Medvedev’s Police Purge (1): the Ministers

It certainly looks as if Medvedev’s cull of the police is moving apace. The plan under the new Law on the Police was to cut the MVD’s force by 22% and bring it down to a strength of of 1,106,472. As of 1 August, he was able to announce that 183,000 officers had been dismissed and 48,000 more were soon to be cut, for a total reduction of 231,000 or around 17%.

Not bad, but these figures pale into insignificance in comparison with the losses at the top of the command structure. According to Kremlin chief-of-staff Sergei Naryshkin, the chair of the commission managing the re-attestation process for senior police officers (perhaps inevitably sometimes described within the MVD as the ‘purge committee’), of the MVD’s 340 general-rank officers, 143 were going: an impressive 42% of the total. Of those, 21 failed to pass the attestation process (generally because of corruption investigations or a failure to submit accurate income returns, which pretty implies the same thing), and the rest either retired or voluntarily resigned.

Nurgaliyev apparently stressed that 327 generals had cleared the process, but this seeming contradiction may simply reflect the face-saving convention that those who retired or resigned anyway were allowed to do so with a clean bill of health.

I’ll turn to the reshuffle of the operational and regional command brass in a future post, but what is initially striking is just how savage the turnover has been amongst deputy ministers, with six of eight replaced:

    • Interior Minister: Army Gen. Rashid Nurgaliev
    • First Deputy Interior Minister: Lt. Gen. Alexander Gorovoy [NEW]
    • Deputy Minister & State Secretary: Maj. Gen. Sergei Bulavin [NEW]
    • Deputy Minister: Lt. Gen. Igor Alyoshin [NEW]
    • Deputy Minister: State Counselor 2nd class Sergei Gerasimov [NEW]
    • Deputy Minister: Col. Gen. Viktor Kir’yanov [NEW]
    • Deputy Minister: Lt. Gen. Alexander Smirny
    • Deputy Minister and Commander, Interior Troops: Army Gen. Nikolai Rogozhkin
    • Deputy Minister and Head of the Investigations Department: Lt. Gen. (Justice) Valery Kozhokar [NEW]

Most of those departing in the past year and a half’s reshuffles have been able to rely on soft landings. Former First Deputy Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Mikhail Sukhodol’sky was made chief the St Petersburg police, which is a demotion but at least a meaningful position. Deputy Minister and State Secretary Lt. Gen. Nikolai Ovchinnikov ended up ironically heading the All-Russia Institute to Raise the Qualifications of Interior Ministry Personnel.

Nonetheless, this is quite a dramatic restructuring of the MVD’s most senior echelons. The general line within the commentariat is that Nurgaliev is being encircled by Medvedev loyalists while Putin’s proteges are edged out. Ex-ministers Anichkin and Shkolov, for example, shared elements of their career trajectory with Putin: Anichkin being a law school classmate in Leningrad, Shkolov was similarly a KGB officer in East Germany in the 1980s.

(By the way, am I the only person bothered by these easy assumptions that career proximity = affinity? I am clearly a poorer human being for it, but I certainly wouldn’t regard everyone I worked or studied with as my bosom buddy. Sometimes quite the opposite. And just how many KGB officers were there in East Germany? It’s a little like saying that I must know someone else because they teach at NYU too…)

Conversely, Anichkin and Shkolov’s successors, Kozhokar and Alyoshin, have been described by Vedemosti as Medvedev men, on what seem pretty thin grounds. On the other hand, Gerasimov and Bulavin are at least presumably known to Medvedev and his people, having previously been working in the  Presidential Administration. It’s not that I don’t think that this may give a more Medvedian tinge to the ministry. It’s more that I don’t think it has much significance, doubt it really weakens Putin and am not sure if it constrains Nurgaliev who is, after all, one of the most supine of the notional hard men of the siloviki.

So I don’t think it leaves him any more vulnerable than before – had Medvedev been determined to do so, he could have sacked him regardless of the line-up of deputy ministers. He may well choose to do so, in that Nurgaliev has been a pretty ineffective minister. The question is whether – especially this close the the pre-election showdown – it is worthwhile. I don’t think Putin has a problem with the ministry reshuffle; deputy ministers don’t matter that much and on the whole the new bunch are seasoned and competent professionals. Nurgaliev’s great virtue is that he is neither a Putin nor a Medvedev man in my opinion; he threads his way between the two saying whatever he needs to say. That may not make him a great minister but does ensure that he is palatable to all. If the deputy interior ministerial portfolios don’t matter much, the actual minister’s does. Nurgaliev’s removal would require his replacement either with another anodyne middle-of-the-roader – and in that case, why bother? – or else choosing a candidate likely to be – or, perhaps more important given the shadow-boxing between Putinistas and Medvedevites, seen to be – closer to one than the other.

(By the way, Naryshkin’s axe-work on the MVD is over, but his committee is not being wound down. Quite the opposite: this ad hoc structure is now going to be regularized and tasked with supervise eight law enforcement and security agencies: the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Justice Ministry, Emergencies Ministry, Federal Anti-Drug Agency, the Prosecutor-General’s Office, the Federal Security Service, the Federal Protective Service and the Russian Investigative Committee. Now there’s a power base than really will have clout! Watch that space.)

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