By Gordon M. Hahn
The U.S. mainstream media (MSM) continues to distort politics in Russia. The recent trend to portray President Dmitrii Medvedev’s order for fundamental reform of the corrupt Ministry of Internal Affairs as a superficial initiative is a case in point. One example was Newsweek’s March 8, 2010 article “Moscow's Phony Liberal” by Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova.
A more recent example of this biased reporting trend comes from The Economist. In its March 20-26 issue this is how it described the MVD reforms: “Dmitry Medvedev…called for reform of the interior ministry. Yet this reform involves cutting police numbers by 20% and centralising control over regional police.” (“Police brutality in Russia - Cops for hire,” The Economist, March 20-26, 2010.) Not only does The Economist denigrate the scale of the reform proposed by an increasingly emboldened Medvedev, but implies that, if anything, it is counterreform. This spin can only be driven by lack of information or a desire to disinform.
First, the aspects of the reform mentioned are but two out of nine measures included in Medvedev’s December decree.
Second, the two aspects mentioned are not the most important by a long shot. Some of the other critical measures are: a complete overhaul of the police recruitment standards and screening process in order to weed out potentially corrupt, criminal, and violent elements; a fundamental reform of the MVD’s various police academies so they educate recruits on the protection of citizens’ rights and anti-corruption measures; mandatory reporting on income and property holdings by MVD officials and police; and the removal from the MVD of extraneous functions that breed corruption. (For a brief but detailed analysis of Medvedev’s MVD reform decree, see Gordon M. Hahn, “Medvedev’s Thaw Hits at Russia’s Lack of Rule of Law,” Russia Media Watch, Other Points of View: Russia Media Watch, 12 January 2010, www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/2010/01/medvedevs-thaw-hits-at-russias-lack-of-the-rule-of-law.html#more.)
Third, the implications of those aspects of the reforms that are mentioned are left out, thereby diminishing undertanding of the reform’s potential. MVD staff cuts have been pushed by liberal human rights and anti-corruption activists for years. Now that the Kremlin has obliged, the MSM deems it unimportant. The plan is to weed out corrupt and unreliable elements and use the savings to boost the salaries of those officials and officers who remain, so they will be less likely to demand bribes, steal businesses, and the like.
The centralizing aspect of the reform can also have a curative effect on corruption and criminality, since many regional and local MVD departments are corrupted and protected by regional officials and local mafias. Central control, plus the rotation of MVD and police officials from one region to another, is planned by the reform. These can help break up corrupt and criminalized local and regional clans. Such clans depend on their control of local police to protect themselves from investigation for violating civil, human and political rights of economic competitors and political opponents.
To be sure, Medvedev’s planned reform can be watered down before or obstructed after its passage into law, but to distort and minimize the plan’s design as sketched out by Medvedev, is inaccurate and dishonest.
Dr. Gordon M. Hahn – Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; Senior Researcher, Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program and Visiting Assistant Professor, Graduate School of International Policy Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, California; and Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group. Dr Hahn is author of two well-received books, Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007) and Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), and numerous articles on Russian and Eurasian politics.