Vienna, November 2 – The attempt by the FSB in Novosibirsk to have the election commission there ban anecdotes about Vladimir Putin as “illegal agitation activity,” a step that body refused to take, has sparked fears that some in the FSB want it to assume the functions of the KGB’s notorious Fifth Chief Directorate.
In an article posted online in Karelia today, Anatoliy Tsygankov, who writes frequently about the Russian security services, said that the FSB’s Department for the Defense of the Constitutional Order seems to want to harass opponents of the government much as the KGB’s Fifth Chief Directorate did at the end of Soviet times.
And while the regional FSB section was rebuffed in Novosibirsk, he continued, the fact that its officers tried to assume this role there should be “a warning sign for the entire country” because in some places, other officials are likely to defer to this power agency (http://www.politika-karelia.ru/cgi-bin/articles_print.cgi?id=1234).
Indeed, Tsygankov suggested, it was a matter of good fortune that “the chairman of the [Novosibirsk] oblast election commission did not forget in what time we are living” and basing his decision on existing Russian law, “refused to react to political anecdotes” in the way that the FSB hoped.
Were this the only example of the KGB’s efforts in this regard, there might be less cause for concern, but Tsygankov continued, the FSB is very much involved with “the current attack on the Constitution of Russia” in another way, through its sponsorship of those who want Putin to remain president in violation of Constitutional norms.
Putin himself “has asked them not to do this,” Tsygankov noted, but the FSB officers have continued to organize meetings, marches, appeals and other measures intended to keep the current Russian president in the Kremlin long after his legally permitted two terms.
Such contempt for the explicit provisions of the Russian Constitution and Russian laws by officers of the country’s largest security service with regard to this issue, Tsygankov suggested, inevitably leads to other and even more threatening actions, steps that recall some of the worst features of the Soviet past.
That such dangers are all too real now in turn is highlighted by three other reports this week. First, human rights officials have noted that some of the prisoners who took part in prison violence in recent months have died in unexplained and unexamined circumstances when Interior Ministry officials were moving them to distant prisons.
According to officials, such prisoners are simply being put in “neighboring” penitentiaries in order to better control them, but reports from the parents of those whose children have died in this process suggest the authorities are misrepresenting the situation, again in violation of the law (http://ikd.ru/node/4255).
To try to stop this violence, these human rights organizations have organized a public appeal demanding that the Interior Ministry and prison officials obey Russia’s laws and Constitution rather than assuming that because they represent the power of the state, they can act with impunity even to the point of killing those in their charge.
Second, the Moscow newspaper Gazeta reported yesterday that the Social Chamber’s Commission on Tolerance and Freedom of Conscience has prepared a pamphlet to guide militia officers in their dealings with members of religious groups (http://gzt.ru/society/2007/11/01/220201.html).
The guide, which is to be published in December in 100,000 copies, is designed for the officer on the beat, but whatever the good intentions behind it, both its specific injunctions and the reactions of Interior Ministry officials and activists to its provisions are cause for concern.
On the one hand, the pamphlet includes materials only on the four traditional faiths, thus implying that followers of others are not subject to its provisions, and it provides advice such as – “it is prohibited to take dogs into churches, mosques and synagogues” – that raises questions about how serious militiamen will take it.
And on the other, the reaction of Interior Ministry officials and religious rights activists suggest that this much ballyhooed pamphlet is unlikely to have any serious effect beyond propagandizing Moscow’s ostensibly good intentions in dealing with Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists.
Interior Ministry officials told “Gazeta” that they would act with regard to religious leaders just as they act toward anyone else because except for the confidentiality of the confessional, they said, priests and mullahs do not have any special rights or protections.
And Ranik Amirov, the head of the Association of Muslim Journalists, told the paper that the pamphlet was unlikely to affect the behavior of the militiaman on the street. The booklet is a “plus” compared to the situation now, but if there is to be real change, he said, the Interior Ministry must include its provisions in its training schools.
The third development reported this week suggests that the willingness of at least some officers in the FSB and other security agencies to ignore the law is undermining public confidence in at least some regions not only in them but also in the central Russian government as a whole.
According to the results of a poll taken in Nazran, Ingushetia, 38 percent of the people there believe that Russia’s “special services” are behind the wave of murders and kidnappings there, almost five times the number (8 percent) who blame Islamist extremists for these crimes (http://www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=13469).
Unless the FSB and its allied agencies are reined in and reined in soon, there is a very real danger that the illegal actions of these bodies will cost Moscow even more public trust and that in turn will lead the organs to take even more illegal actions, pushing Russia into a vicious cycle from which it will be difficult to escape unharmed.