Is Russia Really The World’s Most Heavily Policed State? No.

I suppose counting these guys would lead to those elevated figures...

I suppose counting these guys would lead to those elevated figures…

There’s a common assumption that Russia is packed with police officers, most recently given form in a Most Heavily Policed: Countries that has Russia topping the table with 564.6 cops per 100,000 population, followed at some distance by Turkey with 474. Can it really be that Russia has so many more police per head of population than everyone else in the world, that it is so much cop-dense? And if so, why do they have to raid the training academies and Interior Troops just to police parades in Moscow, the city with the greatest concentration of them?

Well, first of all it is worth noting that the table, which is based on UNODC data, excludes such countries as Belarus, Azerbaijan, North Korea and Uzbekistan which might well be expected to topple Russia from its pinnacle. But it still dramatically overstates the size of Russia’s police force. This is a common and recurring theme; I wrote this over a year ago for my article ‘Purges, Power and Purpose: Medvedev’s 2011 police reforms‘ in the Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies:

On the surface, the police force was a bloated bureaucratic leviathan reminiscent of its Soviet and even tsarist predecessors. Its 1.4 million staff as of 2010 included many paper-pushers and official busybodies, and a cut seemed an obvious move, especially given that it would free up resources for qualitative improvements. However, the real problem is not over-staffing but inefficient use of resources. If anything, given the size of the country and the scale of the challenges, a case could be made for more officers, not fewer. On the face of it, the MVD’s 2010 establishment strength meant a relatively high ratio of one police officer for every 101 citizens (compared with the UK’s 1:254, for example), but this was deceptive. That 1.4 million included 180,000 Interior Troops, an unknown number of unfilled positions (the highest estimate would be around 40,000) and a larger proportion of office workers compared with active police officers (defined as those who carry a badge and can make an arrest). Again to draw the comparison with the UK, there over half the total strength of 240,000 in 2010 were genuine police. While it is hard to come up with precise figures, the Russian figure was probably closer to 40-45%. This would suggest that the “1.4 million cops” were actually only some 530,000. Still more than in smaller, more advanced states (the true police officer to citizen ratios in the UK and US are 1:429 and 1:380, respectively, compared with 1:267 for Russia) but not quite so ridiculously excessive as might have originally appeared. (For the references to sources, please see the original article)

The UNODC data on which Bloomberg draws likewise, although claiming to exclude support staff, seem to include in practice uniformed officers, and many of the jobs which in Western countries would be carried out by civilian and contract staff are instead handled by uniforms in Russia. That does not mean they are ‘police’ — they are neither trained nor equipped to go out on the beat. But they do artificially drive the total strength upwards. Likewise, the Interior Troops must be discounted–although they are sometimes used for policing public events and the like, they are no more ‘cops’ than the New York National Guardsmen on the concourse I see every time I take a train from NY Penn Station. They are not like the Italian Carabinieri and French CRS, who blend military, public order and police roles.

The MVD now has a strength of around a million, factoring in unfilled positions. This includes the now around 170,000 Interior Troops, leaving 830,000. Nonetheless, although it would be possible to make a back-of-the-envelope calculation about the number of real cops across Russia as a whole, perhaps a better exercise would be to compare the Moscow GUMVD (Main Directorate of the Ministry of Interior Affairs ), which is rather more extensive and close to establishment strength (94.1% staffed, according to Moscow police chief in his 2012 report to the Moscow City Duma) with the London Metropolitan Police Service.

As of the end of 2011, the Met had 48,661 staff, of whom 31,478 (65%) were sworn police officers, 3,831 (7.7%) police community support officers (uniformed but civilian officers used for patrol and neighborhood support roles) and 13,350 civilian staff. Let’s be generous and lump the PCSOs in with the real police; that means that the Met is 73% cop, 27% civilian staff, with 430 officers per 100k population (and incidentally the Bloomberg figures give the UK a figure of 262.1).

In comparison, the Moscow GUMVD has an establishment strength of about 80,000; let’s assume it’s now at 95% strength, so 76,000 in reality. The Russians don’t provide a neat break-down of police to staff, but considering that the Met is one of the more efficient and lean services around, I very, very much doubt the Russians can match it. So, arbitrarily, I’ll assume a 65% tooth-to-tail (cop-to-civilian) ratio, which would still make MGUMVD distinctly more efficient than most other Russian police commands. That would suggest some 49,000 police, responsible for a city with a notional population of 11.5 million, although in reality it might be as high as 17M. Still, sticking to the official census data, that suggests that Moscow, the most heavily policed city in Russia bar Grozny, has 426 officers per 100k population. That’s about where the Bloomberg table puts Algeria, below Kazakhstan.

These are rough, back-of-the-envelope figures but honestly, they feel right. Certainly the notion that Russia today is some police state knee-deep in cops just doesn’t hold true, especially once one looks beyond Moscow and St Petersburg. Russia’s irony has often been, after all, that for its size, heterogeneity and challenges, it has often been under-policed, not least as the more numerous and powerful political police–which meant the Okhrana and Gendarmerie of tsarism as much as the Cheka, NKVD and KGB of Soviet times–would often annex police resources to their own ends.

A battered cop, some marketplace raids, and what’s wrong with Russia

russia_raidIt started as a story about a cop getting mobbed in a marketplace. On July 27, a police officers were attacked by some two dozen people at Moscow’s Matveyevsky food market as they were detaining a Dagestani man who was suspected of raping a 15-year-old girl. One of them, Anton Kudryashov, sustained a severe head injury when he was struck in the brawl.

Cops, unsurprisingly, don’t take kindly to one of their own being beaten, doubly so when by ethnic minorities, triply when the attack is—as in this case—captured on video and spread across the internet. Moscow’s police launched a massive series of raids across the city, sweeping the marketplaces for illegal migrants and those suspected of involvement in other crimes. The rape suspect and the alleged cop-beater were both detained, along with more than a thousand others.

In many ways, though, it is the subsequent fallout that has been the most telling.


New article: ‘Purges, Power and Purpose: Medvedev’s 2011 police reforms’

Glad to see the back of the old ‘militsiya’?

Did Medvedev’s much-vaunted police reforms account for much, and in any case will they survive Putin’s return and the swing towards a more repressive and political use of the police? Although I very much see progress as a two-steps-forward-one-back journey, I do see some grounds to praise the Medvedev reforms and express cautious optimism for their continuation under VVP in an article, ‘Purges, Power and Purpose: Medvedev’s 2011 police reforms‘, which has just appeared in the latest issue of the excellent Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies.

Edited by Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski and Anne Le Huerou, this issue (no. 13) addresses brutality and reform in the Russian police and includes a range of fascinating articles, commentaries, interviews and reviews. It’s online and free — well worth following.

Striding or Staggering? Kolokoltsev’s five steps towards police reform

Kolokoltsev: on hold or getting through?

Amidst the twin storms of Hurricane Sandy and midterm grading, I’m indebted to Kevin Rothrock of Global Voices for bringing to my attention a fascinating and important article by Sergei Kanev in Novaya Gazeta that I might well otherwise have missed, on police reform, silovik politics and other subjects close to my heart. The article, ‘Kolokoltsev’s Five Steps’ (Пять шагов Колокольцева), notes that Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev recently admitted that police reform had had limited success to date and in effect launched a renewed effort.

After all, while reform has led to a shrinkage in the force of some 200,000 officers, it is harder to see that this — and the much-vaunted change of name from militia to police — has had direct and positive effects on its efficiency and probity. To an extent, I feel sorry for Kolokoltsev, in that any change will be slow, even generational. No such reform program could have a quick impact, however much policy-makers and public alike might hope for them. Indeed, he deserves some credit for being willing to recognize that reform so far has been more a declaratory than practical act.

The article presents a nice snapshot of how Kolokoltsev — advised by his consigliere, outspoken ex-cop and academic Vladimir Ovchinskii — hopes to make reform work, his five-step plan:

  1. Further demilitarization of the police. This ranges from the cosmetic (making uniforms less like soldiers’) through to changing training and police procedure, doing away with army-style drill.
  2. Making contracts for good officers open-ended and flattening the pay structure. In addition, pay bonuses (currently a great motivator for report padding and forcing the innocent to confess) should be phased out, or replaced with essentially honorific awards such as certificates of merit.
  3. Doing away with the infamous palochka (‘stick’) quota system which again encourages officers to falsify reports and fabricate convictions in the pursuit of promotions and bonuses. Even Russian cops have begun complaining publicly about this system.
  4. At present, the police can refuse to open a criminal case and the public has very little recourse — or even right to know why. This is a perfect smokescreen for cops to take bribes to ensure a case remains closed or simply for them to keep a case which looks difficult or politically-sensitive from messing up their metrics. Kolokoltsev intends to do away with the current scheme and make the whole process much more transparent.
  5. Set up a website detailing — with photos — cops and MVD staff sacked for inappropriate conduct, and also banning them from being employed in other state agencies for life

These are all good, useful measures (even though the last smacks a little of gimmickry — I’ve never been a fan of “name and shame” as a policy). The fight against corruption is an implicit sixth element, but it could have done with being explicit, and in many ways will prove the most crucial in that without that, none of the others will have their desired effect.

Beyond that, there are 3 key issues I think worth noting:

1. The debilitating effects of reform, especially in the short term. In classic style, those with pull managed to avoid the purge, and one effect has been a shortage of street-level patrol officers and precinct inspectors. According to Kolokoltsev, 40% of rural settlements have no police in their districts. I have also heard tales of disarray within the police training apparatus, as some instructors find themselves unsure how to adapt to the new line espoused in the Law on Police. Generally, change will dismay some and confuse many, and transitions are rarely periods of efficiency. In the short term, things will seem worse before they get better.

2. The politics of the MVD. As Kanev rightly notes, any reform project can become a battlefield between ‘clans’ within the MVD itself. Kolokoltsev has far, far more authority than his predecessor, Nurgaliev, but that’s not exactly saying much. He will need to demonstrate both strength and political skill to carry his reform through. Many are doing very well from the status quo — especially the corrupt and the cynical who, alas, did well under Nurgaliev. At best, they will try to protect themselves, at worst they will seek actively to undermine Kolokoltsev and sabotage his reforms, if they begin to feel under threat.

After all, Kolokoltsev has already faced challenges from within the police. Fortunately for him, Nurgaliev had already dealt with rival contender for the ministerial position Mikhail Sukhodolsky (and in gratuitously brutal fashion, at that), but there are still those whispering that he would make a better minister. More to the point, attempts were made around the time of his elevation to smear and discredit him, largely through his son.

3. The politics of the Siloviki. Kolokoltsev will not only have to negotiate MVD politics but also those of the wider security elite. In part, this is for institutional reasons — as Kanev notes, the MVD is now overseen not just by the FSB (who snoop on everyone) but also formally by the Investigations Committee, which is also taking away the lion’s share of the MVD’s investigators. Bastrykin is a complex character who understands many of the philosophical reasons for a law-based state, but at present he seems consumed by the struggle against the opposition and it remains to be seen how he responds to police reform.

Indeed, even within the FSB, three separate and often-feuding elements watch and work with the MVD: Directorate M (specifically tasked with watching the law-enforcement agencies), the Interior Security Directorate (USB) and Directorate K (economic security). These have their own agents, allies and interests within the MVD and thus in my experience as often seem to combine with forces within the MVD to foil the plans of their FSB comrades as exert any meaningful oversight.

More generally, Kanev identifies the main blocs being one dominated by Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Sergei Naryshkin (and which also includes Deputy Interior Minister Sergei Gerasimov and Yuri Draguntsov, head of the MVD’s internal affairs directorate); another under head of the Presidential Control Directorate Konstantin Chuichenko and former Deputy Interior Minister (and now Medvedev advisor) Sergei Bulavin; and a third under Head of the Presidential Administration for Public Service and Human Resources Sergei Dubik. These might not be quite the same blocs I see, but the point on which I agree entirely with Kanev is that the wider power struggles within the siloviki — which are arguably resurgent — intersect with MVD politics and have a direct bearing on the progress of police reform.

Overall, it is hard to give a clear prediction as to whether this reform will succeed, but it is encouraging both that Kolokoltsev is willing to listen to the right people and say the right things and that there is informed and informative debate in the press. That is still a long way from success — but these are all necessary early steps.

New head of the MVD’s anti-‘extremism’ “special branch” – GUPE

Col. Timur Valiulin

No sooner do I write on the panoply of political police agencies in Russia, including the so-called ‘E Centers’ of GUPE, the Interior Ministry’s Glavnoe upravlenie po protivodeistviyu ekstremizmy, Main Directorate for Combating Extremism, that GUPE gets a new boss. Today a presidential decree appointed Colonel Timur Samirovich Valiulin to the position, replacing Yuri Kokov, who has become head of the MVD’s All-Russian Institute for Advanced Training.

Previously, Valiulin had been head of the Moscow city police anti-extremism staff, so he was in charge of its E Centre and, presumably, would have played some role in such recent decisions as the prosecution of Pussy Riot. Although the E Centers have a pretty bad reputation in general, Moscow’s has seemed especially heavy-handed (Ilya Yashin has called it the “most radical” of all — and not as a compliment), so it is hard to be especially uplifted by this news.

Before then, he was head of Moscow police’s directorate for combating organized crime (UBOP) until that was abolished in line with Medvedev’s decree of September 2008. Previously  to that, he had been head of the economic crime team in Moscow’s central okrug (district) and deputy chief of the 16th Division of the Moscow GUVD’s Directorate for Combating Economic Crime (UBEP)

As another Moscow appointee, Valiulin is presumably if not a protege of new Interior Minister (and former Moscow police chief) Vladimir Kolokoltsev, at least someone with a certain connection to him. This certainly fits a general trend of the rise of ‘Muscovites’ within the MVD. Viktor Golovanov, for example, was Kolokoltsev’s deputy and interim successor at the Moscow GUVD, before becoming head of GUUR, the MVD’s Main Directorate for Criminal Investigations. Likewise, Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Gostev was formerly chief of staff of the Moscow GUVD.

Valiulin also appears to be on the more active, hardline side of the debate as to how to respond. Combine that with his background in economic crime investigations, and it helps explain why individuals like Alexei Navalny and Ksenia Sobchak increasingly seem to be being attacked through their bank accounts and business activities.

‘Reform of the Russian Military and Security Apparatus: an investigator’s perspective’

The US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute has just published Can Russia Reform? Economic, Political, and Military Perspectives (SSI, 2012), edited by Stephen Blank. Along with ‘Russia’s Choice: change or degradation?’ by Lilia Shevtsova and ‘The Impossibility of Russian Economic Reform’ by Steven Rosefielde, it contains my article ‘Reform of the Russian Military and Security Apparatus: an investigator’s perspective.’ Written for an SSI workshop back in September 2011, it uses a slightly over-extended metaphor (of the classic criminal investigator’s search for means, motive and opportunity) to assess the prospects primarily for military reform but also reform of the police and security agencies. Shevtsova’s piece, clearly revised for the December 2011 developments, is pretty apocalyptic. Rosefielde is characteristically downbeat: “The likelihood of Russia’s economy becoming sustainably competitive with its main rivals by reforming its Muscovite co-governance mechanism is nil.” (48)

In this context, I am the optimist in the trinity, in that I see military reform as being surprisingly successful; by no means a done deal (the key future issues will be personnel and reforming procurement and the defense-industrial sector) but certainly looking a great deal more encouraging that we might have expected given the numerous false starts of the past twenty years. (Especially given Serdyukov’s survival in the new government.) I assess police reform as less successful, but certainly progressing and within the realms of possibility, but confess I am much less bullish about the prospects for meaningful reform of the security apparatus. There’s a summary of my chapter on the Foreign Policy website, but you can just download the whole book on the SSI site here.

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