Thursday, September 17, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Again Putting FSB in Overall Charge of Special Ops in North Caucasus

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 17 – President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have decided to transfer overall control of special operations in the North Caucasus from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) to the Federal Security Service (FSB), an unnamed source in the Presidential Administration has told a Russian weekly.
That decision, he says in comments reported in today’s “Argumenty nedeli,” reflects Moscow’s judgment that the MVD has failed to prevent the recent rise of violence there, a conclusion that has already led to plans to transfer the deputy head of the MVD responsible for the North Caucasus to other work (
And it reflects Moscow’s judgment that the FSB was “successful” in doing so when it “coordinated the activities of all agencies” working in the North Caucasus between 2001 and 2003” and that it will be successful again because unlike the MVD, the FSB “will move from reacting to events to prophylactic efforts.”
But precisely because of the likelihood of such a shift, Russian rights activists “are certain that [such] prophylactic operations will lead to a sharpening of clashes in the North Caucasus” because such actions “will be carried out with the crudest violations of human rights,” reports today (
Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, argues that “in fact, the FSB has been doing everything in the North Caucasus, and the MVD is in a subordinate position.” She says that she fears that the FSB will now feel free to seize or kill more “peaceful residents who in the opinion of the siloviki possibly sympathize with the militants.”
Oleg Orlov, the president of Memorial, suggests that what was happening brought Russia “full circle” in the North Caucasus. “At one time,” he points out, “the FSB had thrown off this difficult and heavy function and breathed a sigh of relief having given the function over to the MVD when the situation in the region had stabilized.”
But now the situation has gotten worse, and Moscow has decided that the FSB must go back in. Allowing the FSB to carry out preventive measures is a dangerous step he said because in his experience, “FSB officers in many regions participate in special operations with the crudest violations of human rights.” The same thing could happen again in the North Caucasus.
In his view, Orlov continues, almost any “preventive” measures “will be carried out by illegal means” and this almost certainly “will lead to an exacerbation of the [already extremely dangerous and explosive] situation in the North Caucasus,” thus producing exactly the reverse outcome that Moscow says it wants.
Commenting on this reported shift and the reactions of the rights activists, observer Yuri Gladysh says that the MVD should not be unhappy with what has happened because it is being partially removed from a situation in which the talents of its officers are not appropriate.
“A good policeman is irreplaceable where it is necessary to call to order a hooligan who is on a rampage. A very good policeman may solve a complex crime and reveal the works of a confidence man.” But none of those skills will do much to help the government combat the kind of well-organized force that it is confronted by in the North Caucasus.
For that, Gladysh continues, “only professionals from the special services can do” what may be necessary. But given the shift of cadres from one agency to another – the disgraced MVD deputy minister had been in the FSB – “the probability is great that we are witnessing the classic situation when shifts in positions will not change the sum” of the parts.
Indeed, Gladysh concludes with words that must send a chill down both those who think the FSB will be effective and those who fear that it will only take actions that will make the North Caucasus more violent, “today, the Caucasus, like agriculture in Soviet times, has become a place of ‘exile’ for not the best specialists” and one everyone will fight to avoid being sent to.

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