Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed the country’s former parliament speaker as head of its foreign intelligence service.
Sergei Naryshkin is a longstanding Putin ally and reportedly served alongside the president at the KGB, Russia’s Soviet-era security service. Mr Naryshkin previously served as the president’s chief of staff. His appointment comes amid reports that Mr Putin intends to combine Russia’s intelligence services.
According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Mr Putin wants to combine the domestic espionage service, the FSB, and the foreign service, the SVR, to create a new Ministry of State Security (MGB), reminiscent in scope and power of the KGB (Committee of State Security). Approached by the paper, Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, did not confirm or deny the reports.
Mr Naryshkin’s appointment comes at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and the West, following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Mr Naryshkin is among a group of Russian officials and businessmen sanctioned by the United States, European Union and Ukraine. The appointment also follows a landslide win for Mr Putin and his United Russia party in the country’s parliamentary elections. Voting irregularities were reported in several areas.
Speaking to Mr Naryshkin in televised comments, Mr Putin said: “You are well aware, as we all are, what situation we are in now and how important success for this service is for the stable, secure development of our country. “It is important to head off threats that arise in relation to Russia promptly, not to let them grow but on the contrary to act in such a way so that they don’t arise – to neutralise these threats at an early stage.”
Mr Naryshkin has long shadowed Mr Putin, working at the St Petersburg mayor’s office in the 1990s at roughly the same time Mr Putin was there, and joining Mr Putin’s office in 2004 as deputy head of the economic development. He went on to head the president’s office in 2008 – 2011, when Dmitry Medvedev was president.
Mr Naryshkin has a colourful recent history. In 2015 he faced accusations that he had plagiarised large parts of his doctoral thesis on economics, accusations he denied. He will replace Mikhail Fradkov, a former prime minister who headed the SVR since 2007. Mr Fradkov will move on to the board of directors at the state-run Russian Railways.