest, or the bear who finds and eats it?"

If Ivanov is to succeed in ensuring the long-term security of Russia, his policies must reject the old assumptions of the Soviet Union and the chekist cult of state security, and embrace a modern, forward-looking, Western way of thinking. May he learn that lesson soon.

Dr Hubertus Hoffmann, President and Founder of, is a successful Internet entrepreneur. A Doctor of Political Science, author and TV journalist, he has a background as a defense specialist in the German Bundestag and the European Parliament, and was a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Text of speech given by Sergei Ivanov on February 4, 2001: