Staunton, October 15 – The Russian armed forces are making plans to introduce military police units, a step advocates say will allow the military to cope with ethnic conflicts and other forms of dedovshchina within the uniformed services but that opponents suggest will lead to the creation of a new “oprichnina” and make the situation in the army even worse than it is now.
In an article on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal over the weekend, Aleksey Polubota says that a few days ago the defense ministry sent to the other force structures a draft law calling for the creation of a military police in Russia. If they agree, he continued, the draft will go to the government and then the Duma (svpressa.ru/society/article/59662/).
According to informed sources, he continues, “the military police will exist within the Armed Forces but will be an independent special service” with the right to conduct investigations, bring criminal charges, and work closely with law enforcement bodies at both the federal and local level.
Further, the military police will “participate in counter-terrorist operations, exercise control over the discipline of those in uniform, and prevent mass disorders.” They will also guard key military infrastructure, and in all this, they will be subordinate to the Procurator General rather than the Defense Ministry, although the latter will pay for them.
Russian officials in and outside the armed forces have been talking about taking this step for almost 20 years, with advocates in the mid-1990s developing their ideas on the basis of a study of the military police in the NATO countries, according to retired Col.Gen. Vladimir Kulakov who was then in charge of military discipline and now serves in the Federation Council.
In the 1990s, Kulakov says, financial problems and the opposition of the Interior Ministry and military prosecutors prevented the idea of creating a military police from going forward. But nonetheless, he said, there were periodic attempts, with the latest one being the most likely to succeed.
He said that the draft, which consists of six sections and 34 paragraphs represents a major change because it subordinates the military police not to commanders but to the Procuracy That is likely to be resisted by the Defense Ministry, he added, because no one wants to have his dirty laundry put on public view.
Nonetheless, Kulakov says that there is a clear need to move forward with this plan. “In many former republics of the USSR, [a military police] has been established and is operating successfully. Even in many of the Central Asian countries. And the examples of our neighbors confirm that this organ is needed.”
The retired general said he saw no problem with having the Defense Ministry finance something it will not completely control because that will give the new military police more flexibility in combatting crime. But such arrangements will guarantee that “very many complications will arise.”
Asked whether the new units might suffer from some of the same problems such as corruption and indiscipline that the Russian armed forces as a whole do, Kulakov responded that “the military police will be created out of our own citizens. We will not be enrolling the MPs from Europe! If society is sick, it is absolutely impossible” to create “a health organ” within it.
Other experts with whom Polubota spoke were more skeptical. Viktor Litovkin, editor of “Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye,” said that in his view, “the military police must be directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. He also said that it is critical that MPs be professional soldiers rather than draftees.
Meanwhile, Aleksey Vashchenko, identified only as a military expert, was more critical of the whole idea. In his view, the military police as planned would become a kind of ‘oprichnina,” a force the powers that be could use to “put down the slightest objection” to the political course of the country within the ranks.
“They tell us that a military policy is needed for the struggle against ‘dedovshchina.’” But that is complete nonsense, Vashchenko said. In fact, the MP units will manifest “the very same” thievery and lack of discipline that is to be found throughout the armed forces. Creating a new unit won’t solve that.
But he concluded that there is no way out under current circumstances. Military reform is doomed in Russia because it is “the chekist Putin, the lawyer Medvedev, and the former factory store director Serdyukov are involved.” Given that mix, Vashchenko said, one should not have expected otherwise.