MVD AND POLICE IN RUSSIA

POLICE IN RUSSIA

There are all kinds of police, security authorities and military forces that take care of police and military duties in Russia. Their responsibilities often overlap. The regular police are known as the MVD (Ministerstvo vnutrennikh del, or Ministry of Internal Affairs). The traffic police are known as the GAI. The nation police are the Federal Security Service (FSB). Police in St. Petersburg carry a Russian-made Makarov pistol.

Police are poorly paid. They generally earned only about $110 a month from their salaries in the early 2000s. Many police moonlight as security officers or some other job. Some quit to become body guards. Other pad their income through corruption. See Below

Many police are poorly trained. They often don't have guns, handcuffs, vehicles or computers. In some places they don't even have enough money for uniforms. Police work can be extremely dangerous, nearly twice as many are killed in the line of duty as in the United States. Vigilantism is alive in Russia. Some parks in Moscow are watched over by ultra-nationalist in para-military uniforms.

Police in Russia and the Soviet Union have traditionally been tough and conspicuous. Police have been allowed to search without warrants, arrests without charges and stop people on the streets without justifiable cause. They have also been put in charge of the prisons. Yeltsin gave the secret police broad powers as part of is his anti-crime initiative.

See Separate Article on the KGB

Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD)

Russia’s civilian police force, the militia, falls under the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Ministerstvo vnutrennikh del--MVD). Divided into public security units and criminal police, the militia is administered at federal, regional, and local levels. Security units, which are financed by local and regional funds, are responsible for routine maintenance of public order. The criminal police are divided into specialized units by type of crime. Among the latter units are the Main Directorate for Organized Crime and the Federal Tax Police Service. The latter agency now is independent. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

In 1998, the Ministry of Internal Affair oversaw 500,000 police and 257,000 internal troops. Since its establishment, the MVD has been plagued by low pay, low prestige, and a high corruption level. The autonomous Federal Security Service, whose main responsibility is counterintelligence and counterterrorism, also has broad law enforcement powers. In early 2006, President Putin called for a wholesale review of police practices at the city, district, and transport levels. *

Unlike the successor agencies to the KGB, the MVD did not undergo extensive reorganization after 1991. The MVD carries out regular police functions, including maintenance of public order and criminal investigation. It also has responsibility for fire fighting and prevention, traffic control, automobile registration, transportation security, issuance of visas and passports, and administration of labor camps and most prisons. *

MVD Organization

In 1996 the MVD was estimated to have 540,000 personnel, including the regular militia (police force) and MVD special troops but not including the ministry's Internal Troops. The MVD operates at both the central and local levels. The central system is administered from the ministry office in Moscow. As of mid-1996, the minister of internal affairs was General Anatoliy Kulikov. He replaced Viktor Yerin, who was dismissed in response to State Duma demands after the MVD mishandled the 1995 Budennovsk hostage crisis. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

MVD agencies exist at all levels from the national to the municipal. MVD agencies at lower operational levels conduct preliminary investigations of crimes. They also perform the ministry's policing, motor vehicle inspection, and fire and traffic control duties. MVD salaries are generally lower than those paid in other agencies of the criminal justice system. Reportedly, staffers are poorly trained and equipped, and corruption is widespread. *

Until 1990 Russia's regular militia was under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union. At that time, the Russian Republic established its own MVD, which assumed control of the republic's militia. In the late 1980s, the Gorbachev regime had attempted to improve training, tighten discipline, and decentralize the administration of the militia throughout the Soviet Union so that it might respond better to local needs and deal more effectively with drug trafficking and organized crime. Some progress was made toward these objectives despite strong opposition from conservative elements in the CPSU leadership. However, after 1990 the redirection of MVD resources to the Internal Troops and to the MVD's new local riot squads undercut militia reform. In the August 1991 coup against the Gorbachev government, most Russian police remained inactive, although some in Moscow joined the Yeltsin forces that opposed the overthrow of the government. *

In early 1996, a reorganization plan was proposed for the MVD, with the aim of more effective crime prevention. The plan called for increasing the police force by as many as 90,000, but funding was not available for such expansion. Meanwhile, the MVD recruited several thousand former military personnel, whose experience reduced the need for police training. At the end of 1995, the MVD reported debts of US$717 million, including US$272 million in overdue wages. In February 1996, guards at a jail and a battalion of police escorts went on a hunger strike; at that point, some of the MVD's Internal Troops had not been paid for three months. Minister of Internal Affairs Kulikov described the ministry's 1996 state budget allocation of US$5.2 billion as wholly inadequate to fulfill its missions. Participation in the Chechnya campaign added enormously to ministry expenditures. *

MVD Duties

The MVD's militia is used for ordinary policing functions such as law enforcement on the streets, crowd control, and traffic control. As part of a trend toward decentralization, some municipalities, including Moscow, have formed their own militias, which cooperate with their MVD counterpart. Although a new law on self-government supports such local law enforcement agencies, the Yeltsin administration attempted to head off further moves toward independence by strictly limiting local powers. The regular militia does not carry guns or other weapons except in emergency situations, such as the parliamentary crisis of 1993, when it was called upon to fight antigovernment crowds in the streets of Moscow. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

The militia is divided into local public security units and criminal police. The security units run local police stations, temporary detention centers, and the State Traffic Inspectorate. They deal with crimes outside the jurisdiction of the criminal police and are charged with routine maintenance of public order. The criminal police are divided into organizations responsible for combating particular types of crime. *

The Main Directorate for Organized Crime (Glavnoye upravleniye organizovannogo prestupleniya--GUOP) works with other agencies such as the MVD's specialized rapid-response detachments; in 1995 special GUOP units were established to deal with contract killings and other violent crimes against individuals. The Federal Tax Police Service deals primarily with tax evasion and similar crimes. In an attempt to improve Russia's notoriously inefficient tax collection operation, the Federal Tax Police Service received authority in 1995 to carry out preliminary criminal investigations independently. The 1996 budget authorized a staff of 38,000 for this agency. *

MVD Internal Troops

The MVD's Internal Troops, estimated to number 260,000 to 280,000 in mid-1996, are better equipped and trained than the regular militia. The size of the force, which is staffed by both conscripts and volunteers, has grown steadily through the mid-1990s, although the troop commander has reported serious shortages of officers. Critics have noted that the Internal Troops have more divisions in a combat-ready state than do the regular armed forces. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

According to the Law on Internal Troops, issued in October 1992, the functions of the Internal Troops are to ensure public order; guard key state installations, including nuclear power plants; guard prisons and labor camps (a function that was to end in 1996); and contribute to the territorial defense of the nation. It was under the last mandate that Internal Troops were deployed in large numbers after the December 1994 invasion of Chechnya. *

In November 1995, MVD troops in Chechnya totaled about 23,500. This force included unknown proportions of Internal Troops, specialized rapid-response troops, and special military detachments. Internal Troops are equipped with guns and combat equipment to deal with serious crimes, terrorism, and other extraordinary threats to public order. In 1995 the crime rate among Internal Troops personnel doubled. A contributing factor was a steep increase in desertions that coincided with service in Chechnya, where the Internal Troops were routinely used for street patrols in 1995. *

OMON

The Special Forces Police Detachment (Otryad militsii osobogo naznacheniya--OMON), commonly known as the Black Berets, is a highly trained elite branch of the public security force of the MVD militia. Established in 1987, OMON is assigned to emergency situations such as hostage crises, widespread public disturbances, and terrorist threats. In the Soviet period, OMON forces also were used to quell unrest in rebellious republics. In the 1990s, OMON units have been stationed at transportation hubs and population centers. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

OMON act as a unit of police commandos. They are trained are perform duties like the Green Berets but they are part of the police. At the home they are involved in riot control and busting organized crime members. In Chechnya and other places they have been called in to “cleanse” areas after they have been seized by the army. The Moscow contingent, reportedly 2,000 strong, receives support from the mayor's office and the city's internal affairs office as well as from the MVD budget. OMON units have the best and most up-to-date weapons and combat equipment available, and they enjoy a reputation for courage and effectiveness.

Describing an OMON commando, Maura Reynolds wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "Over a green track suit he pulls on baggy camouflage pants. He secures them in a heavy belt that includes a sheath for a wicked-looking 8-inch blade. He pulls on a gray knit sweater, padded jacket, camouflage shirt and puffy vest bristling with grenades, ammunition, cartridges and flares. Finally he takes out a thick black head scarf...and ties the ends tightly at the back of his head."

Internal Security After the Soviet Union Break Up

Russia's internal security apparatus underwent fundamental changes beginning in 1992, after the Soviet Union dissolved and what had been the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) was reconstituted as the Russian Federation. These changes, initiated by the government of Russian Federation president Boris N. Yeltsin, were part of a more general transition experienced by Russia's political system. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

The state security apparatus was restructured in the period after 1991, when the functions of the KGB were distributed among several agencies. In that period, the interactions among those agencies and the future course of internal security policy became key issues for the Russian government. As the debate proceeded and the Yeltsin government's hold on power became weaker in the mid-1990s, some aspects of the Soviet-era internal security system remained in place, and some earlier reforms were reversed. Because Yeltsin was perceived to use the security system to bolster presidential power, serious questions arose about Russia's acceptance of the rule of law. *

In the same period, Russia suffered an escalating crime wave that threatened an already insecure society with a variety of physical and economic dangers. In the massive economic transformation of the 1990s, organized-crime organizations pervaded Russia's economic system and fostered corruption among state officials. White-collar crime, already common in the Soviet period, continued to flourish. The incidence of random crimes of violence and theft also continued to increase in the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, Russia's police were handicapped in their efforts to slow the crime rate by a lack of expertise, funding, and support from the judicial system. In response to public outrage at this situation, the Yeltsin government increased the powers of internal security agencies, endangering the protections theoretically enjoyed by private citizens in post-Soviet Russia. *

Law Enforcement in Russia in the 1990s

In the absence of a comprehensive overhaul of the Criminal Code, Yeltsin responded to the growing problem of crime by enacting measures that broadly expanded police powers. In June 1994, he issued a presidential decree, Urgent Measures to Implement the Program to Step Up the Fight Against Crime. The decree included major steps to increase the efficiency of the law enforcement agencies, including material incentives for the staff and better equipment and resources. The decree also called for an increase of 52,000 in the strength of the MVD Internal Troops and for greater coordination in the operations of the Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK), the MVD, and other law enforcement bodies. Control over the issuing of entry visas and the private acquisition of photocopiers was to be tightened. The decree also mandated the preparation of laws broadening police rights to conduct searches and to carry weapons. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Yeltsin's anticrime decree had the stated purpose of preserving the security of the society and the state; however, the system of urgent measures it introduced had the effect of reducing the rights of individuals accused of committing crimes. Under the new guidelines, individuals suspected of serious offenses could be detained up to thirty days without being formally charged. During that time, suspects could be interrogated and their financial affairs examined. The secrecy regulations of banks and commercial enterprises would not protect suspects in such cases. Intelligence service representatives have the authority to enter any premises without a warrant, to examine private documents, and to search automobiles, their drivers, and their passengers. Human rights activists protested the decree as a violation of the 1993 constitution's protection of individuals from arbitrary police power. Already in 1992, Yeltsin had expanded the infamous Article 70, a Soviet-era device used to silence political dissent, which criminalized any form of public demand for change in the constitutional system, as well as the formation of any assemblage calling for such measures. *

Meanwhile, the Russian police immediately began acting on their broad mandate to fight crime. In the summer of 1994, the Moscow MVD carried out a citywide operation called Hurricane that employed about 20,000 crack troops and resulted in 759 arrests. A short time later, the FSK reported that its operatives had arrested members of a right-wing terrorist group, the so-called Werewolf Legion, who were planning to bomb Moscow cinemas. Although crime continued to rise after Yeltsin's decree, the rate of crime solving improved from its 1993 level of 51 percent to 65 percent in 1995, assumedly because of expanded police powers. *

Although the Russian parliament opposed many of Yeltsin's policies, the majority of deputies were even more inclined than Yeltsin to expand police authority at the expense of individual rights. In July 1995, the State Duma passed the new Law on Operational-Investigative Activity, which had been introduced by the Yeltsin administration to replace Article 70. The law widened the list of agencies entitled to conduct investigations, at the same time broadening the powers of all investigatory agencies beyond those stipulated in the earlier law. *

Solving Crimes in Russia

The police rely on interrogations and confessions to solve most of their crimes, Sometimes there methods of extracting confessions involves torture. A member of a human right groups told the Washington Post, “Our estimates based on interviewing judges who hear cases is that at least one third of all convictions, and probably more, are based on evidence that extracted using physical force.” See Below

Sometimes physicists are brought in to help solve cases. Mikhail M. Gerasimov (1907- 1970) developed a theory for approximating the faces. Gerasimov was Russian archeologist, paleontologist and sculptor who developed a theory for approximating the faces of Ice Age hunters and famous people like Ivan the Terrible, Tamerlane and the poet Schiller by analyzing their skull features. His techniques have been adopted by forensics experts around the world to identify victims of murder, war crimes and other atrocities whose bones were found but not identified. Scientists using his techniques have re-created the faces of King Tut, the 9,200-year-old Kennewick Man found in the northwest United States, and all the great czars.

Gerasimov was the not the first to re-create faces based on skulls but was the first to use scientific methods to do so. Tapping into his vast reservoir of knowledge of facial and skull features based on years of working in forensic science, archeology and anthropology, he applied strips of clay to a cast of skull to create likeness of skull’s owner. Gerasimov was the inspiration for the brilliant scientist, who helps solve the murder of thee victims who had their faces peeled away in the novel Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith and a film based on the novel with William Hurt.

Problems with the Russian Police

The police in Russia are largely dismissed as incompetent, corrupt, violent and insensitive to the needs of ordinary people. During the communist era Russians told jokes about policemen just as American used to tell Polack jokes. But what the police did in real life was often more absurd than the jokes. Once, in an attempt to crack down on disciples of a religious faith, Russian police raided a market before Easter and seized all the easter eggs. Today, bribery of police officers to avoid arrest for traffic violations and petty crimes is a routine and expected occurrence.

Ordinary Russians complain that police bust in to houses without warrants, fail to prosecute gangsters they catch and urge victims of crimes not to purse the matter. The police do so little to solve crime that most victims of crime fail to lodge a complaint because they now nothing will be done. Police usually blow off ordinary citizens with complaints of crimes. After murders Russian police often don't even bother to file a report. Of the dozens of high profile murders committed in Moscow and St. Petersburg in the 1990s none were solved.

Throughout the first half of the 1990s, the MVD—Russia's main police force—functioned with minimal arms, equipment, and support from the national legal system. The inadequacy of the force became particularly apparent in the wave of organized crime that began sweeping over Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many highly qualified individuals moved from the the MVD into better-paying jobs in the field of private security, which has expanded to meet the demand of companies needing protection from organized crime. Frequent bribe taking among the remaining members of the MVD damaged the force's public credibility. Numerous revelations of participation by militia personnel in murders, prostitution rings, information peddling, and tolerance of criminal acts created a general public perception that all police were at least taking bribes. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996]

In a survey in 2005 in Russia, 71 percent of the respondents said they didn’t trust the police and only two percent said they thought the police acted within the law (the number approaches zero if people with relatives in law enforcement were removed from the survey). In a 1995 poll, only 5 percent of respondents expressed confidence in the ability of the police to deal with crime in their city. In 2003, 1,400 Russian police officers were convicted of crimes, 800 of them for bribe taking.

Human Rights Abuses by Russian Police

Human rights organizations have accused the Moscow MVD of racism in singling out non-Slavic individuals (especially immigrants from Russia's Caucasus republics), physical attacks, unjustified detention, and other rights violations. In 1995, Minister of Internal Affairs Anatoliy Kulikov conducted a high-profile "Clean Hands Campaign" to purge the MVD police forces of corrupt elements. In its first year, this limited operation caught several highly placed MVD officials collecting bribes, indicating a high level of corruption throughout the agency. *

Human rights groups report that suspects are routinely beaten, tortured and even killed while in police custody. Arrest are sometimes made by police wearing masks who jump and tackle their suspects. Sometimes witnesses think the suspects are kidnapped by terrorists not arrested by police. One man, who was beaten up badly in such an arrest, told the Washington Post, “From nowhere people wearing masks grabbed me and twisted my hands behind my. They pushed me onto to the ground and kicked me...I was in shock, terrified.” Another man who was taken away by police while walking with his one-year-old son in a stroller said the stroller and the child were left on the sidewalk as the man was taken away. [Source: Washington Post]

In the Volga city of Nizhniy Novgorod one man told a United Nations human group that in 2002 he had his face covered with a gas mask and the air cut off, a technique known as the “little elephant.” A number of juvenile suspects in Tatarstan said that in 2003 they had their head shoved into toilets and their throats stuffed with rags, In Moscow in 2004, a man suspected of being a terrorist was beaten so badly that his wife was unable to identify his corpse. Another man said in 2005 he was forced to shout “I love the police!” as he was beaten with a baton.

One human rights researcher told the Washington Post, “Police can beat up suspects in any country, but in Russia the problem is simply massive.” Statistics on police brutality are not available to the public. A survey done between 2002 and 2004 found that 5.2 percent of Russians have been victims of violence at the hands of police. Some of the worst abuses are reportedly carried out by veterans of the Chechen conflict.

Poor Treatment of Suspects in Russia

Suspects are often kept in cells stuffed with other prisoners and a stinking hole-toilet in one corner and given painful blood tests with a thick needle. Suspects are beaten or are not fed to extract a confession. Prisons are full of informers who try to get prisoners to talk about their cases and then use the information against them. Witnesses are often coerced or given promises of leniency if they are prisoners or criminals.

Suspects can be detained with no charges for 73 hours. It is not unusual for suspects to be imprisoned for 18 months before they have a trial. The New York Times talked to one man who was arrested for stealing about $5 and had spent 10 months awaiting trial in a lice-ridden, rat-infested cell with 100 men, who slept by sharing beds in three shifts.

One man told the Washington Post that he was tortured for nine days, sometimes with electric wires attached to his ear lobes. Even though he didn’t commit the crime he caved in and signed a confession for raping and murdering a 17-year-old girl. After being brought before a prosecutor and retracting his confession, he faced another round of torture. This time he leapt through a third floor window and broke his back in a suicide attempt. Later, the supposed murder victim turned up alive. It turned out she’d been on partying binge lasted several weeks.

Police and Corruption in Russia

On report on police corruption concluded the police are “absolutely corrupt and consequently absolutely not effective.” A human rights activist told the Washington Post, corruption among police and security forces “has become the normal way of doing business. It’s not seen as weird behavior when someone gives bribes or takes bribes. That’s normal.”

The GAI (pronounced "gaiyee") traffic police are notorious for routinely pulling cars aside for small infractions and demanding a bribe of about $12. A speeding ticket can be erased for as little as $2. Getting out of a drunk driving charge costs a little more: about $100. Hard working traffic police can earn enough in one year to buy a Russian car, enough in three years to buy a foreign car. In five years they can buy an apartment.

A number of jokes about the GAI circulate around Russia. In one joke a police officer asks his boss for raise because his wife is pregnant. His boss says there is no money but says he can help another way by lending the policemen a 40kph road sign that for a week. [Source: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times, November 16, 1999]

According to experts, the main causes of corruption are insufficient funding to train and equip personnel and pay them adequate wages, poor work discipline, lack of accountability, and fear of reprisals from organized criminals. Rather than being outraged by police corruption many Russians express sympathy for the police because they are paid so little. One woman told the New York Times, "Nobody gets paid enough so everyone must make money on the side through bribes or payoffs of one kind or another. People create their own rules, which actually make more sense than those that government tries to impose."

Some police extort protection money like gangsters. In some cases, the police are the gangsters. Yevegeny Roitman, the head of an organized crime fighting team in town of Tver, ran a local extortion racket and drove around in new Audi and had a flashy apartment. In 1995, after several years of doing pretty much what he wanted, he was arrested on charges of murder and influence peddling.

Bodyguards and Crime Protection in Russia

These days people with a lot of money and no faith in the police hire their own bodyguards, many of them veterans of the KGB and special forces in the military. The best paid ones had combat experience in the Afghan and Chechen wars. Even the Guardian Angels have shown up in Moscow.

Warehouses and business are protected by former members of the KGB's elite Alpha Group. Agencies offering personal bodyguards are doing good business. Several bodyguard schools offering two-year programs have opened. There is even a Russian magazine called Bodyguard. Many women are undergoing training in martial arts and weapons to become bodyguards

People often don't travel a night out of fear of banditry. Some pricey restaurants have metal detectors and require patrons to check their guns at the door. Shops sell bulletproof jumpsuits, computerized lie detectors, tracking systems for stolen cars, gas masks, and computerized security systems. Even subway station panhandlers keep a dog by their side for protection.

The "Kriminal Show 94" was a kind of trade fair for people seeking bodyguards and security services. Riot troops in black masks demonstrated to free hostages, paratroopers dropped into burning buildings, Land Rovers dodged grenades and snipers fired at bank robbers to the sound blues music from a live band. Competitions included the storming banks to rescue hostages, killing terrorists without harming their prisoners and ruthlessly beating up thugs and shooting them with paint bullets. A panel of judges determined winners of the basis of technique, speed, stealth, effectiveness and style. "One of the main events was the siege of a money exchange branch," wrote Michael Specter in the New York Times. "Criminals surrounded guards as they walked towards the building carrying huge moneybags. Each guard had one minute to overcome and handcuff his attacker."

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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