Vienna, June 20 – In what one Moscow news outlet says is “a new fashion in Russia,” some rank-and-file militiamen in Moscow are refusing to obey orders to leave their stations and suppress inter-ethnic clashes, fearful that their superiors will fail to back them up, either because of pressure from well-connected ethnic diasporas or a desire to be politically correct.
How widespread this phenomenon is and how justified the militiamen involved are in such feelings – militiamen are notorious for attacking minorities – is unknown, but any such refusal to obey orders at a time of growing tensions represents a serious threat not only to public order but, if it becomes widely known, political stability.
In the current issue of “Russky reporter,” Dmitry Vinogradov describes what he says is “the latest corporative scandal with an inter-ethnic cast” in the Russian capital. After “an entirely ordinary drunken clash” between Armenians and Chechens,” a group of militiamen found themselves charged with a crime (www.rusrep.ru/2009/23/news_konflikt/).
As a result, these militiamen, people who form the front lines of the defense of public order in contemporary Russian society, Vinogradov continues, “are refusing to go out to deal with any manifestation in which people from the Caucasus are taking part,” lest they be blamed for their actions.
This particular story began in Mitino, a drab micro-rayon of the capital, on the night of January 24 of this year. The militia received reports of a clash between Chechens and Armenians, but by the time officers arrived, the Armenians had fled the scene. All sides agree on that much, the “Russky reporter” journalist says.
But then the versions of what occurred diverge. According to the militiamen, the Chechens attacked them, but according to the Chechens, the militiamen were to blame. Whichever version was true, only one person suffered a trauma – militia sergeant Yury Uvarov – although some of the Chechens were detained and brought to a militia station.
After that, the situation became much more complicated. It turned out that one of the Chechens under arrest, Mansur Aslakhanov, was not only a militiaman himself but a relative of Omsk Senator Aslambek Aslakhanov. And probably because of that, senior militia officers ordered the Chechens released.
Before they left the station, however, the Chechens wrote complaints about the actions of the militia, apparently a normal practice, if Vinogradov is to be believed. And he adds that the militiamen expected the complaints to be dismissed by their superiors as being without foundation, again an apparently normal practice.
This time, however, things did not work out as the militiamen expected. Four months later, four Mitino militiamen were “suddenly arrested,” the result, their colleagues are certain, of a decision from on high to move against militiamen after the recent and lethal violence by one officer in a Moscow supermarket.
Again and “however that may be,” Vinogradov continues, the only people who stood up in behalf of the militia were Russian nationalists who began to disseminate stories in the Internet and the regular media that the Caucasians had exerted covert pressure on the militia hierarchy. As a result, the officers were released, but the criminal case against them was “not closed.”
The four met with Vinogradov and told him that the case prosecutors have worked up against them is completely absurd. Would militiamen beat someone when there were “40 witnesses around?” they asked rhetorically. “What do you think we are, idiots?”
In the past, they continued, “we had faith in our legal system and in the law enforcement organs, but now we don’t.” Ordinary militiamen, they said, can no longer count on the authorities to back them up, and consequently, they have decided that the best course of action is to refuse orders to suppress ethnic clashes lest one find oneself accused of a crime.
For their part, the Chechens, with whom Vinogradov spoke, defended themselves and said that the militia had violated the law by its actions and should be punished, thereby creating a situation in which it is impossible to know “where in this story is truth and where is a lie,” according to the reporter.
Given the record of the Moscow militia in dealing with “persons of Caucasus nationality” and the support they have received from the highest levels in the Russian government to treat such citizens of the Russian Federation badly, one can only welcome efforts by the authorities to try to improve the situation by enforcing the law on those whose job it is to be law enforcers.
But at the same time, if this is done in a clumsy way or -- as may be the case in this instance -- as the result of the personal intervention of someone with power, then there are real risks that the chain of command in the militia could break down, leaving the powers that be in Russia with fewer tools to prevent a collapse of order and of law.