Vienna, February 20 – Even at a time when it is cutting back on a variety of public programs elsewhere, the Russian government is investing sizeable sums to boost the size and effectiveness of force structures designed to counter domestic challenges, even providing them with weapons specifically designed for crowd control.
This “crisis militarization” of Russia, RBC-Daily reports today, means that the domestic forces which now total more than 2.5 million personnel outnumber the country’s armed forces which exist to defend the country, a trend that various experts suggested reflects Moscow’s growing concern about deteriorating social and economic conditions across the country.
Dmitry Oreshkin, a leading Russian political scientist, said that it is clear that the regime is worried about “internal security” given the social fallout of the current economic crisis, but both he and other experts were skeptical that this buildup would bring stability or ultimately protect those in power (top.rbc.ru/society/20/02/2009/281915.shtml)
Indeed, Gennady Gudkov, a member of the Duma security committee, said that unfortunately, “part of the federal bureaucracy is under the illusion that [the government and its allies] can protect themselves through the use of force. This is an illusion.” As governments tend to forget, “the militarization of the state may only increase the danger of armed clashes.”
And he cited Napoleon’s famous dictum that while bayonets are useful for many things, they are not particularly comfortable to sit on.
The report that the number of people in domestic security organizations – from the interior ministry troops to corporate guards to fish and game wardens – now exceeds the number of people in the military, of course, is certain to attract greater attention from the rest of the world – it is naturally easier to grasp --the other part of the equation may matter more.
But commentaries today suggest that Russians are more focused on water cannons, crowd control weapons the regime first purchased from Israel and now is producing on its own (www.apn-spb.ru/news/article4900.htm, www.nr2.ru/society/221405.html, and, with its own special spin, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2009/02/20/64092.shtml).
Because such devices have no other purpose that crowd control, commentator suggest, they highlight Russian government nervousness that mounting unemployment, strikes like those which have hit the Don (www.apn.ru/publications/article21336.htm), and the likelihood of more demonstrations in major cities, the Russian government is circling the wagons.
And that makes three other high-profile stories in the Moscow media especially important: First, “Novoye voyennoye obozreniye” today reported that the military itself, the last line in the government’s defense, is increasingly corrupt and now resembles “a mafia in epaulettes” rather than an army (nvo.ng.ru/realty/2009-02-20/1_mafia.html?mpril).
Indeed, as the article makes clear, the military is not only ineffectual but angry, given the decision of the regime to retire many senior officers and cut national defense programs at precisely the same time that it has increased spending on domestic security units and the intelligence agencies, traditional enemies of military commanders.
Second, the Levada Center released the results of a study it conducted together with the Civic Verdict Foundation about public attitudes toward Russian law enforcement agencies. Among other things, this study shows that many Russians not only are skeptical about these groups but see them as failing to protect them against crime.
Such attitudes provide support for the conclusion that the government’s decision to arm itself against the population could backfire, given that the Russian people have anything but a positive view of those the regime might decide to use against people going on strike or taking part in demonstrations (www.levada.ru/press/2009021801.html).
And third, as various writers have pointed out, Moscow faces so many problems that it is ignoring some like nationality (www.dagpravda.ru/article/5212) and the situation in the regions (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2009/018/00.html) in hopes that the current crisis will end before the government’s money runs out.
But what is perhaps most striking about today’s announcement about increases in the size and armament of internal forces is not how worried the regime is about its fate but rather its self-confident assumption that force alone will be enough to keep it in power, a decision, like one to fight a grease fire with only water, that could prove a grave miscalculation.