Is the Russian National Guard suddenly acquiring sweeping new powers? No, not so much

Rosgvardiya1A new Presidential Decree with the snappy title ‘On Approval of Regulations of the Operational-Territorial Unification of forces of the National Guard of the Russian Federation‘ has suddenly caused something of a fuss because of a clause which allows the president to subordinate military units to the Rosgvardiya. From Versiya, for example, there came the outraged cry that “Nothing like this has happened in the country’s history” and that it was “impossible to imagine” the “Russian imperial army commanding the gendarmes, and NKVD the Red Army.” In Ezhednevnyi zhurnal, the warning was that “it has become clear that sooner or later war plans require the use of troops against the population. Russian officers do not want to shoot at their fellow. And the officers of the General Staff, it seems, did their best to slow down the adoption of the policy documents. But the Kremlin was anxious. And the National Guard conquered the army.”

Of course the creation of the National Guard from the basis of the MVD’s Interior Troops and public order forces was a worrying sign of the paranoias of the Kremlin. It is a force of some 180,000-190,000 security troops and special police, by the way, not 400,000 – there are perhaps as many private security officers, but they are not all armed, are scattered around the country, and in some cases are other Rosgvardiya officers moonlighting in a second job. It was clearly established both in case the Kremlin wants to break heads on the streets, and also to represent an additional obstacle to any elite political coup.

But let’s not get caught up in the hyperbole. The present presidential decree does indeed say that the president has the right to transfer army units to Rosgvardiya command for specific operations at home. However, the decree starts by enumerating the existing decrees relating to the MVD Interior Troops that it supersedes. One is the 2005 decree ‘On Approval of Regulations of the Operational-Territorial Unification of the Interior Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russian Federation,’ as amended. And guess what: that decree allowed the president to subordinate military units to the Interior Troops…

In other words, this was just a piece of legislative tidying-up, find+replacing National Guard for Interior Troops. Not so unprecedented, not so impossible to imagine, not demonstrating any sudden new bloodlust. And I very much doubt the General Staff were trying to fight it off.

Sure, there are always grounds for concern, especially when figures such as blowhard ex-general and Rosgvardiya hanger-on Yuri Baluevskii trumpet how Russia is beleaguered by Western attempts at regime change through coloured revolutions. But sadly this is nothing new and even reflected in Russia’s national security doctrine. This is a regime which fears and mistrusts its people, and which is at least willing to contemplate the use of violence to maintain power. But at the same time, let’s not fall prey to the temptation to think the sky is breaking every time the thunder peals.

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Russia under pressure: more crime, more petty

Police BadgeAccording to the MVD’s latest figures, January saw total numbers of recorded crime rise by 4.6% on last year’s (to almost 172,000) but the proportion of serious crimes fall by almost 3%. Some quick and preliminary thoughts:

The absolute level of serious crime is still up–yes, it fell as a proportion, but of a total that rose even faster–yet much less so than other crimes. These other crimes tend to be low-level instances of unpremeditated inter-personal violence and petty theft such as shoplifting. In other words, crimes which are often a pretty good indicator of underlying levels of social and economic pressure on the general population.

Last year overall, the crime rate was 8.6% up. In part, I think this reflects continued improvement in actually recording offences, cutting down on so-called “latent crime” (despite all the challenges, there is still progress), but in the main I think this is a genuine rise, even if not quite as high as that figure suggests.

So, does the January figure actually reflect an improvement? Maybe, but looking month-by-month, January tends to be a less “elastic” month anyway, perhaps because of holidays, higher levels of street policing in the main cities, etc. It’s too soon to say for certain, although it is also worth noting that there is considerable anecdotal evidence of a resurgence in petty police corruption because of the direct and indirect economic pressures on them (I talk about this a little here), which could also lead to renewed under-reporting. It will be interesting to see how the February and March figures pan out.

Personnel Turnover in Russian Interior Ministry Hints at Responses to Growing Tide of Local Discontent

dog and omon

The Watchdogs are Ready

Mixed in with a collection of local law enforcement officers dismissed in Presidential Decree No. 616 of 11 December 2015, “On the Dismissal of and Appointment to Certain Federal Government Agencies,” is one ministerial change that might reflect current concerns. There are also signs of turnover within the regional MVD Interior Troops commands that could – and all one can do is speculate – likewise point to a desire to make sure the internal security forces are in good shape and ready for action.

The full list of scalps is:

  • Col. Elena Alekseeva, assistant to the Interior Minister and press spokesperson
  • General Artur Akhmetkhanov, Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of North Ossetia
  • Sergei Gubarev, police chief of Vladimir region
  • General Viktor Kiryanov, Deputy Interior Minister.
  • Major General Alexei Kozhevin, deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate to Ensure the Protection of Public Order and Liaison with Regional Executive Bodies in the Regions
  • Major General of Justice Tatyana Sergeeva, head of the Investigation Committee’s Investigation Directorate for the Tula region
  • Major General Igor Tolstonosov, head of head of the Federal Anti-Narcotics Service in the Tomsk region
  • General Viktor Shalygin, head of the Federal Penitentiary Service for the Republic of Bashkortostan
  • Two other officers are simply removed from their positions: Maj. Gen, Andrei Botsman, deputy head of the Operational Directorate of the MVD Interior Troops and Col. Gen. Aleksandr L’vov, head of the MVD Interior Troops Central Directorate.

Kiryanov is the interesting one. Not only is he the most senior, but he was also in charge of the MVD’s Road Safety Directorate, as a career GAI traffic cop. He is coming up for his 63rd birthday, so while retirement is entirely feasible, it’s hardly the obvious age to go. I’d not heard of any health issues, either. In any case, most of these are outright dismissals, not retirements (Alekseeva, for example, may be going because of her unprofessional social media coverage of the recent killing of police in St Petersburg).

I wonder if his departure has anything to do with the fact that the MVD – and by extension Kiryanov – had a role in putting forward the now-infamous highway heavy lorry tariffs that have triggered the current truckers’ protests.

Finally, there were nine new appointments: three local prosecutors and fully six major generals, all deputy and first deputy commander positions within the regional MVD Interior Troops Commands (Eastern, Urals, North Caucasus and three in the Volga VVO – probably coincidentally, the Volga region is one of the hotbeds of the trucker protests).

Without wanting to make too much of this – this is not a sign of some imminent crack-down or the like – this does indicate the extent to which the Kremlin is paying renewed attention to its public order and internal security forces, forces which incidentally have been protected from the scale of budget cuts levied on the MVD as a whole. There clearly is a growing nervousness or at least cautious preparation on the part of the regime.

Lt. Gen. Yakunin on policing Moscow

Yakunin copLt. General Anatoly Yakunin (yes, the other Yakunin], Moscow city police chief, gave an interesting interview to the government newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta, which was published on 24 August 2015, and I think it is worth reproducing some passages from it. Notes and subhead in red are mine, other text my translations from the original [italics are questions in the interview].

Making cuts? (more…)

The Battle of the Big Beasts? Would an expanded MVD give the FSB a run for its money?

Time for bigger dogs?

Time for bigger dogs?

A report in RBK suggests that the Federal Anti-Drug Service (FSKN) and the Federal Migration Service (FMS) are to be rolled into the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). Meanwhile (and this is an idea which has been floated before) former Putin bodyguard and judo sparring partner Viktor Zolotov will become the new Minister of Internal Affairs. Current minister Kolokoltsev is, after all, too much of a professional and too little of a close Putin crony for such a crucial position, the thinking goes, despite his recent efforts to reinvent himself as a populist authoritarian of sorts.

The official logic would be to save money through efficiency savings. Maybe, though rarely does that actually happen when any government makes this claim. The FSKN has done, in my opinion, an at best mediocre job, not least as its determination to focus on interdiction and destruction of the supply-side (at which, incidentally, it has failed) has also derailed efforts to address the demand, and Russia is now the world’s largest per-capita heroin market. Its main preoccupation often seems rather empire-building (even wanting its own external intelligence role) and turf wars with other agencies. But whether rolled into the MVD or not (and this might at least address some of the jurisdictional issues which do arise between the FSKN and the police), there will still be an FSKN-like agency. With the FMS, the logic is even less apparent, although with the growing public disquiet about foreign migrants and workers, it is likely to become a more politically-significant (and thus fraught) body; the FMS may be in for a rough time ahead of it, but it will certainly be in the public eye.

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Kolokoltsev’s Populist Lurch

Apparently these guys will save Russia from nasty "American-style democracy". Bless 'em

Apparently these guys will save Russia from nasty “American-style democracy”. Bless ’em

It’s sad to see a professional making like a populist, but presumably in a bid to fight back against the whispering campaign against him, and the efforts by hardliners to see First Deputy Interior Minister Zolotov fast-tracked into his position, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev has leapt on board the xenophobia bandwagon. Interviewed in RBK, he talked up the MVD’s successes in 2014, which was only to be expected, and then talked up the Interior Troops as a bulwark against efforts to implant evil foreign democracy, which was not. In his words,

“We see the tragic consequences that bedevil the country in which the experiment is conducted to graft on ‘American-style democracy’.. We see the collapse of their economies, a terrible social situation, the actual destruction of the state.”

Do I hear “Ukraine”? Of course no mention of the extent to which those terrible outcomes reflect not democratisation (and if “American-style democracy” is so bad, what about British- or German-) but the consequent active and armed destabilisation of said state by a malign and aggrieved next-door neighbour. In any case, as far as Kolokoltsev is concerned, “this will never, in any scenario, happen in the Russian Federation.” Why is that? Well, his main answer seems to be not because the Russian people wouldn’t stand for it, but because the Interior Troops are ready for rapid deployment to deal with any situation. Lovely: no democratisation here, because we have men with guns and sticks to make sure that doesn’t happen.

I honestly have no idea whether or not Kolokoltsev has always held these beliefs. He has essentially stayed away from wider political discussions, in keeping with his reputation as a serious and committed career policeman. I have never assumed he was some kind of closet liberal (let’s face it: very few senior cops anywhere are), but he has shown that he understands the need to reconstitute the social contract between police and the policed and has done nothing to prioritise political policing over law enforcement (that tends to fall to the FSB and Investigations Committee). These latest pronouncements are thus unusual and can only be understood as attempts to shore up his political flank and pitch himself as being a tough political enforcer. We’ll see not only if it works but whether it becomes more than just rhetoric, in which case the police reform programme is likely to become increasingly threadbare.

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