From Kaliningrad to Yekaterinburg: Presidential Envoy Nikolai Tsukanov faces problems after the arrest of ‘spy’
The Lefortovsky District Court has detained Aleksander Vorobiev, an Aide to the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Ural Federal District, for two months. He is charged under Article 275 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (high treason) and faces 12 to 20 years behind bars. A Polish passport and special sound recording device were seized from Vorobiev. The suspect currently remains in Lefortovo Pretrial Detention Center, and the criminal case against him is classified. In the meantime, Nikolai Tsukanov, Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Ural Federal District (UFD), continues performing his duties and has even attended an international expo in Yekaterinburg. Many experts believe that his fate is unenviable because of year-long friendly relations with Vorobiev. The CrimeRussia reviews the reasons behind and circumstances of the arrest of the governmental functionary having access to state secrets, friendly ties between Vorobiev and Tsukanov, their activities in Kaliningrad and Yekaterinburg, and further perspectives of these officials.
Judgment day mask
39-year-old Aleksander Vorobiev, detained following a request of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation, was hiding his face in the Lefortovsky District Court of Moscow. During the session of the court that has remanded him in custody until September 4, 2019, the suspect was sitting with his head down. The session was held behind closed doors because many details of this criminal case constitute the state secret.
In fact, the attempts of Vorobiev to hide his face had no sense because there are plenty of his photos on the Internet.
The defense intends to appeal his detention. “I consider the court decision illegal and ungrounded; we are going to appeal it,” – defense lawyer Aleksei Atal’yanov said.
Aleksander Vorobiev speaks with his lawyer
According to Ivan Melnikov, Executive Secretary of the Public Monitoring Commission of the City of Moscow, the cell where Aleksander Vorobiev is kept has neither hot water not TV. Melnikov is not aware whether these inconveniences are temporary or permanent. The suspect does not complain about the jail food – but asked for split meals citing health reasons. In fact, this became a tradition for VIP inmates: in prison, they start suffering from illnesses that had no idea about at liberty. Vorobiev is not an exception: human rights activists recommended the prosecution and prison administration to take control over his health condition and even show the detainee to medics who will prescribe the required diet and medicines.
The criminal case against Vorobiev is investigated by the First Investigations Directorate of the Central FSB Headquarters. Defense attorney Aleksei Atal’yanov and representatives of the FSB abstain from any comments. The case is classified. It is known that the suspect had access to state secrets, was aware of behind-the-doors political processes, and could convey this information abroad. Some well-inform sources claim that he had allegedly passed abroad information about sessions of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. Overall, there are more questions than answers in this case.
According to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, high treason includes espionage, disclosure of state secrets, or any other assistance rendered to a foreign State, a foreign organization, or their representatives in hostile activities to the detriment of the external security of the Russian Federation. In the past, such crimes were punishable by death.
Russian lawyer or Polish official?
Aleksander Vorobiev was born in Gusev, Kaliningrad region, in 1980. His home town is located not far from the Polish border. Vorobiev is a Full State Counselor II Class of the Russian Federation; this rank is equal to a major general or rear admiral. In 2000–2005, he worked the Administration for the Kaliningrad Region of the Federal Service for State Registration, Cadastre, and Cartography (Rosreestr); in 2006–2008, held various posts in the local authorities; and in 2010–2017, held senior positions in the Government of the Kaliningrad Region. In 2017, Aleksander Vorobiev was appointed a Federal Inspector for the Republic of Karelia. In January 2018, he became the Chief of Staff of Nikolai Tsukanov, then-Aide to the President of Russia. In July 2018, he was appointed an Aide to Nikolai Tsukanov, who, in turn, became the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Ural Federal District (UFD). It is known that Vorobiev was spending most of his work time in the UFD Plenipotentiary Representation located on Nikolsky lane in the center of Moscow.
The Plenipotentiary Representation of the Ural Federal District in Moscow
He had rarely visited Yekaterinburg where the residence of Tsukanov is located – and local people do not remember him well.
In 2004, Aleksander Vorobiev has graduated with honors from the Moscow Psychological and Social Institute with a major in jurisprudence. Later, he successfully defended a dissertation on criminal law dedicated to corruption prevention in Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University. Vorobiev is a Candidate of Juridical Sciences. After the graduation from the Moscow institute, he won a grant and joined the National School of Public Administration in Warsaw. This education establishment was founded in 1990 by the government chaired by Tadeusz Mazowiecki to train Polish civil servants. Interestingly, this fact is not reflected in the official biography of Vorobiev.
In 2015, Aleksander Vorobiev was involved in a corruption scandal. It became known that a portion of funds allocated for the restoration of the mass burial ground of Soviet soldiers in Ol’khovatka township, not far from Gusev, was transferred to the Fund for Improvement and Development of the Gusev Urban District affiliated with Vorobiev. The story hasn’t affected his career – the blame was shifted on some Kirill Kozlov, Deputy Mayor of Gusev. In 2018, Aleksander Vorobiev received a letter of appreciation from the Russian President.
Housing issue: humble residence not far from Poland
Shortly before the arrest, Vorobiev has put up for sale his apartment in Gusev. He could be aware of the ‘exposure’ and prepared to leave Russia. According to the insider information, in 2019, Polish spies had warned him that the FSB was investigating himself and his direct superior Nikolai Tsukanov. It cannot be ruled out that somebody from the FSB had ‘leaked’ that information for a reward.
Photos of the apartment offered for sale by Vorobiev
Vorobiev expected to sell his apartment with a living space of 50 square meters for 2 million rubles ($31.6 thousand). This money would be useful for his settlement and adaptation in Poland – the former official has two apartments in Warsaw and a country home in Gdańsk.
Fellow countryman, partner, and aide
Aleksander Vorobiev was an Aide to 54-year-old Nikolai Tsukanov, Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Ural Federal District (UFD); both of them are natives of Gusev. Vorobiev and Tsukanov had worked together for almost 15 years – since 2005. At that time, Vorobiev became the Head of the Legal Department of the Gusev Municipal Administration – while Tsukanov was the Gusev Mayor. In 2010, Tsukanov took charge of the Kaliningrad region – and Vorobiev had worked under his authority up until 2017. In that period, he had held inter alia the post of the Director of the Property Agency for some time. When Tsukanov was the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Northwestern Federal District, Vorobiev was a Federal Inspector in the Republic of Karelia. Later, Tsukanov was appointed the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the UFD, and Vorobiev became his official Aide.
Aleksander Vorobiev was the most trusted confidant of Nikolai Tsukanov; he had handled all legal issues in the UFD plenipotentiary representation. In addition, Vorobiev had administered all affairs of Tsukanov, including classified materials. No one can say what secrets had shared Tsukanov with his friend and partner in private conversations
“Being a lawyer, Tsukanov had always coordinated his stance on most important matters with Vorobiev. They had good personal relations and could communicate informally. Tsukanov had completely trusted Vorobiev,” – Novaya Gazeta newspaper reports citing sources from the close circle of the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy.
Nikolai Tsukanov, Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Ural Federal District
“Vorobiev had worked together with Tsukanov since the Kaliningrad times – i.e. they have years-long ties. In addition, Vorobiev was a Federal Inspector in the Republic of Karelia – so, he was deeply involved in the state affairs. Therefore, the case against him may affect the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy as well. The positions of Nikolai Tsukanov never were strong. He was appointed the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the UFD a short time ago. As a result, his positions may significantly weaken,” – Ilya Grashchenkov, Director of the Center for Regional Policy Development, told to the media.
Vorobiev makes a photo of Tsukanov and his wife shortly after the arrival of the new Plenipotentiary Envoy to Yekaterinburg
For several days, Tsukanov had kept silence about his former Aide. Then it became known that the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy has removed Vorobiev from office. Definitely, Tsukanov has reasons to be worried. Plenty of high-ranked officials have been detained in Russia in recent times – and almost all of them are ready and willing to share with the investigators everything they know and turn in all accomplices in exchange for a lighter punishment.
No one can say what statements is Aleksander Vorobiev making during questionings – the charges laid against him make the entire criminal proceeding a classified matter. But in any event, the arrest of an old friend of Nikolai Tsukanov, his trusted confidant, and high-ranked governmental functionary with a Polish passport and sound recording device is a good excuse for the law enforcement authorities to launch a probe against him. Reportedly, the fate of Tsukanov is currently discussed at the top level.
Shkrebnev family and its secrets?
“In Kaliningrad, Aleksander Vorobiev had handled, as per instruction of Nikolai Tsukanov, all affairs of the Shkrebnev family (the maiden surname of the President’s ex-wife Lyudmila Putina). And this a total catastrophe: information about relatives of the President was conveyed abroad. Tsukanov remained in power only thanks to clan Kovalchuk and knowledge about the Presidential family. But now it is time for him to resign,” – Nezygar’ (@russica2) Telegram channel reports.
It is necessary to note that Lyudmila Aleksandrovna Shkrebneva, ex-wife of Vladimir Putin, is a native of Kaliningrad. For the last few years, she has been supervising the Fund for Interpersonal Communication Development chaired by 40-year-old Artur Ocheretny. It is known that Vladimir and Lyudmila have divorced in 2013 – and in 2014, she reinstated her maiden surname. In 2015, Lyudmila Shkrebneva has married Artur Ocheretny and currently used his surname.
Lyudmila Putina, ex-wife of the Russian President, and her husband Artur Ocheretny
Artur Ocheretny is the Chairman of the Board of the Fund for Interpersonal Communication Development
The fund has two main offices – in Moscow and Kaliningrad. Local people call the Kaliningrad office “the palace of Lyudmila Putina”: in 2004, she helped the residents to protect Yunost’ (Youth) Park accommodating the above building from development. Thanks to the interference of Lyudmila Putina, the park was saved.
Kaliningrad residents call the building in Yunost’ Central Recreation and Leisure Park “the palace of Lyudmila Putina”
Other cofounders of the Fund for Interpersonal Communication Development are 50-year-old Kirill Kovalchuk, President of National Media Group and a nephew of Yuri Kovalchuk, Chairman of the Board of Directors and principal stockholder of Rossiya Bank, and Tatiana Shestakova, ex-wife of Vasily Shestakov, a Deputy of the State Duma and concurrently a friend and former judo sparring partner of Vladimir Putin.
It must be said that no criminal elements were found in the actions of the President’s ex-wife. But Aleksander Vorobiev was a family lawyer of clan Shkrebnev in Kaliningrad – so, he (and, accordingly, Nikolai Tsukanov) may be aware of some secrets of the First Family. No one in the circles of power is interested in the disclosure of such information.
In addition, during his work in the Kaliningrad region, Tsukanov established trusting relationships with the close circle of Vladimir Gundyaev (currently Patriarch Kirill) who was the Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad in that period.
Vladimir Gundyaev and Nikolai Tsukanov
Apparently, his extensive connections had enabled Tsukanov to avoid criminal liability for various criminal offenses. For instance he was directly involved in a major corruption scandal shortly before the 2018 FIFA World Cup – but ultimately, criminal proceedings have been instituted against Amir Kushkhov, a minister of the cabinet chaired by Tsukanov. Currently, Kushkhov remains in a pretrial detention facility, he is suspected in frauds committed during the stadium construction in Kaliningrad and amounting to 750 million ($11.8 million).
According to the investigation, the criminal scheme also involved structures subordinate to Summa Group belonging to Dagestani businessmen – brothers Ziyavudin and Magomed Magomedov. Nikolai Tsukanov, then-Governor of the Kaliningrad Region, had supposedly ‘patronized’ them in Kaliningrad. Subsidiary companies of Summa Group – GlobalElektroServis Limited Liability Company and Stroynovatsiya Limited Liability Company – have won the tenders for engineering preparation of the site for Kaliningrad Football Stadium in 2013 and for the reconstruction of the runway of the Kaliningrad airport in 2014. In March 2018, brothers Magomedov were detained and charged with creation of an organized criminal group and embezzlements on an especially large scale; currently they remain in a pretrial detention facility in Moscow.
Brothers Ziyavudin and Magomed Magomedov in court
At that time, the regional blogosphere had predicted troubles for Tsukanov – who was repeatedly mentioned in relation to their arrest. But somehow, the prosecution of brothers Magomedov hasn’t affected him in any way.
Spy or not?
It is necessary to note that spying stories always spark various insider ‘leaks’ a and versions. For instance, some sources in the Russian secret services claim that the FSB has been investigating Aleksander Vorobiev since 2018. Apparently, he attracted the attention of the law enforcement structures after the appointment an Aide to Nikolai Tsukanov. Allegedly, Tsukanov was aware that Vorobiev and members of his family have the Polish citizenship. If that is the truth, then the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Ural Federal District is in trouble – he had no right to work together with a foreign agent. The concealment of such information may be interpreted as complicity in crime.
According to sources, “Vorobiev is a real agent of the Polish Intelligence Agency (Agencja Wywiadu); furthermore, he is an ideological agent. The main purpose of his career under the patronage of Tsukanov was struggle against Putin’s regime. Vorobiev had been working for Agencja Wywiadu since 2008; in the last years, he was directly responsible for the recruitment of Russian officials and scientists. While working in Kaliningrad, Aleksander Vorobiev had collaborated with American secret services. Their contacts were disguised as scientific and research cooperation via Polish and American noncommercial organizations collaborating with Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University”. We may neither confirm nor refute this insider information. However, if the investigation manages to prove the above allegations, Aleksander Vorobiev may face a severe punishment.
“Based on the available information, Vorobiev was recruited some 15 years ago in Poland – he had received a grant and studied in Warsaw. The Polish interests are focused on Kaliningrad where he used to work – but not on the Urals where he was appointed in 2018. Assuming that our secret services have captured a real spy, this was done not at the behest of his Polish supervisors – but some other structures. This could be the American intelligence using Polish agents as their own ones due to the complete absence of Polish sovereignty. The Americans may be interested in the Ural region: the CIA had always closely watched it because of its military and industrial significance for Russia. Therefore, I don’t rule out that Vorobiev could work not only for the Polish – but for the American intelligence as well,” – political expert Anatoly Wasserman believes.
“It is one thing if Tsukanov was not aware of this activity. And it is totally another thing if the investigation proves that he had possessed the information. With regards to the political consequences, it is virtually impossible to dissociate himself from such things – especially taking that Tsukanov had friendly ties with his Aide. It was him who has brought Vorobiev to the governmental service,” – Aleksei Zhuravlev, a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, notes.
By contrast, political expert Evgeny Minchenko thinks that Tsukanov could be ignorant, while Vorobiev might be released soon:
“Tsukanov could be unaware of the circumstances; this is quite possible. A lot will depend on the testimonies of Vorobiev... Despite the incriminatory trend in our law enforcement and judicial systems, there is a chance that Vorobiev is ultimately released”.
It is necessary to note that Aleksander Vorobiev was arrested a few days before the arrival of President Vladimir Putin to Yekaterinburg to attend Innoprom International Industrial Fair. Is there any link between the ‘exposure of a spy’ and the Presidential visit to the Urals? No, unlikely. By the way, Tsukanov has attended the event as if nothing had happened and participated in a plenary session entitled "Champions of Digital Race. Competition Strategies". He was sitting at the forefront, together with Vice Premier Dmitry Kozak, Governor Evgeny Kuivashev, and Denis Manturov, Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation. Based on the photos, he was in good spirits.
First public appearance of Tsukanov after the arrest of Vorobiev
“It is necessary to understand that such arrests are made only subject to hard evidence. No other scenarios are possible,” – political expert Dmitry Zhuravlev, General Director of the Institute of Regional Problems, says. He believes that the President was likely aware of the forthcoming arrest of the official.
A few days later, Dmitry Peskov, Press Secretary for the President of Russia, confirmed that “of course, the President possesses full information on this matter”.
Some sources have no doubt that the arrest of Vorobiev will significantly affect the internal policy in the Sverdlovsk region. For instance, local residents believe that Nikolai Tsukanov intends to remove from office Evgeny Kuivashev, Governor of the Sverdlovsk Region. Interestingly, in 2011–2012, Kuivashev was the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Ural Federal District.
Evgeny Kuivashev, Governor of the Sverdlovsk Region
“A clear sign of such ambitions is the appearance a notorious Ural adventurist – Aleksei Bagaryakov, ex-banker and ex-Deputy of the State Duma, – in the close circle of Nikolai Tsukanov. Because of this figure posing to ‘outsiders’ as a top-level political technologist, Aleksander Misharin, ex-Governor of the Sverdlovsk Region, has sustained an epic failure of Edinaya Rossiya (United Russia) Party at the parliamentary elections in 2011 and loss to Evgeny Roizman at the mayoral elections in Yekaterinburg in 2013. But now the team of Evgeny Kuivashev may breathe a sigh of relief: a person having close ties with a spy may not take charge of a region with numerous nuclear and defense enterprises,” – regional sources report.
In 2008–2011, Ural politician Aleksei Bagaryakov was a Deputy of the State Duma from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF); in 2011–2012, a Vice Premier of the Government of the Sverdlovsk Region; and since late 2012 to October 2013, the First Deputy Head of the Administrative Office of Governor Evgeny Kuivashev. He resigned after the election of Evgeny Roizman the Yekaterinburg Mayor and failure of the election campaign of Vice Governor Yakov Silin. In addition, Bagaryakov was a shareholder of small Yekaterinburg-based UIK Bank that has collapsed in fall 2011. Lately, he was the Executive Director of Northwest Strategic Partnership based in St. Petersburg. Since summer 2018, the media had reported on a regular basis that Aleksei Bagaryakov intends to return to the public policy. Just recently, he became an unsalaried advisor to Nikolai Tsukanov, Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Ural Federal District. According to Ural media outlets, on July 1, 2019, he has attended a session on ecology and environmental conservation held in Yekaterinburg in this capacity.
Aleksei Bagaryakov currently works in the Administrative Office of Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy Tsukanov
Some experts consider the arrest of Vorobiev the aftermath of recent protests against the church construction in Yekaterinburg. The public campaign to save the garden square had a political background – and Nikolai Tsukanov had required to de-escalate the conflict as smoothly as possible.
According to insiders, after a number of top-level sessions, all governmental structures were instructed to deal with consequences of the protests – by that time, an agreement to relocate the church to another place was already achieved. However, the masterminds behind the public unrest in Yekaterinburg needed new agenda for their political games – and the arrest of a person close to the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy was ideal for that purpose.
There are more ‘prosaic’ opinions as well. “Unfortunately, sometimes people become traitors. I am talking about Vorobiev,” – Boris Kirillov, Deputy Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Ural Federal District, said.