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Sergey Ivanov, Putin's Chief of Staff Is Russia's #2

Dmitry Medvedev is the PM but it's Sergey Ivanov - a friend of Putin  and his now right hand man who is Russia's real number 2






Sergey Ivanov - Putin's Chief of Staff and Russia's Number 2



We are republishing here in full the transcript of a lengthy interview Sergey Ivanov, Putin’s Chief of Staff, gave to the official Russian news agency TASS at the end of the October.

We have written about Ivanov in the past and discussed who he is (see here).

The very wide ranging interview he has given TASS is a further sign his star is rising and that it is Ivanov rather than Medvedev who is Russia’s real number 2.

The interview seems in part intended to explain Ivanov’s role and to make him better known to the Russian public.  

He discusses a huge range of subjects including foreign and defence policy, the state of the economy, the import substitution plan, the fight against corruption, infrastructure work in Russia’s regions, caviar poaching and even football.

No other Russian official apart from Putin himself talks in such a wide ranging way.  

By doing so Ivanov shows the degree to which he has an eye on every issue and an expert opinion on most of them.

The interview is clearly also intended to burnish Ivanov’s somewhat dour image with the Russian public.

His themes are precisely the sort that go down well with many Russians: patriotism, service to the Motherland, honesty, integrity and hard work.

A very large part of the interview is devoted to the fight against corruption - an important topic for many Russians and one in which Ivanov seems intent on establishing himself as the anti corruption fighter in chief.

The image Ivanov presents of himself is of the tough, unyielding but also hard working, scrupulously fair and completely honest boss.

He takes an unyielding approach to foreign policy.

He is scathing in his criticism of US policy in the Middle East and Ukraine. He condemns the US and its allies for setting themselves above international law. He hints darkly at the bad consequences to Europe of the refugee crisis.

On the question of Ukraine, the onus of achieving peace is entirely on the Ukrainian government, which must talk to the leaders of the Donbass as it promised to do in Minsk.

Ivanov does however seem to understand the need to show a human face.

He talks about his interest in sport, the affairs of the national football team and of his old car.

In some ways the most interesting things he says are about his own career.

It turns out that his career as an intelligence officer ended as recently as 2000, shortly before Putin appointed him Defence Minister. 

That means that Ivanov had a much longer career as an intelligence officer than Putin did. 

Ivanov was still technically a serving intelligence officer when - before 2000 - he became secretary of Russia’s Security Council - the post Nikolai Patrushev occupies now.

That confirms what seemed likely from an interview of Patrushev’s that we published a year ago: the secretary of Russia’s Security Council is someone with an intelligence background who acts as the overall head of Russia’s intelligence services and who is the person to whom the heads of Russia’s various intelligence agencies (the SVR, the GRU, the FSB and the FSO) normally report.

Ivanov’s immediate predecessor as secretary of the Security Council was none other than Putin himself (at that time also head of the FSB) - with whom Ivanov had served when they were posted in the 1970s to the local headquarters of the KGB in Leningrad.

The present secretary of the Security Council is Patrushev, who was also a serving officer in the KGB’s intelligence section in Leningrad at the same time as Putin and Ivanov were there.

To complete the circle, it appears Ivanov and Patrushev also attended at roughly the same time Higher Courses at the KGB’s school in Minsk.

In other words all three men - Putin, Ivanov and Patrushev - have known each other and have at various times worked together since the 1970s. 

Despite Ivanov’s denials that he is still involved in intelligence, Lieutenant General Reshetnikov - the head of Russia’s centre for intelligence analysis - has confirmed that it is Ivanov who commissions from his centre analytical studies on specific topics.

This suggests that Patrushev as overall head of Russian intelligence normally reports to Ivanov, who in turn reports to Putin.

In the interview Ivanov lifts a little of the veil on his own history in the intelligence service.

He confirms that he and Putin had adjoining offices in the KGB headquarters in Leningrad whilst they were serving there together as young intelligence officers in the 1970s.

More importantly, Ivanov confirms that thereafter - unlike Putin - he became an undercover field agent ie. a spy.

He is careful not to disclose details, but it is known that in the 1980s he served in Finland as Second Secretary at the Soviet embassy in Helsinki where he was subordinate to the KGB Resident, who is known confusingly by two different names: Felix Karasev and Felix Sutyrin.

Ivanov provides a number of subtle clues about one other country in Europe that he may have been posted to.

He mentions his fluency in English, and provides further clues by making a very complicated joke.

He humorously suggests that when he visited Britain as Russia’s Defence Minister the British mistook him for a KGB agent called “Sergey Borisovich Ivanov” who had been expelled from Britain.  

Ivanov jokes that he cannot be this person because he was born in 1953 whilst that person was born in 1952.

However Ivanov also discloses that his cover was blown and he was forced out of the country to which he was posted through the actions of Oleg Gordievsky, a senior KGB official who was actually a spy working for the British, and who was for a period of about 3 years in the early 1980s the KGB Resident in London.

Ivanov confirms that he worked with Gordievsky.

Putting this all together, it is possible - and perhaps likely - that Ivanov and the “Sergey Borisovich Ivanov” whom the British expelled are indeed one and the same person, and that Ivanov is teasing the British by playing on his nondescript name and British confusion about his date of birth.

That would locate Ivanov in London in the 1980s, presumably after his posting to Helsinki.

The KGB exposed Gordievsky as a British agent in 1985, leading the British to expel various KGB agents working at the embassy in London that year.

That suggests Ivanov was serving in Britain up to 1985 and was expelled from Britain that year.  

Ivanov says that the blowing of his cover by Gordievsky did not bring his career as an agent to an end.  

He does not say where he served thereafter other than that part of his service was in east Africa - indirectly confirming through a teasing comment about Mount Kilimanjaro that he travelled in both Kenya and Tanzania.

East Africa having once been part of British empire, Ivanov’s knowledge of English would have been very useful there.

Ivanov does however confirm that his career as a field agent culminated by his achieving the post of KGB Resident - i.e. overall head of the KGB station - in the country where he was posted.  Since Ivanov describes himself as a “KGB Resident” this would have been before 1991.

Thereafter Ivanov says that he returned to Russia and worked at the headquarters of the SVR - the agency that replaced the First Chief Directorate of the KGB - the branch of the KGB dealing with foreign intelligence.

It seems it was from this post in August 1998 that Putin - following his own appointment as head of the FSB - appointed Ivanov his deputy.

In addition to saying quite a lot about himself, Ivanov provides some information about Russian policies.

He makes it clear that the Russian government does not expect sanctions to be lifted this December or any time soon.  

He all but says that the Ukrainian crisis was simply a pretext to impose the sanctions - a view we now know that no less a person than German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel shares.

He says that he - and probably the whole government - are not so naive as to believe the sanctions will be lifted simply because the peace process in Ukraine appears to be going well.

Ivanov says Russia refuses to discuss the sanctions with the US or with the Europeans and opposes any attempt to bring up the subject of the sanctions in any meeting called to discuss Ukraine.

According to Ivanov, it is for those who imposed the sanctions to admit their error by lifting them.

If true - and there is no reason to doubt what Ivanov says on this subject - then this Russian approach to the question of the sanctions must be a cause of great frustration and bewilderment to Western governments. 

Indeed on the subject of sanctions, it is difficult to avoid the sense that at some level Ivanov actually relishes them.

They provide clarity, marking out clear dividing lines - showing to Russians who their country’s enemies are - something which as someone who fought on the front line of the Cold War Ivanov positively welcomes.

They provide an opportunity for Russia to demonstrate to the West its strength: its ability to thrive despite all the West throws at it.

Above all however the sanctions justify doing things one senses Ivanov has long hankered to do: forging ahead with import substitution, developing the country’s agriculture and industries, and above all imposing discipline on officials.

Much of the interview revolves around this theme, with Ivanov talking about steps to end embezzlement in big construction projects and for tightening discipline - above all financial discipline - right across the whole bureaucracy.

At the same time Ivanov remains firmly grounded in reality: there is to be no retreat into a siege economy, no across the board purge of officials, no violations of the law, no retreat from the presumption of innocence. The import substitution plan requires at least 5-7 years.

The emphasis on discipline within the bureaucracy to some extent explains the otherwise somewhat mysterious meeting Ivanov had in September with a high level delegation from the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Ivanov will have used this meeting not just to exchange ideas with his Chinese opposite numbers.

He will also have used the meeting to develop his own links with the Chinese government - a matter of crucial importance given the Strategic Partnership between the two countries.

The image of Ivanov that comes across in the interview - or at least the one he wants to convey - is of a tough, practical, highly intelligent, humorous, honest, frank and deeply patriotic man.  

As an image it is somewhat austere - more Stirlitz than James Bond - lacking Putin's charm and sense of fun, but it conveys authority, and will go down well with many Russians.

It is much too early to speak of Ivanov as Putin’s successor. His loyalty to Putin is total, and there is no sign at the moment that Putin is planning to go.

However Ivanov does come across as the pivot of the whole machine - the man at the centre of everything, the one who keeps everyone working and everything going, and who gets things done.

Given that this is so, if Putin does decide to go, then Ivanov looks like an obvious potential successor - arguably more so than he did back in 2008.

Should Ivanov ever succeed Putin, given his background in intelligence - something he was involved in to a much greater degree than Putin ever was - then Russia’s spies - Russia's traditional first line of defence - really will have come in from the cold.

The following interview was first published by the official Russian news agency TASS

The chief of Russia's presidential staff dwells upon the most acute issues of Russia's politics and society in an interview with TASS.


TASS: The world learned that Russia was about to go to war against the Islamic State in Syria when you presented the president's request for permission to use the armed forces outside the national territory to the Federation Council (upper house of parliament).  You were the one who broke the news, so will you please tell us: 'Why now?’

IVANOV: Let’s begin at the beginning. Memories are still green of how our US partners and colleagues in the late 2000s were explaining to me in great detail how very important it was to bring democracy to the Middle East. 

Now they've brought it there… For the whole world to see the results.

The operation Enduring Freedom lasted in Afghanistan for thirteen years. The United States launched it in response to 9/11. It was the longest war the United States had ever fought. Its ultimate goal - victory over the Taliban - remained unachievable.

I don't think I'll have to explain to anybody what the Americans have plunged Iraq into more than a decade of chaos and lawlessness. 

One should remember that Saddam Hussein hated Al Qaeda and all other terrorists. Take it from me. 

True, while fighting against them he employed methods one can hardly call democratic. 

He was sending them to the gallows and he had them shot without inquest of trial. 

That was his way of settling scores with opponents. 

As long as Saddam stayed in power, no one ever had the slightest idea some kind of terrorist groups might crop up in the territory of Iraq. 

But then Saddam Hussein was sent to the gallows himself. With all the ensuing consequences.

Next, to Libya. 

The country has now been turned into another Somalia. This says it all. 

The goal of North Africa's and the Middle East's conversion to democracy was again offered as the underlying motif.

Or take Egypt. 

Now it is somewhat outside the spotlight of public attention. Some other trouble spots are far hotter. 

But just recently, in 2012 the CNN was telecasting hours-long bombastic reports about waking popular masses in Cairo, and at times it came pretty close to presenting the Muslim Brotherhood as refined liberals and democrats… 

To cut a long story short: but for the courage and far-sightedness of the then Egyptian defense minister, General El-Sisi, the country these days would have been looking very much like Libya. 

In that situation there might've followed a merciless free-for-all. 

Mind you, Egypt is the most densely populated country of the Middle East with a population of more than 80 million. It was fortunate history turned it another way…

Now, we have Syria…


TASS: I’m not sure about the 'now' part. The civil war there erupted back in 2011.

IVANOV: Correct. 

The conflict there has lasted for several years now. 

A large territory of the country is under the control of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. 

It's a hard fact! 

All of us have been witnesses to how very successful the international coalition has been in its more than twelve-month-long military campaign against the IS.

TASS: Are you being ironic?

IVANOV: The way I see it, the world is at a turning point in international relations. 

On the one hand, there are the universally recognized institutions, like the UN Security Council. But for them all of us would've had a really hard time these days. 

And on the other, there are individual countries which position themselves as benchmarks of democracy and offhandedly defy international law. 

There is no written law they may agree to recognize. In fact, the sole rule they agree with is: “Might makes right.” And that is a real menace. 

After all, the place where we all live is not the jungle, and nobody should feel free to ruin the established world order.

In a sense, Syria is a litmus test. 

I won't be retelling now what exactly President  Putin told the UN General Assembly session, or review in detail the background of his request to the Federation Council for permission to use our armed forces to help the government in Damascus. 

I will just say once again that Russia in this particular case is pursuing no foreign policy ambitions whatsoever. 

It is crystal-clear that military means alone will never bring about a settlement in Syria. In the final count a political solution will have to begin to be looked for. 

A future solution will be complex and hard to achieve, but Syria as such is a no simple country. 

By the way, originally, the idea of an intra-Syrian alliance in the struggle against the Islamic State was not ours: it came from the French President, Francois Hollande. 

He speculated that the government troops under Bashar Assad and the so-called Free Syrian Army might present a common front. 

Of course, if the latter does exist in reality, and is not a virtual brainchild of some armchair pundits in the West. Any sensible opposition can be negotiated with and compromises are to be mutual - that's pretty clear.

In the meantime, while this is still a matter of distant future, I would mention one more argument why Russia had to intervene in the Syrian conflict. 

As you may have heard, there are thousands of Russia or CIS-born people fighting for the Islamic State. 

So will you advise us to just watch and wait for them to be trained there and then get back home?

Many are still not in the mood of saying certain things aloud. They just don't dare state them outright. But I will… 

Crowds of refugees from the Middle East are now heading for countries in southern Europe, hoping to cross it to Western Europe. 

How can one be sure that among the migrants there are no “sleepers” - sleeping agents or undercover terrorists who are on the way to the Old World for the purpose of settling down inconspicuously somehow and waiting for the D-day to come? 

And on that D-day they will emerge in the forefront again to play the very well familiar role. 

For instance, of a suicide bomber who is prepared to give up one's life for faith and take as many other human lives as possible? I wouldn't like to utter gloom prophecies, but I personally have no doubts it will happen this way. I am dead certain!

TASS: But aren't we provoking these radicals by getting involved in this war? Didn't the just-prevented terrorist attack in Moscow ring the first alarm bell?

IVANOV: We will do our utmost to ensure that nobody ever comes to Russia from the Islamic State, that all of them remain in Syrian soil.

TASS: But you haven't answered the question what was the reason for us to join the fight at this particular moment.

IVANOV: The situation has turned intolerant.


TASS: Some western media have been quoting anonymous sources - traditionally anonymous, I should say - in the Kremlin that President Putin was talked into beginning an air operation in Syria by a trio of Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and you. Was that really so?

IVANOV: I believe I should thank you first for mentioning me in such a good company… 

I am being ironic again, don't you see, so will you please forgive this habit of mine. 

Making serious comments regarding such “leaks” is always very hard. 

But if we are to stay neutral and discuss only the hard facts, I will say this: the mentioned “anonymous sources” got it all wrong. How it all happened was very different.


TASS: So, how did it all happen? Conspiracy theory fans are claiming that Syria is just a decoy operation, launched to switch attention from the east of Ukraine to the Middle East, to push Donbas into the background.

IVANOV: It’s absurd to refute plain gossip. 

I've already explained why we found it right and appropriate to respond to the request from Syria's legitimate leadership for help in fighting against terrorists of all sorts. 

What attempts to switch attention are you talking about? 

Look here, it was not us who staged the anti-constitutional coup in Kiev, right? I am ready to discuss the theme of Ukraine in greater detail, if you wish. 

Just as our efforts to get out of the so-called isolation no matter what. 

I love history and I do know that Russia has always been looked at as a threat and with great suspicion, to put it mildly. 

That was so when Russia was an empire and ruled by tsars, it was so throughout the Soviet years, and we still see the same today. 

Alexander Solzhenytsin said perfectly well that from time immemorial the West had felt scared of Russia's enormity. Enormity, mind you! 

We saw sanctions taken against us back during the rule of the Romanov dynasty. 

There's nothing new about them. 

Trade barriers were put up and financial obstructions posed again and again… Those measures were far harsher than the current ones. 

But we managed. We didn't get scared in the past, and we will stay firm this time. 

The West grossly exaggerates the influence of the latest sanctions on the Russian economy. 

True, they do pose certain hindrances to us, it would be foolish to deny the obvious, but I will say again and again that in the past we lived through far greater problems.

Attempts to punish Russia are senseless and ineffective. Take the expulsion from the G8. 

Some must've thought we would get very much upset. But the G8 is certainly not the place where we would like to get back. Honestly! 

In the 1990s Russia spent much time and effort for the sake of being admitted to this club of select few; it eventually got there only to see for itself that the G8 was no longer capable of addressing any of the fundamental issues humanity was confronted with at the current stage.

True, it is possible to get together to talk about the western attitude (western, mind you) to this or that issue, but the world today is very different. 

The G20 - that's the worthy level. It is there that truly important themes are being discussed and solution mechanisms can be devised. 

Here is a Syria-related example. The need for eliminating the arsenals of chemical weapons in that country was agreed on within the G20 format, and not the G8 or G7 group. 

So there no regrets about the demise of the G8, believe me.

As for the procedure employed to make the decision to dispatch a Russian air group (which in the past would've possibly been called a limited troop contingent) to the base near Latakia, there was no haste or anything spontaneous. 

All steps had been considered well beforehand and agreed with the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. 

It is common knowledge that the combat aircraft and some special units of the Russian armed forces had been dispatched to Syria well in advance…


TASS: Although we kept denying everything at first.

IVANOV: We didn't. We neither confirmed nor denied the reports. We merely refrained from comment. 

That's standard international practice. And quite legitimate, by the way. 

But let's be realistic: everybody understands that the redeployment of several dozen planes cannot be kept secret. Everything can be seen well from space.

The final discussion on the operation in Syria, with senior military officials taking part, was held at a meeting of Russia's Security Council late in the evening on September 29. 

We considered all the pros and cons, all strengths and weaknesses once again. 

The presidential request to the Federation Council followed only after that. I brought the text to the FC building in Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street early the next morning…

TASS: The Americans have already predicted the losses the Russians will soon sustain in Syria. It's clear that there can be no war without losses, but how large is the risk of such developments? What do you think?

IVANOV: As I've said, we gauged all likely risks.  

Our troops will not be involved in clashes on the ground. We declared that from the outset and in very clear terms. 

The air base from where our planes fly combat missions is inside an area under the full control of Syrian government forces. There is a certain level of protection, and a very serious one. 

Apart from the air pilots and the maintenance personnel based in Latakia there is a small commando unit responsible for guarding the airbase. 

That's a natural precaution and any other country would've taken it. 

So I wouldn't say there is a serious risk of an attack against the Russian air group in Syria. Theoretically everything is possible, but all precautions have been taken.

As for what has been said about the expected losses, we'd prefer to be more tactful and to avoid counting the US Marines who've already lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.


TASS: Now about Ukraine, as you've suggested. When he made a trip to Sevastopol in September, Vladimir Putin declared it was necessary to restore full-scale relations. Is it a soluble task against the background of what we can see today?

IVANOV: Clearly, our relations with the authorities in Kiev have fallen to a record-low. 

But there are two factors one should keep in mind. That it happened so is no fault of ours. 

Secondly, Ukraine is a special case. That country remains a home to many of our people. And not in some virtual sense, but in a very specific one: somebody's parents, brothers, sisters, grandpas and grandmas… 

This illustrates how right and to the point Putin was when he said that in fact we were one people. 

We have a whole universe to share: mentally, religiously and culturally. The language included.  

We are one Slavic people, there's no arguing about that.

TASS: But in Kiev this kind of approach causes strong rejection. People there argue that we are very different and that their language is certainly not a dialect.

IVANOV: True, it is possible to rewrite history again and again, but that will not change anything. 

I do believe that sooner or later the day will come when relations between our countries will begin to mend.

TASS: Oddly enough, the “later” part of the formula works far more often than the “sooner” one.

IVANOV: Far from everything depends on us. 

If the other side stays reluctant and defiant, compulsion won't help. It takes two to tango…

TASS: That’s why I am asking you what you personally do these days for the sake of bringing fraternal peoples closer together? Say, do you contact Boris Lozhkin - your opposite number in the Ukrainian presidential staff  - often enough and what themes do you discuss?

IVANOV: There are contacts at different levels. Through the Russian government, the Foreign Ministry and the presidential staff… 

I am not in the position to disclose the details of confidential negotiations that we've had so far and are still having, but I can tell you that at the beginning of the conflict, when active combat operations, in fact, a civil war in the territory of Ukraine, were in progress, we had more frequent contacts in a bid to put an end to the bloodshed and fratricidal clashes. 

That was before the Minsk Format. 

Now the situation has changed and there is a new stable channel for a dialogue. 

Many things have been delegated to the level of contact groups, in which Russia is represented as an equitable partner. 

But if necessary, I can put a call through to Kiev any moment. 

Accordingly, Boris Lozhkin feels free to phone me any time. We do contact each other, whenever the need arises. 

The situation is now better than it was a year ago, thank God. 

At least there are no active combat clashes in Donbas. 

True, the problem cannot be resolved without a political settlement and the implementation of the Minsk Accords to the full extent is now in the forefront. 

The Normandy Quartet has stated that clearly. 

A direct dialogue between Kiev's officials and the leaders of Donetsk and Luhansk are number one issue on the agenda. 

The purpose is to determine the modality, the rules of the game, and to eventually hold elections in compliance with Ukrainian legislation to let the people of Donbas feel their rights enjoy steadfast protection, international guarantees and obligations included. 

After that it might be possible to move on to a final peace arrangement.


TASS: The implementation of Minsk-2 is one of the conditions for the lifting of sanctions from Russia. You say the sanctions caused no big trouble to us, but you would agree there is nothing about them that can makes us happy.

IVANOV: I’d put it this way:

Never ever! It was not us who took those measures, and we are not going to discuss in any format what is necessary for canceling them.

TASS: But peace in Ukraine does not run counter to the interests of Russia, does it?

IVANOV: Of course, it doesn't. But I would avoid any linkage here. 

Are you certain that the sanctions will be lifted even after impeccable compliance with Minsk-2? 

Are there any guarantees? Personally, I have big doubts on that score. 

There is no reason why we should offer excuses or ask for forgiveness.



TASS: Let’s be frank: the financial and economic situation in the country is really grave

IVANOV: The sanctions did cause certain losses. 

The GDP is on the decline, and not on the ascent. We don't deny that. 

But! The root cause for the Russian economy's slowdown is not sanctions, but the fall in the world prices of oil and gas. 

I agree that this has demonstrated again our strong dependence on hydrocarbons and how very bad this is. 

But on the other hand, we've been able to realize the vector of future action to be taken to ease the pressures of the raw materials factor.

TASS: Are you satisfied with progress in import substitution, which is now the focus of attention?

IVANOV: I would split your question in two. 

The task of global and effective substitution for certain products that are being imported from other countries can be accomplished in 5-7 years' time at the earliest. 

Although there may be economic sectors where meeting far tighter deadlines may be possible. For instance, the military-industrial complex. 

A great deal has been done there along these lines already, believe me. 

Incidentally, it is Ukraine that has been the hardest-hit as a result. 

I am saying so in all seriousness, without a shade of irony. 

Our neighbors have lost their space rocket industry and aircraft and shipbuilding as well. 

True, they have risen to number one place in the world as the exporter of … sunflower seeds. I learned that from a piece authored by one of your fellow journalists. 

If the authorities in Kiev do care about the future of their state, they should do something serious about what is really happening. 

Once an agrarian-industrial country, Ukraine is being turned into a forsaken backyard - will you excuse me for saying so - a second-rate farm growing agricultural produce with very slim chances of ever finding a buyer who would agree to have it. 

There's 100-percent certainty the European Union will not have it. I can tell you that right away. 

Ukraine's another role under the current scheme of things will be that of an exporter of cheap labor to other countries. 

Don't forget that since the Donbas unrest began three million Ukrainians have fled the country. Where did they go? Right, they went to Russia. 

More than one million of them are refugees. And the others have full-time jobs here.

Anyhow, it's up to our neighbors to decide what kind of country they would like to live in tomorrow.

Now, let's get back to the theme of import substitution in the Russian economy. 

In agriculture the changes are not so significant as they have been in the defense industry, although products from domestic manufactures are already taking far more space on the shelves of our supermarkets these days. 

Far more than just a couple of years ago. Is this good or bad? To me the answer is obvious.

TASS: The dialectics laws seem to fail once in a while. Quantity does not always transform into quality. At least, the Russian agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor said just recently that nearly eighty percent of Russian cheeses is not cheeses at all, but forgeries containing vegetable fat. A short while later, though, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev asked certain officials not to scare the customers with forgery statistics and they backtracked. But the quality of cheese has hardly improved since.

IVANOV: I agree that the situation cannot be improved overnight. 

But, as you understand, we've got accustomed to rely on imports and made no good cheeses of our own for a hundred years or so. So it would be naïve to think that good cheese will suddenly emerge out of nowhere. It never happens.

But apart from cheese there is poultry, pork and vegetables. 

We've managed to meet the entire domestic market demand. 

That's a real chance for our farm producers. 

I recall saying once that sanctions may end some day, God forbid, and the window of opportunities will be shut down again! We've got to take advantage of the situation and to build up production. 

There are such plans at the federal level and in many regions, where the climate is favorable for farming. 

The plan will take time to materialize, or course, but some positive results are already well in sight.

Please, remember, total import substitution is no goal of ours. 

We have no intention of screening ourselves from the outside world. It would've been ridiculous, if we'd had such plans. 

Those who are discussing sanctions these days for some reason quickly shift to the theme of Russia's international isolation. What do they really mean? 

The world is not confined to Western Europe, the United States, Canada and some other states. The other countries and regions are not closed to us. Asia, Africa and Latin America… They are open to holidaymakers and to trade as before.

In a word, we will keep developing normally, stay in touch with each other, and, if need be, find alternatives to products we are still unable to produce ourselves. 

But spending hard currency on pampers, the way we did just recently, is hardly reasonable today. 

That's not a precision instrument for a space rocket. I believe that launching the production of such consumer goods in Russia will be no problem.

TASS: Without forgetting about quality, though..

IVANOV: It goes without saying. We don't need an illusion of the process. 

We don't need box-ticking, to put it bluntly: no situations where a newly-made commodity proves by far inferior to foreign counterparts. 

Moreover, in the global economy hardly any producer manufactures products meant for the domestic market only. If something is to be manufactured, then only with a view to exporting the item. Otherwise it will just make no sense. I know that from my own experience with aircraft-building.

TASS: And what would you say about the public destruction of products under sanctions? Not as the chief of the Kremlin staff, but as someone who was born in the city of Leningrad, which experienced the horrors siege and famine during World War II?

IVANOV: Mine is a very unequivocal attitude. By virtue of my main profession…

TASS: Of a career intelligence officer?

IVANOV: Right. I've spent many years in the West, and I do know well that any civilized country mercilessly does away with counterfeit products. Be it foods, alcohol, tobacco, clothes, footwear, medicines, household appliances or electronics. 

Everything is burnt down, crushed by caterpillar tractors - in a word, disposed of in any conceivable way. 

That's how the civilized world goes about this business. Everywhere!

TASS: In front of TV cameras that film the process  for primetime news?

IVANOV: I don't insist on that. I'm talking about the principle. 

There is no other way of fighting forgeries. I have my own experience on that score. 

When in 2001 I took the defense minister's post, we started bringing the armed forces back to normal. 

I remember well the moment when I ordered a large naval exercise in the Caspian to check the flotilla's combat readiness. Then we'd just received the new generation ships, the very same ships that on October 7 this year attacked Islamic State positions in Syria with cruise missiles.

TASS: On Vladimir Putin's birthday… By the way, did you congratulate your chief?

IVANOV: Naturally. Made a morning phone call to Sochi.

TASS: Gave him a birthday gift?

IVANOV: I did. But I won't tell you what kind of present it was. Also, I'd keep quiet about birthday wishes. They were meant only for him…..

But we've strayed away from the Caspian naval exercise theme somewhat. 

It was in the early 2000s. 

When it was all over, the heads of the Astrakhan Region and the Republic of Kalmykia came up to me with words of praise and thanks. 

At first, I was curious what the two men were talking about. 

Soon it turned out that sturgeons had reached the spawning grounds upstream the Volga River for the first time in many years! 



Then it dawned upon me that while conducting the exercise we cleared the Volga River's delta of several dozen kilometers (and that's not a slip of the tongue!) of poachers' fishing nets. 

We ruined all their criminal business plans! 

To my recollection, there followed a long discussion of what was to be done to the confiscated black caviar. 

Under the previous laws, it was to be marketed. That meant that the local police force would have to open retail outlets to sell the confiscated caviar. Thereby creating an ideal environment for corruption. It's hard to think of a better one. 

The Interior Ministry spent a long while persuading the top authorities to agree to the elimination of poacher caviar on site. 

The caviar lobby was resisting that for several years for it was about to lose a real bonanza. 

Putin was firm and all illegal black caviar has been destroyed since 2006. The market was restored to order.

There is no official lobbying as an institution in Russia (which is bad, to tell you the truth), but unofficial lobbying was always thriving. 

I know what I am saying. I come across it almost every day. 

So I can say once again it's my firm belief that the elimination of forged foods is the sole correct way. There will be no alternatives, if we are to struggle against corruption effectively enough. 

As for those who say that senior citizens who survived the siege of Leningrad are unhappy… Naturally, I was born when that war had been over, but my own parents remembered well enough what that siege was for them. 

Only demagogues can capitalize on this theme. It's very wrong to play with emotions, let alone in such a mean way. 


TASS: This means that everything again depends on a particular person … This is what Audit Chamber Head Tatiana Golikova said in a recent interview with TASS: the problem is not even in the absence of budget funds but in the irresponsibility of officials who are required to oversee the rational spending of budget appropriations.

IVANOV: So, what can I say in this regard? 

This is absolutely true. It is necessary to fight this state of things by all available means, using both instructive and punitive measures.

Unfortunately, little is achieved in Russia without instructions from “the above” [the upper echelons of power] but these are the problems of mentality rather than logistics or economic schemes. 

Honestly speaking, budget funds should be spent efficiently not because we have found ourselves in a difficult financial situation. 

This should be done every time, both during the “fat” years and the years of austerity. This is a general rule, an axiom. 

Another thing is that during the fat years many officials, above all, regional heads, were accustomed to live with the awareness that there was a “safety cushion” and the central authorities would come to their rescue, if the economic situation deteriorated. 

They believed the center would have no other way out but to help them because otherwise this would increase unemployment and intensify social tension. 

They were accustomed to think that the central government would come to help them and give them some more money, even if some program was not implemented on time or was fulfilled inefficiently. 

Thousands of reasons could be found for an excuse each time as officials are very skilled to find an alibi for themselves and in this regard they are very talented people. 

You show an official a protocol made five years ago and remind him: “You promised to do this or that and you signed this document!” But the official only shrugs his shoulders: “I can’t do anything. The circumstances have changed.”

Yes, they are different now. 

The federal center will no longer assist everyone indiscriminately. 

A regional head should first explain why the regional authorities have failed to fulfill the obligations they have assumed. 

The further, the more difficult it is for regional heads to conceal their failures. 

The All-Russian Popular Front public movement is contributing to this process along with the media and the Internet. 

However, the Internet is a stick that has two ends: it can do good service but it can also be a real garbage place. 

In any case, control has become tighter, including from ordinary citizens who find a way to declare violations they have seen.

The heads unwilling or unable to realize that the times have changed are surrendering their powers in one way or another and quitting the scene.

TASS: Actually, only the Kremlin can remove governors. Vyacheslav Dudka [former governor of the Tula Region] and Vasily Yurchenko [former governor of the Novosibirsk Region] have quit their posts as they have lost the president’s confidence. Alexander Khoroshavin [former governor of the Sakhalin Region] is under investigation for bribes worth millions of rubles while Vyacheslav Gaizer [former head of the Republic of Komi], as it turns out, organized a criminal group. Will this series be continued?

IVANOV: Do you want us to arrest someone every week? Or do you believe, perhaps, that every governor in Russia is a swindler and a thief? 

I personally don’t think so. I’m confident that an overwhelming majority of officials, both at the regional and federal levels, are honest and nice people. You can’t smear black paint on everyone.

All the necessary anti-corruption legislative acts have been adopted in Russia. Now they have to be strictly observed. 

For example, government officials have been publishing their income declarations for many years now.  I published my declaration for the first time back in 2000 and it was a completely natural and customary process for me. 

Another thing is that apart from direct corruption we still have a very unfavorable situation with the so-called conflict of interests. 

How does this look like in practice? Perhaps, you know the examples when a particular official makes a decision on the distribution of procurement orders for the fulfillment of works financed from the state treasury or under state purchases and it subsequently turns out that the tender contract was surprisingly awarded to a company affiliated with that official. 

It turns out that the official’s daughter is working at this company as its president or his wife sits on the company’s board of directors. Such practice is widespread. 

On October 6, President Vladimir Putin signed a law, which clearly defines a conflict of interest for government officials, ways to avoid it and measures, which an official is obliged to take (precisely what he is obliged to do) in cases when there is a threat of the emergence of a conflict situation. 

You know, the law started to work even before it officially came into force. 

I’m head of the presidium of the Anti-Corruption Council under the Russian president and we examine non-publicly in the “Miscellaneous” section the inquiries by officials, including high-level functionaries, who inform us that a conflict of interest may emerge under certain circumstances. 

Or let us consider a different situation: a person quits government service and wants to continue work in a company, which in the past had relation, say, to the ministry where this official worked. 

People ask the question: can we accept the invitation? 

We have a lot of such inquiries. Sometimes, we give our permission but refusals also occur. Everything depends on a particular situation.

And this is very good. 

Anti-corruption behavior is gradually becoming normal practice. 

Of course, high-profile probes are always much spoken about and the media likes such cases. 

One governor was jailed, another governor was removed from his post … But you want more. 

Are you calling us into the year 1937 when the revolutionary justice was administered without court proceedings and investigation?

TASS: Why so? This should be done properly, under law.

IVANOV: Look, there must be weighty arguments to place a person under arrest. Is it clear? 

For your information, nine governors have been criminally prosecuted over the past few years, both incumbent and those who have left their posts. 

But I want to say about a different thing. High-profile cases are much written and spoken about and this is perhaps right but you should know that Russian courts annually pass dozens of thousands of guilty verdicts for corruption-related crimes. Dozens of thousands!

TASS: What is the level these crimes are committed at?

IVANOV: This is what I’m talking about. 

When a doctor or a school teacher is convicted for a bribe – and this happens in a majority of cases – this seems to be dull and uninteresting. 

But there is an uproar when the convict is a governor or a minister. 

The struggle against corruption is not a campaign or a PR-action, with the help of which the authorities try to gain additional points and raise their popularity. 

There must be no witch-hunt just to please someone. 

And there can be no selective justice depending on the defendant’s post. 

If there are grounds, charges are brought against a person without a backward glance at the person’s post or status. 

The most important thing is that there are no unpunishable persons in anti-corruption activity. Otherwise, governors would not be arrested and their fate would be decided in a somewhat behind-the-scenes process.

TASS: I recall your interview you gave three years ago to TV Channel One where you said what you knew: people who were previously treated with trust were stealing. But you had to tolerate this and give no sign…

IVANOV: This was the case about large-scale embezzlement of budget funds from the GLONASS federal program [for the development of the national satellite grouping]. 

At that time, I had a closed-door meeting with Interior Ministry officers investigating the case. They told me about the details of the probe but it had been going on for a long time and it was important for me not to give myself away so as not to frighten away the suspects. 

I didn’t mention this in the interview but I believe it is clear to everyone that when we learnt about the theft we changed the scheme of the project’s financing to exclude the embezzlement of budget funds. This is absolutely obvious! 

Some eighteen months later, we opened a criminal case and brought charges. 

Today some of these persons are no longer alive while others are far off, serving their prison term … You should understand that a suspicion is not yet a proof and the presidential administration is not the Investigative Committee…

TASS: But the corrupt officials submitted tax returns in accordance with the established procedure, in which everything, perhaps, looked fine, but a closer examination would reveal …

IVANOV: The laundering of budget funds and their withdrawal into offshore havens are not declared and bank accounts in Cyprus or somewhere on the Virgin Islands are not indicated either.  But there is no direct relationship here. 

Corruption has become very intricate and latent and proofs in corruption cases are obtained quite rigorously and carefully. 

This means that consistent efforts were taken to look into and find the proofs against corrupt persons.

TASS: There is a widespread opinion that there are files with incriminating evidence on everyone and a particular file is taken out at the right time and put on the president’s desk.

IVANOV: Absolute nonsense! If such files exist and they should be called cases, then these are in law-enforcement agencies. Perhaps, there are such cases there. This is even for sure and not just probably. People are not arrested without reason in our country.

TASS: When did you learn about the arrest of Gaizer, for example? 

IVANOV: When it was reported in news programs. 

The reports came either from the TASS news wire or TV news. 

And I don’t consider it possible to comment on this case because I haven’t seen it and I don’t know the details. 

No one informed me in advance or consulted with me about where to carry out this special operation, if you’re talking about this. 

Don’t think that everything is decided in the Kremlin. Much is decided but not everything.

Let me repeat again: the presidential administration, indeed, analyzes the income declarations of officials, above all, top-level persons. 

We check the correctness of data indicated in such declarations. 

Apparently, I’ll speak separately on this topic at the end of the year to inform how many cases we have revealed among officials submitting untrue data, which served as the ground for their dismissal due to the loss of confidence. 

But this does not mean that they are criminals and you shouldn’t confuse different things.


TASS: You referred to your previous service, as if unintentionally, already twice. I mean the special service. Does this experience help you in your current work?

IVANOV: Perhaps, not very much now. When did I quit the service? 

This was in 2000. 

After that, I worked as defense minister, and the first vice-premier. 

I know a saying, although, that there can be no former intelligence officers… 

Yes, indeed, I spent the larger conscious part of my life in the Foreign Intelligence Service. 

Twenty-five calendar years are no joke. 

The past experience undoubtedly offers some help, for instance, when international issues are discussed, thanks to a good command of the English language.

TASS: I’m talking about a different thing, about the mind-set and a peculiar view on the world.

IVANOV: Maybe. The ability to switch from one thing to another and the quick reaction…

TASS: And what about the saying: “trust but verify?”

IVANOV: Ah, you’re talking about this. 

You know I was engaged in political intelligence and largely worked in the field and finished the overseas part of my service as a resident. 

This is how it was: I had to trust comrades blindly because there were no possibilities to verify. 

You can’t suspect your comrades because this is even worse and more dangerous.

Spymania and the fear of betrayal only block the will and harm the cause

Another thing is that you should read people well and know whom you can rely on.


TASS: But a weak link may not reveal itself immediately. Incidentally, the West imposed sanctions against Russia in the hope of the elites’ split. It expected that the close circle of Vladimir Putin would be discontent with the infringement of its freedoms and … Has this plan worked, in your view?

IVANOV: Yes, but only in a mirror-like manner. It seems to me that the elites have split abroad rather than in our country. 

You, perhaps, analyze the western media. Haven’t you noticed that when officials – ministers, speakers and, all the more so, presidents or the heads of governments – speak, they criticize Russia unmercifully with a frown on their faces and a quivering voice. It follows from their speeches that we’re wrong in everything and everywhere, in Ukraine, Syria and wherever else. 

But when politicians who have left the upper echelons of power for various reasons start to speak, the tonality of their speeches changes dramatically. 

Foreign and defense ministers and other reputable persons who have left their posts suddenly begin to openly show solidarity with our position on many issues. 

What does this suggest? 

This suggests that you are obliged to talk this way and no other way while you are in power. It is only after you resign that you can express your own thoughts and views. 



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