By Paul Goble
Most people are so struck by Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism that they have failed to take note of one area where he has in fact cut back — support for local policing – and the ways that these cutbacks have led local officials to try out various means to preserve ordinary public order, some very sensible and some potentially very dangerous.
Scholars at St. Petersburg’s European University led by Ekaterina Khodzhayeva, on the basis of a grant from the Center for Strategic Planning, have carried out research on “Diagnosing the Local Demand for Security and Forms of Participation of Regional and Local Authorities in the Preservation of Public Order.”
That effort has now resulted in the publication of a 64-page report that is available online (enforce.spb.ru/images/Products/Other_Publications/2016_CSR_report_2_IRL_local_order.pdf) and that has been excerpted and summarized today on the Polit.ru portal (polit.ru/article/2016/11/13/militia/).
Since 2012, Russia’s system for the maintenance of public order has been entirely funded by Moscow and its branches subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. But as money has gotten short in the Russian capital, the police in the regions and especially those involved in neighborhood patrols have run out of money and suffered from a shortage of cadres.
The central interior ministry has responded to cutbacks in its funding by refusing to provide support for police on the beat and that has led to a situation in which regional and local officials have scrambled to find ways to provide some security for their populations. One of these means the report says, led to the establishment of controlled “paramilitary” formations.
That arrangement worried Moscow; and in July 2014, the central government transferred control over all such “law enforcement” units back to the interior ministry. But because of funding problems, there are now real tensions between the MVD and local officials who often have different goals for the police forces with the latter far more interested in preventing crime and enforcing locally produced rules and arrangements.
On the basis of an examination of the situation in 22 regions and localities across the country, Khozhayeva offers the following conclusions which say a great deal about the real state of policing in Russia and the unintended consequences of Putin’s decision to shift the financing of the militia to Moscow.
First of all, she says, “with rare exceptions, the main interest of the local authorities in the creation and promotion of paramilitary formations is municipal control over the enforcement of regional administrative law” rather than anything else. That means that the goals of these agencies may not be the same as those of the Russian interior ministry or the Kremlin.
Second, because almost all of the lower staff of these paramilitary formations consists of “former employees” of the police, the tendency to measure success on the basis of quantitative measures rather than qualitative ones means that they go after those crimes that are easiest and least costly to oppose rather than those that most concern the population.
Third, and at least in part because of differences between them, “both the paramilitary structures and the centralized forms [of such groups] are experiencing a crisis of legitimacy,” something that in turn has forced them into “complicated relationships with other law enforcement and control agencies.”
Fourth, all this means that regional and local officials have had to get involved in an area where some of them have little experience. Where they do have such experience, these experiments have worked more or less well; where they don’t, that often has not proved to be the case.
And fifth, “by mobilizing the establishment and development of popular militias often by administrative command methods, the heads of the administrations may count on the leadership of the city or district departments of the organs of internal affairs to listen to this or that recommendations and to support the resolution of problems which the local authorities consider vital.”
In short, at a time of budgetary stringency, the tensions between these two forms of policing – that of the normal MVD line and that of the various forms of paramilitary units — have intensified, and these tensions not only are sometimes pitting local officials against Moscow ones but calling the attention of the population to these problems.