By Paul Goble
After local OMON commanders in Mezhdurechensk refused to move against demonstrators there and with the prospect that the powers that be will face more protests in the future as the economic situation in the regions deteriorates, the Russian interior minister has announced that regional MVD heads will be rotated on a regular basis.
At a meeting in Kazan Wednesday of the heads of CIS interior ministries, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev announced that at the direction of President Dmitry Medvedev he would rotate regional MVD chiefs according to “a strictly defined schedule” rather than allowing them to remain in place for long periods (www.rg.ru/2010/05/20/srok.html).
“Today,” Nurgaliyev continued, “the position of the senior command staff cannot be vacant more than three months. Filling such posts “on a priority basis must be done from the federal cadres reserve, formed from leaders who have been trained at the MVD Administration Academy over the last two years.”
As “Rossiiskaya gazeta” reported Thursday, the Russian interior minister indicated that “the practice of rotation of leads of the organs of internal affairs at various levels, both vertically and horizontally, has already successfully recommended itself. And he said that Moscow plans to set specific limits on how long any commander can serve in such posts before being transferred.
Not surprisingly, Nurgaliyev presented this innovation as “an anti-corruption measure,” given that it is “no secret that some leaders of administration sitting in a senior position for a decade acquire ‘useful’ ties and feel themselves to be princes” beyond the control of the law or of Moscow.
There are other reasons for this change as well. “Rossiiskaya gazeta” pointed to one of them: An MVD official who has been in one region for a long time often overlooks things that a new arrival would see immediately. Consequently, installing a new commander should improve law enforcement.
But a second reason, not mentioned directly by the Moscow paper, may be more important. Local MVD chiefs who have served in one place for a long time may be reluctant to follow orders to direct their subordinates to move against local people who are protesting Russian policies.
Last winter, the MVD chief in Vladivostok refused to order his men to disperse a demonstration there, and last week, his counterpart in Mezhdurechensk did the same, forcing Moscow in both instances to bring in OMON from other regions in order to counter the protesters.
It appears from Nurgaliyev’s comments that Moscow has decided it may be better to shift commanders, who will then be less likely to be infected with “localism,” than to find itself forced on a regular basis to move entire OMON units around to wherever the latest demonstration takes place.
That more demonstrations are likely is suggested by a second article in “Rossiiskaya gazeta”. According to the Ministry of Regional Affairs, “the list of Russian regions with a stable situation continues to decline, as the economic woes that have hit many of them spread to others (www.rg.ru/2010/05/20/regiony.html).
And many of the systemic and extra-systemic political movements have called for protests of various kinds, ranging from regular demonstrations to the organization of flash mobs, a kind of protest that the powers that be are likely to find it especially difficult to counter in the current environment (www.newizv.ru/news/2010-05-20/126720/).
It is far from clear whether Nurgaliyev’s new policy, one that as he indicated is being taken at Medvedev’s behest, will save the situation. But one thing is certain: Moscow’s decision to take a step that will certainly be unpopular with many MVD commanders is an indication of just how worried some of the powers that be are about unrest and their ability to contain it.