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Putin replaces head of spy agency behind decision to invade Ukraine—Report

Russian President Vladimir Putin is reported to have replaced an official within his Federal Security Service (FSB) who laid the groundwork for his country’s full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Sergei Beseda, 70, who served as head of the Federal Security Service’s (FSB) fifth directorate, has been replaced by Alexei Komkov, who formerly worked as deputy head of the spy agency, Russian investigative news website Important Stories reported on Saturday, citing two sources.

Newsweek couldn’t independently verify the claims and has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry for comment by email.

Putin reportedly relied on intelligence from the FSB’s fifth directorate when he launched his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The fifth service is largely in charge of providing information about Ukraine’s political situation, gathering intelligence inside Russia and on former members of the Soviet Union.

Beseda was reportedly placed under house arrest in 2022—days after the war began—after falling out with Putin. Andrei Soldatov, a leading expert on the country’s security services, said at the time that the FSB attempted to downplay Beseda’s arrest, “presenting it as a mere questioning of the powerful general.”

“But now I’ve learned from my sources that this ‘mere questioning’ didn’t save Beseda from a cell in Lefortovo Prison,” he wrote in an opinion piece for independent Russian publication The Moscow Times.

A former employee of the FSB and an acquaintance of Beseda told Important Stories that Beseda formally retired from his position of Fifth Service head due to his age and became a personal adviser to Alexander Bortnikov, FSB director.

Mark Galeotti, the author of Putin’s Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine, said in a thread on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday that he doesn’t believe that Beseda was replaced “for his failures around the start of the Ukraine war.”

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but 28 months later seems a tad too cold,” he said.

“Rather, it is that he has reached the compulsory retirement age of 70 and although he could stay in post by presidential decree, where his failings come in is in that he doesn’t have the political capital to get that, even if he wants to,” said Galeotti.

“Besides, he is not out in the cold, but is appointed an adviser to the director of the FSB, a usual sinecure. Had the [government] wanted to signal displeasure, it would have foregone this courtesy.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin takes part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow on June 22, 2024. Putin reportedly replaced an official within the FSB who laid the groundwork for…
President Vladimir Putin takes part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow on June 22, 2024. Putin reportedly replaced an official within the FSB who laid the groundwork for the full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine. SERGEI GUNEYEV/POOL/AFP

Galeotti said that what is important is that Beseda’s replacement is Komkov, “who is a client of FSB 1st [Deputy] Director Sergei Korolev and former head of FSB’s Internal Security (ie: he knows where the bodies are buried).”

“Korolev has been meant to take over for years, his elevation stymied by a scandal, the war (and Putin’s dislike of churn in the security agency management), but also a strong ‘stop Korolev’ camp, including Beseda,” he wrote.

With Beseda gone, Korolev is likely to have the power base he needs to become FSB director, Galeotti argued.

“Besides, 73-year-old Bortnikov [he is 72] is ill and for years has been wanting to retire. This year, surely, he’ll be granted release by Putin, and presumably Korolev will take his place,” he added.

Galeotti said that Korolev will be a “dangerous” FSB director, who is “active, ruthless, smart and with organized crime connections.”

“He may well be even more dangerous for surviving dissidents at home and abroad, not least as he will have something to prove. However, for a little silver lining…this also marks the rise of a newer generation of security chiefs who do not have a personal relationship with Putin,” said Galeotti.

He added: “They are not of his era, not necessarily of his mindset. Not for a minute is Korolev a liberal, but would he go to the wall for Putin? I’m not so sure.”

Do you have a tip on a world news story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about the Russia-Ukraine war? Let us know via worldnews@newsweek.com.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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