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Russia's secret services lead turf battle

The head of Russia's drug control agency is very concerned about an ongoing turf battle among Russia's secret services, because it could weaken the government and undermine the nation's stability.

Viktor Cherkesov's unprecedented article, published in the business daily Kommersant, followed last week's arrests of several senior officers of the Federal Drug Control Service by agents of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main KGB successor agency. Analysts described the arrests as part of a longtime battle that pitted Cherkesov against Putin's powerful deputy chief of staff, Igor Sechin, and other members of Putin's inner circle.

Cherkesov didn't mention any names in his article, but he said the arrests spotlighted "infighting among the special services."

"There can be no winners in this war," Cherkesov wrote. "There is too much at stake."

Among those arrested last week was Alexander Bulbov, a general in the Federal Drug Control Service who was widely described as Cherkesov's right-hand man.

Bulbov has been accused of illegally tapping phones, even though the drug control service is among the security agencies with the authority to do so as part of official investigations. He was formally charged with illegal phone tapping Tuesday, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported, citing his lawyer, Sergei Antonov.

Bulbov was involved in a corruption investigation into the Moscow furniture store Tri Kita, or Three Whales, which had been accused of evading millions of dollars in import duties. Russian media have alleged that some senior FSB officials were involved in the business. Some said that the FSB struck back at Cherkesov's service by arresting Bulbov and other top officials.

Commentators described the infighting as a battle for control over money flows and markets.

Cherkesov said that those arrested last week had investigated the furniture store case and another high-profile case of smuggling of consumer goods from China. "Are they guilty of conducting the probe and fulfilling their duty?" he said, adding that "law and justice will prevail and the culprits will be punished."

Cherkesov argued that Russia's stability hinges on the security services, describing KGB veterans as a "Chekist community" - from Cheka, the KGB predecessor after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. In an apparent criticism of his rivals, he said that special services officers had become involved in business.

"We mustn't allow warriors to become traders," Cherkesov said. "We mustn't allow scandal and fighting. We mustn't shift from norms to arbitrary ways."

Cherkesov warned that the infighting could erode public respect and threaten the nation's stability.

"It would be hard to explain to people why they need to respect those who don't observe norms and get bogged down in turf battles," he said.

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