ROAR: Military police will defend soldiers from soldiers

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Russia’s Defense Minister is expected to sign an order setting up military police in the armed forces. MPs may start working in 2010 after all organizational issues are resolved and corresponding legislation is adopted.

The new structure will be effective only if it is independent of the Defense Ministry, headed by Anatoly Serdyukov, analysts and human rights activists believe.

The policemen, most part of them present contract soldiers, will be subordinated to the first deputy defense minister.

The purpose of the new law enforcement organ, which will comprise about 5,000 officers, is to strengthen the fight against crimes in the Russian army and navy, the media say.

The police will also guard military facilities and ensure security and discipline in the armed forces. Thus, army officers will be able to pay more attention to military training of the soldiers, rather than settling conflicts in barracks.

Military police should prevent such crimes as racket, extortion, abuse and others. So far the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office has been involved in this kind of work, Vesti FM radio said. However, prosecutors mainly investigate the crimes that have already happened.

Some observers believe the police in the armed forces will help fight hazing of young soldiers by older ones.

A military police force exists in 44 armies around the world, including armies of some former Soviet republics: Armenia, Georgia and the Baltic countries.

The issue of the new law enforcement body in Russia has been discussed since early October and received mixed reactions from servicemen, politicians and human rights activists. However the idea was first floated back in 1998.

In 2005, Russian Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin supported the idea. Then-President Vladimir Putin spoke about the need to introduce military police in 2006, after a series of scandals involving hazing in the army.

The plan has had its opponents. Chief Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinsky spoke against it in 2007. He said that there is no guarantee that “the army will not get the same violations that many accuse police of,” Gazeta.ru said. Now, many still support him.

President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, Leonid Ivashov, described the new organ as “unnecessary.” He believes that commandants’ offices in the armed forces should continue to ensure security in military units and garrisons.

“Of course, it is easier to destroy what we have or rename commandants’ offices,” Ivashov told Gazeta daily, adding that so far the whole military reform has not been successful.

Some human rights activists welcomed the establishment of military police, but noted that its effectiveness will depend on how the reform will be implemented. Now many of them complain that it is still unclear what the structure of the new law enforcement will look like.

Sergey Krivenko, coordinator of the public organization “Citizen and the army” told Gazeta daily that military police will be effective only if “a civil structure: Prosecutor General’s Office – the investigative committee – police,” is repeated in the armed forces. In this case the novelty will seriously improve the situation in the army, he said. However, if the reform simply comes to replacing soldiers who are on sentry duty by military policemen, “there will be no effect,” he said.

Lyudmila Alekseeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, also doubts that a new police structure is necessary. “I am categorically against it, because we have more different police, militia structures and troops than any European country has,” she was quoted by the media as saying.

Other observers think that military police will be “closer to the army” and work as a part of it, Vesti FM said. But critics consider it a weak part of the reform because the “military will watch and check themselves,” it added.

Some analysts note that the status of military police is still to be determined by legislation. It is also unclear what laws the policemen will be guided by in their activities. The new organ may become a fully-fledged institute of control over servicemen or “another structure that consumes budget money without any result,” Vesti FM said.

Vladimir Yevseev of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations said that the issue of personnel for the new police is important. So far, officers or soldiers have been involved in the activities that military policemen will do in the future, he told Gazeta.ru website.

However, the most important thing is that military police “should not depend on command of military units,” he said. Rather, policemen should subordinate to commanders of garrisons, he added. But if the Defense Ministry wants to strengthen discipline in the armed forces, then “there are commandants for this,” Yevseev said, adding that it is easier to simply widen their authorities.

“The commandants are able to implement all the functions that the Defense Ministry is speaking about,” agrees Valentina Melnikova, chair of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers. “And the establishment of military police where 5,000 people will serve resembles an attempt to employ servicemen somehow,” she told Gazeta.ru.

If the Defense Ministry wants to create a new structure in 2010, “then a corresponding law is needed which should determine the status of these policemen, their rights and duties,” Melnikova said.

Meanwhile, deputy chairman of the State Duma’s Defense Committee Mikhail Babich told the website that the work on these documents has not been started yet.

Melnikova also said that “many countries have professional armies and military police observe their activities outside garrisons.” In Russia, servicemen spend most of their time on the garrison’s territories. “What will the police be doing? Fighting hazing? For this, a policeman should be stationed in every barrack,” she told Komemrsant daily.

Colonel-General (rtd.) and former State Duma deputy Eduard Vorobyev believes that the establishment of military police will be positive for the Russian armed forces. One of the most important reasons behind the introduction of the new institute is the problem of hazing in the military, and fighting these kinds of crimes is one of the most important tasks, he told RT. However, he stressed that this police force should be independent and their activities should be based on special laws.

Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin also believes that military police will be effective body only if “it is not subordinate to the Defense Ministry.” Otherwise, the initiative is “senseless because the military officials will be in charge of another bureaucratic structure,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily quoted him as saying.

The ombudsman does not see the police as part of the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office either and he thinks that military policemen should be “autonomous in their activities.”

Sergey Borisov, RT