Date: 5 March 2021

A Future FSB Director? Putin Makes Personnel Decision

After a months-long hiatus, General Alexander Bortnikov, the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), finally has the main deputy. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree appointing Colonel-General Sergey Korolev for the post of the first deputy director of the FSB. Korolev has so far served as the director of the FSB’s Economic Security Service. His subordinates have pursued a series of high-profile anti-corruption investigations over the past few years. Korolev’s another promotion makes him shortlisted to potentially become the director of the FSB in the future, alongside such figures as Yevgeny Zinichev.


He has in the past worked in the Service for Economic Security (SEB) in St. Petersburg. Between 2007 and 2011, he was an aide to Anatoly Serdyukov, a former defense minister and an St Petersburg official. According to unofficial sources, he was in charge of the GRU military intelligence service on behalf of the minister. Serdyukov was dismissed amid a corruption scandal, but this did not hit Korolev. In 2012, he became the head of the Internal Security Department (USB). While Korolev was responsible for the USB, the Sixth Service played a pivotal role in his department. Its officers carried out operational activities in almost all high-profile corruption cases targeting government officials in recent years, among whom were Nikita Belykh, the governor of the Kirov Oblast, Alexander Khoroshavin, the governor of the Sakhalin Oblast, Vyacheslav Gayzer, the governor of the Komi Republic, or Denis Sugrobov, former chief of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Anticorruption and Economic Crimes.

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General Sergey Smirnov, who was Korolev’s predecessor at that post, retired in 2020 upon Vladimir Putin’s decision. Smirnov started working in the state security structures in 1974. He held the post of deputy director of the FSB since 2003. He supervised the military intelligence department, the Service for Economic Security, and the Service for the Protection of the Constitution. Rumors about his resignation first went around in 2016 when two of his subordinates left the FSB – Yury Yakovlev, the head of the SEB, and Viktor Voronin, the director of Directorate K. Behind their dismissal was Korolev who took advantage of the embezzlement in a construction project on Vladimir Putin’s residence in Novo-Ogaryovo (or the Mikhalchenko case). Smirnov got another blow in 2019 when Colonel Kirill Cherkalin, a former FSB official investigating banks, was arrested for corruption. What was not helpful for Smirnov was that he attended meetings with bank employees alongside his subordinates. Cherkalin then offered aid to banks, turning a blind eye to any abuse. After Korolev was promoted to the post of the first deputy director of the FSB, Sergey Alpatov, who in the past was the first deputy head of the SEB, has assumed his duties.

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