Friday, February 27, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Reportedly Authorizes Militia to Shoot at Anti-Government Demonstrators

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 27 – The Russian interior ministry has authorized its forces to shoot at anti-government protesters if the situation appears to be getting out of hand, a decision that has been leaked rather than publicly announced and one that may be more intended to intimidate than to indicate what the militia will actually do.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the longtime president of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that the ministry had issued “for official use only” Order No. 800 giving the militia the right to shoot at demonstrators if they cause trouble or refuse to disperse when the authorities give the order (
The order comes on the heels of training exercises in Nizhny Novgorod where militia units practiced “dispersing meetings and saving officials” and where it is possible the authorities concluded that under certain conditions, they would not be able to achieve their goals without the use of lethal force (
But in the overheated political atmosphere that exists in Russia’s cities now, such use of force or even the threat of such a use of force could end by making the situation more dangerous rather than less, possibly prompting groups which already have arms to use them and leading still others to think about acquiring them for self-defense or otherwise.
An article that appeared yesterday on the website provides some indications of just how dangerous any use of force by the militia against demonstrators could prove. Noting that the interior ministry has not been able to “guarantee the security of the population,” the article urges that Russians should arm themselves for self-defense (
But the Eurasianist authors’ understanding of what constitutes self-defense is somewhat different than what most people elsewhere would define it. Lev Kazhdan and Natalya Makeyeva suggest that law-abiding Russians are threatened not only by criminals but by skinheads, people from the North Caucasus and even members of the numerically small peoples of the Far North.
Criminals are already armed, they say, and skinheads are increasingly so, a pattern that makes it dangerous for many. But still worse, the two note, people from the North Caucasus because of their blood feud traditions and Moscow’s agreement are extremely well-armed, certainly more so than all but a very few Russians.
But the largely unarmed Russian nation is not only threatened from within and from the south, Kazhdan and Makeyeva say. It is threatened at least potentially by the nationalities of the Russian North. Under Russian law, “all adult males [in these groups] have hunting weapons, but tradition requires that minors also be able to hunt.”
As a result, “the resident of the Far North gets a gun at 18 or even at 13,” ages at which many would view these weapons as “playthings.” Indeed, the two Eurasianists say, if it were not for government-organized hunting clubs, the situation there might already have gotten out of hand among these young people.
(More than 20 years ago, Russian émigré writer Edward Topol drew on that possibility for his novel, “Red Snow,” in which he posited that one numerically small people of the North would decide to overthrow Soviet power using the guns its members had for hunting and the dynamite they carried for prospecting.)
Consequently, if Russian officials are confronted by a situation where they might begin to think about using lethal force against protesters, Moscow would likely face a Hobson’s choice: If the militia did not fire, it is possible that in some places the protesters might get the upper hand and the authorities would lose control of the situation.
But if the militia does open fire, such an action could lead to an equally dangerous outcome, one in which some in the crowd in defense of themselves or as provocateurs for the government might shoot back. In either case, the danger of a new wave of Novocherkassks that Yevgeny Gontmakher warned about could easily come to pass (

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