Staunton, September 23 – Some Russian commentators have expressed surprise over Vladimir Putin’s directive this week creating a network of political officers within the Russian Guard (tass.ru/armiya-i-opk/9512451) given that at present, there is no official ideology of the kind that politruks promoted in Soviet times.
But that ignores the other function political officers had in Soviet times and apparently will have again: to monitor the political reliability of officers and men and thus serve as an additional control over a group the Kremlin must rely on. That Putin has now decided he needs that says something about his own assessment of the reliability of this inner defense structure. When Viktor Zolotov, the commander of the Russian Guard, spoke earlier this year of the possibility of creating such a structure, he implicitly alluded to this function when he suggested the political officers would work to ensure the “moral and psychological” readiness of these forces and ensure obedience (tass.ru/obschestvo/7945935).
Putin re-introduced politruks into the Russian army in the summer of 2018, and his decision to extend that arrangement into the Russian Guard simply closes a circle. But because the Russian Guard combines police and national defense operations, many in Russia are concerned about this, Sergey Aksyonov says (svpressa.ru/society/article/276620/).
The Svobodnaya Pressa commentator spoke with four experts about the possible meaning of the introduction of politruks in the Russian Guards:
· Mikhail Pashkin, head of the Police and Russian Guards Interregional Labor Union, notes that in Soviet times, the politruks were subordinate to the CPSU rather than to the officer corps. How Moscow might duplicate that is hard to imagine. There is a risk that Chernomyrdin’s observation about attempts and achievements will again prove true.
· Dmitry Agranovsky, a lawyer and rights activist, says that he hopes that the new politruks will not engage in witch hunts but promote an understanding about the Russian Guards that in defending the state, they must also respect the rights and freedoms of Russians as specified in the Constitution.
· Aleksandr Zhilin, head of the Moscow Center for the Study of Social Problems of National Security, says that the politruks in the Russian Guard can help the Kremlin avoid the emergence of a situation like that in Belarus. But there are nonetheless many questions that Putin’s decree doesn’t answer.
· And rights activist Igor Kalyapin says that the new politruks will play an important role if they promote an understanding of the laws of the Russian Federation among the Russian Guards, many of whom seem to be lacking in that regard at the present time.