Friday, October 4, 2019

Four Attempts to Pass a Russian Law on Private Military Companies have Failed Because of Shifting Priorities, Divisions within the Regime

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 1 – Since 2012, the Duma has had presented four bills presented by Just Russia fraction deputies that would define the legal status of private military companies, but none has passed, the result of Moscow’s shifting priorities about these institutions and divisions within the government over who should oversee them.

            The texts are at (2012), (2014), (2016), and (2018). Now, Snob journalist Ilya Ivanov offers a commentary on why these bills have appeared and why all have failed.

            He concludes, on the basis of his sources among the siloviki, that no Russian law defining the status of Russian private military companies is likely anytime soon given that Moscow has not decided exactly what it wants and prefers to have the flexibility that the lack of a law gives (

            What makes Ivanov’s discussion important is that each of the texts of the draft bills provides a window into the thinking of Russian officials about such organizations and the changes from one bill to the next provide a barometer of changes in Moscow’s approach since before Crimea up to the present.

            Konstantin Dobrynin, a senior and influential Moscow lawyers, says that “the first bill in 2012 differed from all succeeding ones by the fact that it presupposed the creation of Russian ‘private military companies’ was to provide on a contract basis military services exclusively to foreign legal persons and states.”

            “The bill directly says that the goals of the creation of private military compaies are the development and expansion of international military cooperation of the Russian Federatin, the establishment of suitable economic conditions for foreign legal persons for the investment of means toward the purchase of Russian military production,” he continues.

            And the 2012 bill, Dobrynin points out, suggests that “by a decision of the government of the Russian Federation, a private military company can be given Russian production of military purposes,’ that is, arms and weapons for use by foreign legal persons and foreign states.” In short, Russian private military companies in that version were to be arms merchants for the state.

            Later drafts, the lawyer says, talked about private military companies in more general terms and did not link them specifically to the promotion of the sale or spread of Russian military equipment and weapons.  And they focused more on the possible use of private military companies domestically than did the first.

            The first three bills were referred to committee and died there, but the 2018 version was immediately sent to the government for review, apparently because of concerns sparked by the death of 68 Russian citizens in Syria on February 7, 2019, who were employees of the Vagner Private Military Company.

            Two months later, the government received a response about the bill, and it was negative ( The regime said that provisions of the bill violated the Russian Constitution which prohibits “the creation and activity of social organizations, the goals and actions of which are directed at the creation of military formations.”

The draft bill violates the Constitution in another way, the government said. The basic law gives the govern exclusive rights to engage in Russian foreign relations, but the bill effectively delegates this to private persons. All bills required that these companies be registered with the state, but each specified a different body, also an indication of shifts behind the scenes.

The 2012 bill assigned that task to the govern as a whole. The 2014 version put the Federal Security Service in charge. The 2016 version divided that responsibility between the defense ministry for domestic cases and the ministry of industry and trade for such companies operating abroad.

According to Just Russia deputy Mikhail Yemelyanov who is behind the 2018 draft, “at the present moment at the top of the executive power of the Russian Federation does not exist an agreed-upon decision about laws regulating Russian private military companies, neither positive nor negative. The question has been put off ‘until the next upsurge of interest.”

But Snob’s Ivanov says his sources tell him that even that won’t be enough given the calculations and attitudes within the government.

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