Sunday, January 5, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Overstretched and Desperate, Moscow Sends Troops to Stavropol to Act as Police

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 6 – Russia’s 49th Army has announced that it is sending to Stavropol kray “special patrols” consisting of soldiers to act as police, a step that reflects the deteriorating security situation in that region, a lack of confidence in the reliability and effectiveness of the local police, and a dangerous blurring of the functions of the military and the police.

                As of January 1 and in the wake of the Volgograd bombing, Kavkaz-uzel reports, the Russian military has dispatched “special creating supplemental patrols” of uniformed military to guard critical infrastructure in Stavropol and several other major cities in the kray (

            These military units, commanders say, will work together with the local police and with Cossack units. Elsewhere in Stavropol kray, army units will be kept on high alert so that they can be dispatched to any location where there might be problems beyond the capacity of the local police to meet.

            MVD officers in Pyatigorsk report that the Russian army is taking the same steps there, an indication that the Kremlin appears to have made a broader decision to take this step across the region even though it has not yet issued such an order in public.

            That last danger is something Moscow and Western analysts have been warning about for some time. By transferring MVD officers to the Sochi area, they say, Moscow has likely improved security in the immediate area of the Games but left other areas relatively unprotected and thus more likely targets for attack, as was the case in Volgograd.

            That is a serious problem because it calls attention to two others: the underdevelopment of police forces in many parts of Russia and a dangerous blurring of responsibilities between those of the police and those of the armed services.

            To speak of the underdevelopment of the police in Russia may seem a contradiction in terms, but in fact there are good reasons for doing so.  At the end of the tsarist period, for example, when many viewed Russia as nothing more than a police state, St. Petersburg spent on the police per capita three percent of the amount spent on police in Italy at the same time.

            That meant that the state had the ability to launch demonstrative attacks on occasion but not to police the country effectively on a daily basis. That led simultaneously to often thuggish behavior by the authorities and to increasing alienation of the population from the authorities who could be cruel but were often not effective.

            In Soviet and post-Soviet times, of course, Moscow has spent more on police than in the past, but as students of the subject have pointed out, many of the police are used less to prevent crime or violence than to maintain control over the population (and to extract money from it corruptly), a major reason most Russians have such a low opinion of the police.

            But it is the blurring of responsibilities between the police and the armed services that is particularly worrying, not just because it points in the direction of the construction of a police state but also because it means that police work as normally understood will be done even more poorly and that the authorities will intervene too late to prevent disasters.

            According to generally accepted definitions, “the police are primarily responsible for the maintenance of public order [and the] prevention and detection of crimes” ( The military in contrast is “an organization authorized ... to use lethal force ... in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats” (

                As can be seen, the functions of the two, while they touch at certain points, are not the same, and the introduction of any confusion creates dangers. The military is trained to use violence against opponents, often to destroy them altogether.  The police on the other hand are supposed to employ it in a far more limited way to enforce laws.

            When conditions deteriorate beyond a certain point, the military can be and often is used to restore order to the point where the police can perform normally. But organizing joint patrols for an indeterminate period almost certainly means that the rules that guide the one will affect the other to the detriment of both.

            Thus, taking a step which seems so minor is a confirmation of just how desperate the situation has become in many parts of the North Caucasus before the Sochi Olympiad and how likely it is that Russia’s forces of order there will in the event of violence shoot first and ask questions only later, a pattern that is anything but reassuring for residents and visitors alike.


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