On the 14th of February Moskovsky Komsomolets published an article about a scandal inside the Ministry of Internal Affairs and its plans for police reform. The author is parliamentarian and journalist Aleksandr Khinstein, who is well known for his personal attacks on high ranking officials in the so called power agencies. In Russia where black PR and politics frequently mix, you never know whether a man like Khinstein is motivated by personal grudge, genuine concern for the public well-being, that he is acting on someone’s orders or trying to impress the president. It could very well be all of the above. So, while we should take Khinsteins dish with a pinch of salt, there must be fire, where there is smoke. Blogger AGT has recently written a lengthy post about Khinstein.
The smoke comes with two components and some serious accusations, attempting to further weaken the position of Rashid Nurgaliyev, the Minister of Internal Affairs (MVD) and his most trusted deputy, general Aleksandr Smirnov. Please note that Khinstein does not attack the president’s reform agenda. It’s rather so that he doesn’t trust the current MVD leadership to execute the president’s agenda.
Firstly, Khinstein writes that on the 5th of February Nurgaliyev issued an order numbered 55 describing the reform of the MVD’s central apparatus. The order was sent to the regions, but should have never preceded the president’s decree for police reform. After interference from the Kremlin Nurgaliyev had his order withdrawn on the 7th, thereby creating – according to Khinstein – an unprecedented scandal. “It’s not hard to guess what words the regional chiefs now use to describe the central leadership. The system has never seen such a disgrace.” Subsequently, three deputy ministers openly criticized Smirnov for his unprofessionalism and amateurishness at a meeting with Nurgaliyev, Khinstein claims.
Secondly, the problem with order no. 55 is not just its timing. Under slogans of efficiency and personnel reduction the central apparatus will be reformed, but in fact following order no 55 the central apparatus will only increase in size from 2970 to 5183 people. Moreover the real personnel reduction of 22% in the regional subdivisions is hardly described or thought out. “When that’s reform, I am the Pope”, Khinstein writes. According to Khinstein, Smirnov even tried to create a separate meteorological research center within his subdivision.
In other words the necessity for reform is used the strengthen the central apparatus or to create extra jobs for friends and relatives, while the actual reduction is left to the regions, meaning less police on the streets, thereby endangering the safety of Russia’s citizens.
Khinstein continues by launching accusations at Nurgaliyev and Smirnov blaming them for not being able to prevent the bombing at Domodedovo airport. Khinstein has already made this connection in previous articles for Moskovsky Komsomolets.
Last week, Khinstein rumored that the transport police chiefs, who were fired by the president after the Domodovo bombing were still at their jobs, protected by Smirnov. This has been denied by the MVD itself and could very well be a canard.
More substantial is Khinstein accusation that Smirnov oversaw a previous round of reforms of amongst others the transport police, without coordinating the consequences with the Ministry of Transport and the Russian Railways. I remind the reader that security at Domodedovo airport was seriously hampered, because no one exactly knew which department was ultimately responsible for the publicly accessible areas of the airport.
In other words, Khinstein claims that Smirnov and Nurgaliyev have a history of thoughtless reforms in which departments responsible for the actual safety of citizens are either abolished or cut, without the central apparatus overseeing the consequences. Smirnov is described as a man who has had a desk job for 28 of the 30 years that he has worked for the MVD.
Providing illustrative examples, Khinstein writes how when the president made a surprise visit to Kiev station in Moscow and didn’t see any police force there, minister Nurgaliyev promised that the new reforms would remedy that. He also writes that after in 2005 two airplanes departing from Domodedovo were blown up, then president Putin ordered to increase the numbers of the transport police with 2500 people. Nurgaliyev, however, simply took police from the railway- and river stations and transferred them to the airports.
The image created by Khinstein is simple. The MVD minister and his deputy Smirnov have been taking both presidents for fools. The question is for how long, they may continue to do so. Medvedev has made police reform his priority and has personally been involved in including a Russian version of the Miranda rights into the new legislation. On the other hand, this is an election year and replacing a Minister of Internal Affairs carries a serious amount of risk or to put it differently requires delicate timing. Would Medvedev fire Nurgaliyev, after which there would be another terrorist attack, he himself may become the focal point of criticism.
Khinstein writes: “The MVD reform more and more resembles gibberish in uniform. There is no plan, no strategy, no accountable budget. It’s conducted chaotically and spasmodic, without consulting the opinion of professionals.” Even a Kolkhoz barn is build on the basis even sketches and strict observance of the measurements. Minister Nurgaliyev and his right hand, the staff reformer of the MVD, general Smirnov neither have the first nor the second. They seem to think they can change Russia’s ‘militsiya’ into a new and better police force, only by pointing with their magic finger. I wish, I wish …..”