Russian Intelligence Granted New Powers over Citizens

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 139

On July 6, the Russian ministry of communications posted its Order 65, on its official website ( Effective as of July 21, the order decrees that Russian postal services must make available for inspection on demand to the Federal Security Service (the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet KGB) and seven other Russian security service agencies any private mail or shipments, as well as its exhaustive data on senders and addressees. Special rooms where security officers will be able to open and inspect private mail were decreed to be established at post offices. Order 65 also cancels the privacy of electronic correspondence. Operators will now formally grant the security services access to their electronic databases.

Though Soviet or Russian security services never hesitated to intercept, monitor, inspect or confiscate private correspondence, nothing like Order 65 has ever occurred openly, formally or so blatantly -not even under Soviet rule.

Order 65 is in manifest contravention of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a United Nations treaty, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -Russia is a signatory to both. It is also in contravention of Article 23 of the Russian constitution, which proclaims the complete privacy of telephone, postal and other communications and states unequivocally that this privacy can be lifted solely on the authority of the courts.

However, Order 65 contains no reference to making private correspondence available to the security services on the strength of a court decision. The Order leaves such decisions at the discretion of the security services. In 2000 and 2007 the Russian supreme court (and also in 2003 in the constitutional court) upheld Article 23 of the constitution, and ruled that mail operators could not disclose private correspondence or telephone communications to the security services, without first securing a court order (, July 15).

Yuri Vdovin, a prominent St. Petersburg’s based human rights activist, told the Echo Moskvy Radio that Order 65 signifies a decisive step towards a totalitarian state. Unless this is revoked, Vdovin maintains, the next steps will include unlawful detentions and searches. Vdovin believes that the authorities are seeking ways to prevent possible social unrest, and take under their control any structures that might emerge in order "not to let the people speak their mind" (, July 15).

At the same time as this secret police surveillance of correspondence was openly decreed, the ministry of the interior (the MVD) were setting up special regional task forces to keep track of public attitudes, in an effort to prevent public protests, caused by the worsening economic situation in Russia. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told the press that he expected this effort to allow the police and authorities to work preemptively and prevent an escalation of protests during the economic crisis. Nurgaliyev wants incoming evidence of growing social tension to be analyzed. If economic factors are deemed responsible, police will inform local officials and the government in order to launch preventive measures jointly, and keep any potential unrest under control (, July 15).

To complement this massive gathering of information, the MVD is also strengthening its already considerable forces to act on the basis of the information obtained. In the Moscow suburbs, they are now forming a new elite brigade named "avant-garde," which will specialize in maintaining public order during large-scale demonstrations. The force is expected to deploy across the country at short notice (, July 15).

These latest steps form a new chapter in Russia’s progression towards a totalitarian state, and they logically complement previous punitive measures, launched by the Putin government, previously highlighted by the Jamestown Foundation (EDM, January 5). Some Russian experts now estimate the total strength of the MVD and other security forces at 2.5 million, which are assigned to crush the projected domestic protests. They see this process as a crisis demanding the militarization of the state (, July 14).

New repressive steps add to this sense of militarization. They also serve as additional proof that the authorities anticipate mass riots as the economy shrinks. Indeed, speaking at the presentation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) report on Russia’s economy on July 14, the Economic Minister Elvira Nabiullina said that the economy had shrunk by 10.1 percent in the first half of this year, marking its worst decline since the early 1990’s (, July 15).

Nabiullina also said that now the Russian government expected the economy to contract by 8 to 8.5 percent by the end of 2009. In fact, Russian officials view these figures as positive, as they had projected a 10.4 percent drop in the first half of 2009. They also maintain that the 14.8 percent industrial production decline in the first six months of 2009 is actually a victory, as their expectations had been worse (, July 15).

However, the populace whose income has shrunk or totally evaporated are not sophisticated enough or sufficiently grateful to appreciate these subtle nuances of success. They are growing increasingly restive. Hence, more punitive and repressive steps are being implemented by the authorities. These steps also prove that the authorities are using the crisis as an excuse to tighten up the police screws within their much desired totalitarian state. That is the natural outcome of Putin’s "sovereign democracy."