Vienna, May 14 – President Putin has made it more difficult for the public to find out about violations of law committed by individual employees of Russia’s various security agencies, a step that has led at least some of them to believe that they are now beyond the reach of the law and thus able to commit more crimes with impunity.
That is the conclusion of a study prepared by Andrei Soldatov of “Novaya gazeta” and Irina Borogan, a researcher at Agentura.ru, offer in articles published last week in the newspaper (http://www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2007/33/19.html) and on the Agentura.ru website (http://www.agentura.ru/press/about/jointprojects/novgaz/specrimes/0.
And the creation -- announced today -- of a Social Council at the Federal Security Service (FSB), consisting of representatives of various organizations, religious groups and FSB veterans, appears unlikely to do anything that will address, let alone remedy this situation (http://www.apn.ru/news/print17074.htm).
Many people have written about the various crimes of Soviet and Russian security services as organizations, Soldatov and Borogan note, but few have ever paid much attention to another aspect of this situation: “the employees of the special services are also people and also commit crimes.”
One reason for that is that the Soviet and Russian authorities in the past and Putin now have done what they can to prevent these crimes from gaining public notice, something that gives many in the security organs a sense that they can do whatever they like without fear of being brought to justice.
Official data on crimes in the special services has long been classified, the two investigators note, but until very recently, it was possible to glean some idea of the kinds of crimes at least low-ranking employees of these agencies were committing on the basis of public court records.
In the 1990s, court records suggest that the most frequent crime committed by security service officers involved fraud, the two investigators say. More recently, they report, the crimes recorded involve violence, corruption, or the misuse of position to aid former colleagues now working in the private sector.
Because neither these nor any other journalists can examine all court records across the country and because officials are reluctant to provide data, the two acknowledge that they are not in a position to evaluate just how large a problem crime among security officers is and whether the situation is getting worse or better.
They do report that there was a small drawing apart of the curtain of silence on these issues in March 2006 when Moscow officials reported that crime among border guards and internal troops had declined by 16.2 percent and 8.1 percent, but in the absence of absolute numbers, which were not provided, it is unclear what this means.
The current problems with crime among security officers expanded at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the establishment of Russian Federation security agencies in the 1990s. At that time, officials of these services convinced President Boris Yeltsin that they could police themselves and did not need outside supervision.
That allowed employees of these agencies to “breathe easier,” Soldatov and Borogan say, because the old Soviet-era supervision of these agencies by the KGB and the Community Party apparatus was effectively ended without a new external one being put in place.
This situation by itself contributed to a rise in lawlessness not only because the internal affairs bodies of these agencies were often corrupted – the head of the FSB’s internal supervisory unit was replaced three times earlier this decade – but also because these agencies succeeded in getting what they wanted in two other areas.
On the one hand, thanks to a Putin decree in February 2006, the courts were no longer allowed to reveal the agency for which someone charged with or convicted of a crime in fact worked. That information is now classified “top secret,” Soldatov and Borogan note.
And on the other, the security agencies gained a voice in deciding who would represent their officers in court, an arrangement that allows them to put pressure on those charged to reach a plea agreement without revealing any information or on judges to give lighter sentences than might otherwise be the case.
Unfortunately, in the course of preparing this article, Soldatov and Borogan may have made the situation still worse by prompting the authorities to become even more tight-lipped than they had been in the past. Mikhail Yanenko, the deputy chief military prosecutor, refused their requests for information about such cases, citing Putin’s decree.
And then when the two investigators turned to the Moscow District Military Court for the kind of information Yanenko had denied, press officers who had been help told them that now all the information they sought was highly classified and could not be released.
Such arrangements may make the security officers feel more secure to commit new crimes, but they do little either to strengthen Putin’s much-vaunted “power vertical” or to provide a defense for the citizens of the Russian Federation from the continued depredations of those who are charged with protecting them.