Vienna, July 6 – The Russian Duma’s vote this week to allow Gazprom and Transneft to organize their own private armed units has opened a “Pandora’s box,” with other corporations certain to seek equivalent rights and with a xenophobic nationalist group announcing plans to form its own “self-defense detachments.”
On Wednesday, the Russian parliament passed on third and final reading a bill that will allow Russia’s two largest petroleum-exporting companies to create what will be in effect private armies to guard the infrastructures that provide most of Moscow’s hard currency earnings (http://www.nr2.ru/moskow/127280.html).
According to the provisions of the bill, the two firms will have almost unlimited rights to employ lethal force to guard particular facilities once the list of those facilities is approved by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB and then confirmed by the government.
Not surprisingly, opponents warned that other organizations would soon demand equivalent powers. Gennadiy Gudkov, a deputy of the Just Russia-Motherland fraction said that the bill opens “a Pandora’s box,” because other groups will demand the right to form equivalent armed groups.
And that in turn, he said, means that within a short time, there could arise “a multitude of administrative armies,” setting the stage for possibly violent conflicts among them or between them and the government’s own interior forces or even the Russian Federation’s army.
Gudkov did not mention another, still more dangerous consequence of this action: the possibility that radical groups in the population will decide that they too should have the right to form private armies, something that could completely destroy public order in the Russian Federation.
That risk was highlighted today when the xenophobic Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) urged its followers to form “detachments of self-defense” to come to the aid of Russians who feel threatened by immigrants and said that DPNI would help train these units (http://www.dpni.org/articles/lenta_novo/2809/).
How far the authorities will permit or be able to limit DPNI’s plans remains to be seen. But one commentary today pointedly noted that its “detachments” would not be defending the country’s energy infrastructure but rather seeking “to revive and old and little respected tradition of ‘the Black Hundreds” (http://www.globalrus.ru/news/784098).
That danger may be all the greater because polls show that in Russia’s major cities, significant percentages of the population say that they have experienced ethnic hostility in recent times and view the inter-ethnic situation in their urban areas as threatening (http://www.polit.ru/research/2007/07/05/fom27.html).
While only one Russian in four says that his place of residence has experienced ethnic conflicts in the last year and only one in six believes that his area is at risk of clashes in the future, 58 percent of Moscow residents say they are aware of conflicts in the last year and 47 percent of then say that the situation there is explosive.