Monday, October 11, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russian Officials Preparing for More and Larger Street Clashes Ahead

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 11 – Until recently, Russian officials and most systemic politicians have played down the risk of massive street clashes and the need to prepare for them, but in the course of the last week, a “Novaya Versiya” commentator notes, members of both groups have expressed concern about this possibility and outlined steps to counter it.
In recent months, Mikhail Sukhodolsky, the first deputy minister of internal affairs, said last week, the number of crimes connected with popular clashes and disorders “has markedly increased, and for objective reasons, [such crimes and the milieu from which they spring] are generating a serious social response (
In the past, “Novaya Versiya” analyst Ruslan Gorevoy says, officials had been restrained in making any such assessment, but “now they are speaking about [this problem] openly,” apparently because “it is becoming ever more complicated to rein in protest attitudes by bloodless means” and law enforcement bodies want to justify in advance the use of force
The powers that be, Gorevoy says, have been preparing for just such a possibility. On the one hand, both the central and regional offices of the MVD have set up special “rapid reaction” forces to disperse street demonstrations, and perhaps more important, the Duma has passed a law denying those charged in such cases of the right to a jury trial
Moreover, he continues, the belief that “in the near future mass disorders are inevitable” appears to be shared “not only by representatives of ‘the extra systemic opposition [who may have a vested interest in making such predictions] … but also by those whose responsibilities include not allowing such excesses to occur and in the worst case to suppress them.”
“Militia officers, court officials, and legislators as one firmly declare about the inevitability of force actions,” Gorevoy notes, although their explanations for this possibility vary. Militia officers blame the failure of the courts to punish those who have taken part, judges blame shortcomings in legislation and politicians blame “irresponsible opposition figures.”
For example, Sergey Markov, a political scientist and Duma member, says that “disorders like those which we observed not long ago in Riga and Sofia today can occur in all countries of the world except those where there is a socially oriented economy. They can even break out in Russia.”
Indeed, Markov said, “there are already elements of a pre-revolutionary situation in Russia” but “there are only elements” and they are more social-economic than political because of the resources of the existing regime and the absence of credible alternative political leaders who could exploit such “elements.”
One measure of the spread of such concerns is the increasing popularity of insurance policies against the consequences of mass violence, Gorevoy says. When such policies were offered two years ago, only five firms bought them. Now, they are far more popular, with one in every four firms insuring itself against such problems
More significant, however, the “Novaya versiya” analyst continues, is that the formation of the MVD special units was completed in August, a development that prompted the deputy minister of internal affairs to talk about the ability of his institution to cope with anything that might happen.
Sukhodolsky said that “the crime-generating situation can deepen with the growth of protest attitudes called forth by dissatisfaction of the labor capable population of the country as a result of the non-payment of wages, threats of firings, and also unpopular measures taken in the framework of the anti-crisis program.”
Because of that risk, he continued, MVD units must give “heightened attention” to the risks of street violence and be ready to counter it before it spreads.
More junior MVD officials speaking on condition of anonymity told Gorevoy that the organs knew how to disperse street actions even in Soviet times, “and after the Moscow events of 2002 … our people developed detailed instructions literally minute by minute on how to effectively and quickly disperse any group, even one numbering in the thousands.”
Not long ago, these officials said, they had received from MVD officers in Moscow and Moscow oblast a special “circular” in which “were enumerated ‘the structures destabilizing the social structure’ which could be involved in the initiation of massive street clashes” – including nationalists and extreme right groups especially in certain regions.
That document and other officials and analysts stressed that all these clashes are local and have not yet come together in any country-wide fashion. Consequently, they believe, Gorevoy continues, that there is no basis for particular concern. But he asks rhetorically, is that in fact the case?
If it is, then why did Sukhodolsky feel compelled to talk about “the heightened aggression of certain citizens of Russia toward the militia” and take note of “the growing aggression and wildness in behavior of certain groups of citizens”? Perhaps he wants a change in the rules of engagement or to prepare the leadership for harsher actions.
But if that is the case, then the increasing frequency and size of such clashes does represent a real threat, perhaps not of a revolution but certainly of a problem that the powers that be are now far more worried about than they were only a few months ago and are thus getting ready to defend themselves.

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