Our Analytics 4 september — 12:01

Patrushev in Baku: Unexpected, but natural (Our analysis)



President Ilham Aliyev received a delegation of the Security Council of Russia led by Nikolai Patrushev and his deputy Rashid Nurgaliyev. What is the significance and meaning of cooperation between the siloviki of the two countries?

About the items on the current agenda

First, this is an official acquaintance with a colleague, the new Head of the Security Council of Azerbaijan, Ramil Usubov. Moreover, most likely, they already know each other personally, given that Patrushev, as head of the FSB of the Russian Federation from 1999 to 2008, headed the committee of heads of CIS security agencies and often accompanied Putin at CIS summits and other meetings with Ilham Aliyev, where the then head of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs was present.

This is not the first time Nikolai Patrushev has visited Baku in his current status. He had long established close working contacts with the Head of the Presidential Administration, Ramiz Mehdiyev, who until June 2019 used to be the acting secretary of the Security Council of Azerbaijan, and this happened both during regular international fora of the Security Council leaders (annual 'Meetings of High Representatives in charge of security issues' in Russia), and during Patrushev's visits to Baku, the last of which was in September 2017.

In addition, Patrushev brought Usubov an invitation to attend the annual meeting of the secretaries of the Security Councils of the CIS member states, which is scheduled to be held in Moscow in November 2019.

Perhaps the more important part of the visit is a greeting from Putin to Aliyev. The fact is that the August working agenda of the two presidents was undermined by unclear reasons for postponing the next tripartite North-South summit of Presidents Putin, Aliyev and Rouhani. A series of agreements and parameters for the complex step-by-step implementation of joint projects in the ITC corridor were prepared for this meeting, they were worked out at the level of government orders until the last moment. However, some reason, most likely not related to this, albeit difficult for Moscow, agenda, made Putin postpone the meeting. There was a pause, and Patrushev most likely clarified this for a wider circle of officials from the entourage of Ilham Aliyev.

Finally, the third aspect is the inevitably emerging issues of the Karabakh conflict.

In mid-August, Patrushev was in Yerevan, where a common agenda was discussed within the framework of the CSTO and coordination in Syria. From the point of view of Baku, it is important to understand whether the official negotiating platform of Yerevan really changed after the statements of the prime minister of Armenia on a single space and the need to restore Karabakh as a party to the negotiations. Most likely, Patrushev assured that it had been about Pashinyan's internal political statements to mobilise political support. But here one must admit that the Karabakh issue on the general agenda of the Security Councils of the two countries is peripheral, and for the following reason.

Perimeter of the common front

The interaction of Moscow and Baku along the lines of the Security Councils is one of the frame faces of the corps of relations between our countries.

To a certain extent, this is not only an indicator, but also a practical expression at the level of the elite of the power bloc, interpersonal contacts of Ilham Aliyev and Vladimir Putin. The fact is that in our systems of power there is a lot of mirror things, for example, the heads of the Security Councils and the Ministries of Defence are among the most trusted people. In certain periods they are closer to national leaders than foreign ministers and leaders of the economic bloc. In particular, the Russian Security Council is now becoming more than a 'cabinet of security forces,' increasing its influence on the Russian president. Nikolai Patrushev is one of the few officials in the Kremlin who sees Putin weekly during official meetings and, perhaps even more often, in a working, non-public setting.

Thus, in recent years, starting from 2014-2015, the Security Council again, as it was during the Chechen conflict, from an advisory body turns into a centre for the adoption and implementation of political decisions. In this regard, according to a number of indirect signs, the Security Council is intensifying administrative competition with the Presidential Administration. This especially began to manifest itself in the summer months, when opposition activity intensified in Moscow and the regions of Russia and an increase in protest potential became noticeable.

The described Kremlin trend to some extent echoes the line of strengthening of the Azerbaijani Security Council. Most observers assessed the appointment of Ramil Usubov as Secretary of the Security Council of Azerbaijan in June as strengthening this structure under the president. The desire of President Ilham Aliyev to strengthen this component of the presidential vertical is obvious.

The reason behind the appointment of not only an experienced security officer, but actually the creator of the modern Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan, as the secretary of the Security Council, is seen in the texture of new and complex tasks.

In retrospect, it is not difficult to see that at first the Security Council of Azerbaijan performed purely analytical and organisational functions, and for example, in comparison with the Russian structure, it did not look like a completely understandable attribute of the authorities, which would be assembled in cases of emergency. However, over time, the set of tasks set to be decided in coordination between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and law enforcement agencies required its strengthening in a practical, applied direction, and there was a need to establish a kind of regular 'cabinet of siloviki' in Azerbaijan. Naturally, such a function of the Security Council is already beyond the framework of the analytical and advisory, and requires the organisation of the apparatus by specially trained people in this plane. It is obvious that the Azerbaijani Security Council will solve not only the tasks of developing fundamental documents in the field of security, that is, formulate development strategies in various areas of state activity, but also, if it is critically necessary, coordinate the Ministry of Internal Affairs, State Security Service, and the Ministry of Defence.

The second element of the similar genesis of the Security Councils of our countries is international activity. In the case of Moscow, this is clearly shown: the Security Council of the Russian Federation becomes a structure of international diplomacy. Thanks to the Russian initiative to hold annual meetings of senior representatives in charge of security issues, the Security Council structure itself becomes an important mechanism for informal communications between security forces between different countries (in 2018, representatives of 118 states were at the summit of security forces in Sochi, of which more than 50 were heads of national counterintelligence and security). They discuss not only abstract 'common challenges,' but also specific joint programs, issues of security policy strategy. It is along this line that the methods of external information security systems are being tested.

For Azerbaijan, it is obvious that the international environment is becoming the main resonator affecting the activity of protest leaders in the capital and local (regional) level. The 'classical,' to a large extent demoralised and corrupt systemic opposition, both in Russia and in Azerbaijan is replaced by a new generation with new values, more radical and new mechanisms.

Thanks to technology, the current post-Soviet environment is extremely convenient for the emergence of numerous local political groups serving the interests of mini and micro groups and even individual ambitious individuals capable of quickly mobilising ordinary people for mass actions. A situation arises when a resonant event, for example, in the form of corruption of an official, his tyranny, or a separate manifestation of injustice -- that is, a specific malfunction in the work of the executive branch -- is repeatedly amplified, distorted and replicated as a systemic vice in social networks. A crisis of confidence then emerges.

But the weakness of such protest groups lies in their short-term ability to organise and support an outbreak of network or street outrage. Azerbaijan skilfully counters the possible protest potential by increasing population incomes, creating new consumer demand, due to tax simplifications and fiscal policy loyal to small businesses. Therefore, the only serious resonator of the power of a possible protest is the external information space, 'external support.' In this aspect, the tasks of the Security Councils of Azerbaijan and Russia are similar: to work out effective legal methods for localising such centres of destabilisation. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect a gradual increase in the control of Moscow and Baku over cross-border flows of information and global sources of information exchange.

And here the following aspect arises: technological. In fact, we have entered an era of open competition in data flow control systems between the US and China. It is clear that for ideological reasons, Azerbaijan and Russia are more likely in the eastern technological camp. The trend is that in the medium term, instead of the iron curtain, there will be many corporate and private virtual fences, fences and traps that distort or deform the information environment. It is clear that Baku remains in the position of an involved observer in this race.

A characteristic fact cited by the American companies McAfee and IBM: about a third of botnet control centres are located in the United States. Russia's share in this 'market' is less than 5%.

According to the National Coordination Centre for Computer Incidents, in 2018 more than 4.3 billion (!) information impacts on the critical information infrastructure of the Russian Federation were committed. Cases of coordinated targeted computer attacks, that is, consisting of several related actions (if in 2014-2015, the number of such attacks amounted to about one and a half thousand per year, then in 2018 already exceeded 17 thousand) became more frequent.

Thus, from these critical elements of the political and the new virtual confrontation, a long-term agenda for joint cooperation and external defence of the Security Councils of the two countries is formed.

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