Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Medvedev’s Future Hangs on His MVD Reform Plan, Gontmakher Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 17 – Having failed to accomplish a great deal during his presidency, Dmitry Medvedev has decided to show himself to the Russian people as “a man of action” and “a reformer” by taking on the corrupt Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), a throw of the dice on which his future is likely to depend, according to a leading Moscow commentator.
In an essay posted online today, Yevgeny Gontmakher, the often controversial senior scholar at the Institute of Contemporary Development, argues that Medvedev either wants to have this reform serve as his legacy or more likely become the basis of a campaign for his re-election. There is, the commentator suggests, no “third” explanation.
Gontmakher begins his article by suggesting that the reform of the militia is something many people have seen as necessary for some time. The MVD has not been able to protect the citizens from crime, “people are dissatisfied,” and “trust in the militia doesn’t in practice exist”
Moreover, he points out, “one needs to pay attention to the fact that in recent times, [Russia’s] mass media, including the official, have published [stories]” showing the militia and its officers in the worst possible light, guilty of crimes against the population that they are supposed to be protecting.
Indeed, Gontmakher continues, it appears that the mass media has been exacerbating the negative feelings Russians have about the media,” a pattern that is “not accidental” but rather is the result of the Kremlin’s own calculations about what it would need to do in order to generate support for the reform it wants.
Last spring, the analyst notes, “Medvedev published a corresponding decree about the necessity of reforming the MVD.” In that measure, however, there was not mention of renaming the militia the police or of more general reforms. Instead, his decree called for the reduction in the number of militiamen, something many viewed as a surrogate for real reform.
Gontmakher says that he “thinks” that [the new draft law that the Kremlin has put forward that calls among other things for renaming the militia the police] was not written in the Ministry of Internal Affairs” but rather was “the personal initiative of Medvedev” and was developed by the Main State Legal Administration of the Presidential Administration.
In the new measure, he continues, “Medvedev proposed two extremely unpopular things renaming the militia the police which most Russians oppose, and making the law effective as of January 1, 2011, a very short time from now, especially given that the measure itself has not yet been passed into law.
Many questions are open, Gontmakher says, and they are hardly likely all to be answered as the measure is pushed through the Duma and Federation Council over the next two to three months. And such haste, the commentator says, “is connected with [Medvedev’s] political calculations.”
According to Gontmakher, Medvedev can have only one of two reasons for taking this step. Either he wants to leave office with a legacy of being someone who could accomplish something serious rather than just giving good speeches and who believes that the MVD is the place to show that.
Or the incumbent president is planning to run for a second term and wants to use this measure to start his campaign. If the latter, this focus on the MVD, a notoriously corrupt and very complex institution, and the demand for incredible speed in introducing reforms makes it “a very risky” move.
Medvedev has clearly thrown the dice over his reputation with this measure, but because he has done it in the way that he has, he has wittingly or not invited those opposed to what he has been saying to block or water down what he seeks. And consequently, the struggle over the “police law” as many Russians call it is about far more than the militia.

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