Staunton, August 7 – President Dmitry Medvedev’s plan announced this week to re-brand the much-despised militia “the police” has attracted the most attention, but two other aspect of his new program for the interior ministry appear to be far more important and likely to spark political controversy in the future.
One of them, according to the draft law posted online today, the new Russian police will have the right to enter any residence without a court order and even if the resident does not give his approval. The other has Moscow disbanding the section of the MVD responsible for guarding strategic facilities like closed cities, atomic energy stations and dams.
The provision of the draft law (zakonoproekt2010.ru/section-4/clause-15) are already being compared by rights activists “to the scandalous law on the FSB” because at present citizens are allowed to “refuse to open the door to militiamen [unless the later] explain why they have come” (www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=4C5D2BAD18233).
But despite the draft law’s requirement that “the police” try to avoid damaging locks and doors and report to prosecutors about such cases within 24 hours, many in the Duma, with an eye to public unhappiness about such steps, are likely to try to change it despite the measure’s origins in the government itself.
The situation with regard to administrative changes in the Interior Ministry, however, may prove even more politically explosive because threats to strategic objects from terrorists and natural calamities such as fires are now so obvious and because Moscow’s top leaders promised to increase security at such facilities after the recent attack on the dam in the North Caucasus.
Indeed, “Argumenty nedeli” reported this week, “President Dmitry Medvedev broke up his vacation in Sochi and flew to Moscow” to chair a session of the Security Council on that and now, according to the paper’s sources, plans to eliminate the MVD department responsible for “regime objects and closed cities” (www.argumenti.ru/society/n249/71130/).
The weekly’s Aleksandr Chuykov interviewed Vladimir Ovchinsky, a retired militia lieutenant general who earlier headed the Russian section of Interpol and has been an advisor to the head of the Russian Constitutional Court, on what lies behind this and other parts of the plan to reform the Interior Ministry and what they may mean for Russia’s security.
Ovchinsky says that as a result of the reforms, “the department of Regime Objects and Closed Cities is being dismantled” as is the MVD department for Guaranteeing Law and Order on [Public] Transportation, the agency to which the transportation militia have been subordinate in the past.
These steps, he said, can hardly improve security. “In the country, [terrorists] are blowing up trains and hydro-electric stations, and in the Caucasus terrorism is rampant,” and her Moscow is “reforming, read reducing, these departments.” Does anyone believe, he asked, that the terrorists will view this as an act of nobility and change what they do?
President Medvedev is correct that the MVD should be downsized, the former militia general said, but he is cutting the wrong things given the current environment. Support entities like the budget office are bloated and should be reduced in size but not operational agencies. “Such reforms I do not understand and do not accept.”
According to the proposal on the table, Ovchinsky continued, other parts of the MVD or local branches are supposed to take up the slack, but an examination of the nature of the situation shows that this assumption is not entirely justified and that as a result of such incautious changes, there could be new disasters.
He points to the Department for Guaranteeing Legal Order on Closed Territories and Regime Objects, which is slated to be eliminated, as an indication of this. If its responsibilities are handed over to local and regional police, Ovchinsky said, the latter “will not have access to the secrecy regime” in these places and thus won’t be able to guard them adequately.
But there are other problems with such a shift as well. “Some of the closed cities are not even on the map.” How will local and regional officials handle them? And some of these objects of strategic concern “are situated at the borders of various oblasts,” something that will create unnecessary confusion and conflicts.
“All the professionals” at the MVD, he said, “were categorically against this decision. At a meeting of the ministry’s veteran’s council, some of them told senior MVD officials not to do this. “One must not reform the department in this way” because if you do, “you will destroy the system of security in the country.”
Unfortunately, Ovchinsky added, “the ‘optimization’ of the numbers of staffers turned out to be more important than the security of people.” And the assumption that private firms can step in and meet security requirements is absurd as was shown by the failure of the staff at the Baksan Hydro-Electric Station in Kabardino-Balkaria not long ago.
Equally serious threats to the security of the country will come from eliminating the transportation militia and handing over everything to the transportation ministry, whose officials are not equipped to handle this responsibility, as is suggested by the MVD’s own difficulties in having now one department to handle both organized crime and counter-terrorism.
In a concluding remark, the retired militia general said that “the entire leadership of the MVD bears collective responsibility for this ‘reform,” and “when its consequences become obvious,” as he is certain will be the case, people should remember who did what and not assume that those who destroyed an effective system can somehow restore it.