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Analysis & Opinion
27.02.10 Medvedev’s War On Russia’s Police
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Contributors: Stephen Blank, Vladimir Belaeff, Ethan Burger, Srdja Trifkovich

President Dmitry Medvedev has made sweeping police reform into a crucial element of his political agenda, seeking to transform and rebuild one of the most corrupt and ineffective of Russia’s public institutions. Medvedev has waged a fully-fledged war on corruption in Russia’s Interior Ministry over the past year. Why is Medvedev making this area into a crucial political priority? Are the steps he has outlined and already implemented sufficient to bring about the desired transformation of the Russian police force?

He has tried just about everything. He fired senior police officials by presidential decree, including the chief of the Moscow City Police, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s confidant. He disbanded entire police units and Interior Ministry subdivisions. He unleashed the FSB in order to fight police corruption.

And finally, last week, he ordered his government and Russia’s Security Council to come up with a new police reform program that would give Russia a modern police force.

Medvedev vowed to take personal control of the reforms, and said that the wave of violent crimes committed by police officers over the past year have "eroded" police authority. "A series of incidents have caused a strong public reaction, eroding the authority of the Interior Ministry and its personnel," Medvedev said last week, firing another 16 regional police chiefs and replacing two deputy interior ministers with senior Kremlin aides.

A supermarket shooting rampage last year by Moscow police officer Denis Yevsyukov, who killed two and injured seven, has become the most egregious case of police abuse made public. But reports of police harassment, rampant violence and corruption abound.

Police reform was not one of his policy priorities when Medvedev took office. Yet over the past year it has become the centerpiece of his political agenda, together with the reform of the courts and judicial system. Medvedev has made a strong public commitment to this effort and has now taken personal responsibility for the success of his “war on police corruption.”

Why is Medvedev making this area into a crucial political priority? Does it signal that Medvedev views the rule of law as a precondition for Russia’s modernization? Are the steps he has outlined and already implemented sufficient to bring about the desired transformation of the Russian police force? Or is he moving too slowly, and more radical measures are needed (there are proposals to disband the Interior Ministry and the police altogether)? Will Medvedev’s public authority grow as a result of his “war on police,” or is it more likely to be the cause of his political decline? What do Medvedev’s efforts to clean up the Interior Ministry mean for his standing within the “tandem”? Is this a coordinated effort with Putin, or is Medvedev “freelancing” within his presidential area of responsibility? What are the odds of Medvedev succeeding?

Srdja Trifkovich, Ph.D., Director, Center for International Affairs, The Rockford Institute, Rockford, Il:

A reasonably efficient, accountable and controllable police force is not an essential pillar, but it is a necessary ingredient in the blend of reforms Medvedev has in mind. Those reforms can and should be accommodated within his paradigm of managerial efficiency, technological innovation and cultural conservatism. To make reform stick, the Security Council would be well advised to avoid sweeping proposals and focus on the specific steps that could have a measurable effect within a given time frame: aim for a 50/50 ratio of active officers to administrators. It would not be as good as most Western countries, but it would be a neat, achievable figure and a huge improvement.

Accordingly, reform should firstly commit to the reduction of Interior Ministry personnel by 20 percent, but strictly from the ranks of its bloated bureaucracy at all levels.

Secondly, create an “Internal Affairs Reform Enforcement” squad authorized to track down and punish resistance from within, and fire offenders – starting with Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev (who responded to the symbolic closure of two of the ministry’s 15 head departments by merging them with the remaining 13, without any staff or expenditure reduction).

Thirdly, centralize funding and thus end the grip of local/regional oligarchs on “their” police – in Russia. “Local control” of an institution does not necessarily translate into more accountable or better service.

Fourthly, provide additional central funds for salary increases of cops on the beat, with the eventual objective of bringing them in line with the private security sector. Relying on Internal Ministry’s savings would take too long and bring in too little after redundancy payoffs have been taken care of.

All of the above can and should be done in the next few years. Expecting more is probably unrealistic, but settling for less is unpardonable.

Ethan Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC:

I would love to have been a fly on the wall of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin when he first learned that President Dmitry Medvedev had decided to relieve 18 senior Ministry for Internal Affairs officials from their positions, including Deputy Ministers Nikolai Ovchinnikov and Arkady Edelev. In some instances the persons losing their positions have been implicated in corruption scandals, whereas others are being replaced because they had been ineffective.

Despite the shake-up, president Medvedev has praised Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev. One can only speculate whether the Russian president has indeed been satisfied with Nurgaliyev’s performance, or if he will be replaced some time in the future.

In addition, president Medvedev issued an edict reorganizing the ministry’s structure, and also ordered some measures that represent thoughtful policy making, such as establishing a new Northern Caucasus District, since violence in the Caucasus is getting out of hand. The Foreign Migration Service will now handle the deportation of foreigners, and perhaps this will reduce human rights abuses in a country that needs more workers. Corruption by Interior Ministry personnel will also be treated more severely.

Medvedev appointed two new deputy ministers, Sergei Gerasimov and Sergei Bulavin. Gerasimov served as deputy prosecutor general before joining the presidential administration. Bulavin has served as an Interior Ministry general. Both are likely to be more concerned with obeying the rule of law, and not tolerating corruption.

Medvedev’s actions have been described by some as a purge aimed at consolidating his own power, while demonstrating that his campaign against corruption was not merely rhetoric. Undoubtedly, president Medvedev intended to send a message that could not be overlooked either by Russian government officials or the public at large.

Only time will tell whether we are now witnessing the president replacing the siloviki with the civiliki. Whether or not this represents Medvedev’s desire to communicate to his former mentor that he has the will to do what he regards necessary to modernize the Russian state (both economically and politically), Putin should either comply with the president’s program or step aside.

Vladimir Belaeff, President, Global Society Institute, Inc., San Francisco, CA:

Two factors are critical to the success of any kinds of reforms, in any country, and especially in Russia today: obedience to law by everyone and abatement of corruption in all parts of social activity.

One must point out that disregard for the law and extensive corruption are not exclusively Russian, nor endemic to the Russian society. American history up to the present is replete with examples of major corruption – Tammany Hall and the Teapot Dome are just a couple of egregious examples from the past. Bernard Madoff and the present misdemeanors of the American financial community are good examples of how the “rule of law” is fictitious in the very country that claims to be its staunchest adherent.

Russia’s Interior Ministry has inherited from the Soviet Union a corporate culture that treats the country and its population as the booty of conquest (as in the Bolshevik coup d’?tat in October of 1971). Hence the spirit of disregard for the most elementary civil rights and the readiness to use force up to and including lethal levels, to basically terrorize the population.

Russia has a history of law and order no less effective or rigorous than in other countries, but this tradition was severely disrupted in 1917 and most of the current problems of the Interior Ministry are objectively traceable to the events of 1917.

Medvedev’s actions are therefore completely rational and timely, although one wishes that they had been preventive rather than reactive to the more spectacular cases of police brutality in Russia. The actions undertaken by Russia’s president are appropriate to the declared objective: the rehabilitation of a national organization with a high degree of dysfunction. It is difficult to explain why anyone would imagine a rift on the subject between Russia’s president and prime minister.

The status quo of Russia’s Interior Ministry is indefensible and reform is unavoidable. However, it is unreasonable to propose that the Ministry is 100 percent corrupt and completely useless. To suggest its complete dismantling is pedestrian – there are no credible proposals of how the much-needed functions fulfilled by the Interior Ministry in Russia would be allocated in a future configuration, without such a ministry. Proposing the United States as an example is not valid – in America police functions are largely located at the state level, using organizations which in the aggregate are even larger and more costly than the entire Russian Interior Ministry (and also exhibit corruption and propensity to police brutality – consider the current prosecution of New York police officers involved in the Mineo case).

Is Medvedev’s initiative a symptom of something exceptionally different, radical and unexpected? Not really. The need to clean and reorganize legacy institutions has been a subject of discussion in Russian political, government and community circles for quite a few years. Recent evidence of deteriorating behavior has served as a catalyst and accelerator of the process, but the original commitment to reorganization has been in place for quite a while.

Will Russia’s Interior Ministry be successfully transformed? One wishes to issue a qualified “yes.” Success will depend on the strength of political will, on readiness to innovate in organizational development and on relentless and firm application of that perennial principle: the rule of law. Time will also be a major component. Reforms that have genuine impact require a long time to become rooted – those who think in terms of revolutionary breakthroughs and instant political bliss are profoundly mistaken.

Professor Stephen Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

I hope Medvedev regards the rule of law as a precondition for modernization because it is one. Yet his reforms to date, including his most recent actions, have fallen short. They have addressed the symptoms and not the fundamental structural problems arising from pervasive corruption among all of the “force structures,” not just the police and the Interior Ministry.

I have no doubt that this is a swipe at Medvedev’s political opponents. We may remember that attacks on the corruption of the Interior Ministry were a key part of Yuri Andropov's rise to power, so there is a precedent for this. Secondly, those structures have been Putin's bastion, so it makes sense that Medvedev is attacking if not Putin himself, then his retinue. Thirdly, these reforms, however desirable in and of themselves, do not fulfill the need for genuine reform, until and unless they bring about the aforementioned rule of law and accountability of the police to the Duma, not just Medvedev.

I think Medvedev will have only partial success in this endeavor unless he is willing to push it to the limit and create genuine counterweights to the bureaucratic oligarchy (the true oligarchs of today) around Putin.
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