Good Times for the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (SKRF)

The Investigations Committee (SKRF) under Alexander Bastrykin has emerged as the focus of the maximalist, hardline school of thought within the Russian elite as regards the new protest movement. It is by no means a line universally shared, but if we were wondering how well it is playing to those who finally make the decisions, it is worth looking at the provisions of a new draft law.

A solid analysis in Izvestiya outlines how the law, snappily titled “On amendments to some legislative acts of the Russian Federation in connection with improving the structure of preliminary investigation,” will:

  • Give the SK prime responsibility for investigating some 2 million crimes a year.
  • Grant the SK wider powers to investigate VIPs: judges, prosecutors, parliamentarians, even siloviki from the military, intelligence services, police, even the FSB.
  • Transfer investigators from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) to the SK
  • See the SK expand from its present strength of 23,000 to some 60,000 investigators and staff. (As a corollary, it will have to acquire new premises, too.)
  • Increase the SK’s budget by 97.5 B rubles ($3 B).

The law has been passed from the Presidential Administration on to the government (showing the Kremlin’s support for it) and is meant to be fully in force by 1 January 2013. The MVD and FSKN will not lose all their investigators, but to rub in the current change in their fortunes, the SK will cherry-pick those it wants. The MVD will lose all its regional investigations units, while the FSKN is to lose some 5,200 staff by 2016, around 12% of its total complement.

So, the SK will acquire a particular role in deciding when criminal cases will be opened on serious charges, especially members of the opposition… and members of the elite. Obviously potential doesn’t always equal intent, but it does mean that the SK is becoming what Bastrykin appears to want to make it, the universal Kremlin enforcement, Putin’s Swiss army knife.

That said, Bastrykin ought not to be popping champagne corks quite yet. Progress in transferring investigators to the SK is moving more slowly than anticipated. In part this probably reflects a rear-guard action by the MVD and FSKN, as they hope this initiative can be foiled, delayed, diluted or reversed somewhere down the line. It is also because recent pay hikes for MVD staff mean that where once they were the badly-paid poor cousins (meaning that most people jumped at opportunities to move into more elitny and better-paid agencies like the FSB and SK), now they fear that they will actually suffer a pay cut.

Nonetheless, the SK is definitely on the rise. Combined with the recent elevation of hardline Moscow police ‘anti-extremism’ chief Timur Valiulin, then insofar as one can read anything from developments amongst the siloviki, the Kremlin seems to be preparing for a crackdown. The 15 September protests will be an interesting test case.

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