Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 146

The Russian Interior Ministry (MVD) has successfully completed the first stage of its expanded security role in the aftermath of the Beslan tragedy. It has added to its current responsibilities an additional 440 sites throughout the Russian Federation, many of which include potential soft targets for terrorists. Colonel-General Nikolai Rogozhkin, Commander of the Interior Troops, confirmed that these sites ranged from kindergartens, schools, colleges, and hospitals to airports and railway stations. Given the heightened perception of possible attacks on a wide range of facilities, Rogozhkin believes that such reforms to the role of the Interior Troops will provide more diverse and potentially crucial protection to enhance Russia’s prophylactic counter-terrorism measures.

A key factor in the changes to the MVD’s security responsibilities lies in the role assigned to operational control groups within the Southern Federal District. These exist as special permanent bodies whose function is to carry out direct operational control over units deployed to combat terrorists, including special-purpose units of the Interior Ministry’s Troops, special-purpose police units (OMON), rapid-deployment units, and cooperating with units from the Ministries of Defense and Emergencies to manage the aftermath of attacks.

“A total of 12 special tactical exercises have been conducted since these groups were established in order to refine cooperation between various establishments involved in such groups, as well as their activities in an emergency,” observed Rogozhkin. This signals clear and decisive efforts to learn lessons from the ineffectual use of special forces during the Beslan siege and the reported mismanagement of the crisis.

Although such developments give rise to optimism for the commander of the MVD troops, continued bureaucratic wrangles are slowing the pace of reform towards achieving greater homeland security. One idea mooted within the power ministries has been the creation of a national guard based around the existing MVD forces. “Establishment of a national guard based on the Russian Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops is one of the options for transforming the Interior Ministry under the administrative reform. At the moment this issue is not included on the agenda,” Rogozhkin told a press conference in Moscow on December 9. In the absence of any political decision to explore such radical reforms, it is evident that MVD commanders would not oppose such moves, according to Rogozhkin.

It is unclear, however, how far the counter-terrorist agenda for reform within the MVD has gained support at senior levels. Rogozhkin has made clear that Chechnya remains his foremost priority next year, followed by providing security at over 100 nuclear power stations across Russia. Equally, he fears numerical cuts to his forces and the dilemma of facing overstretch in a period of reform and transition while faced with the ongoing operations in Chechnya. Indeed, keenly arguing his case and promoting the interests of his own forces, he has pointed to the overall improvement in security in Russia during the past decade. Weaknesses remain, in Rogozhkin’s opinion, “We must admit that nobody is guaranteed safety from terrorist attack under the circumstances of the ongoing fight against terrorism. But we are ready to combat existing threats.”

This sense of slow and incremental improvement to Russia’s security, and its progress in combating terrorism, is a feature of the thinking that denotes the rearguard action fought by the MVD in the internal wrangling over administrative reform, as well as its overall place in the reform of the armed forces. Key to advancing this argument within Moscow, as the detail of impending reforms are calculated, is the number of combat casualties in Chechnya. Reducing these undisclosed levels of loss, at least in terms of Russian security thinking, far from depending on negotiation and seeking political dialogue, hangs on the security forces themselves. In this theory, better management, streamlined coordination between security agencies, and diversifying their responsibilities are the cornerstone: Rogozhkin seems to exemplify such an approach. According to his view, reductions in Russian casualties in Chechnya in 2005 will be achieved by speeding up the transfer to a professional manning system within the units deployed there, combined with using more specialist units, thus reducing the exposure of poorly trained and poorly motivated conscripts to enemy action.

Once again, administrative reform and regrouping are offered to the Russian military as a replacement for real reform. Moreover, by expanding the role of the MVD in offering protection to a wider range of facilities and publicizing their role in the security of soft targets, the Russian public can be considered the focus of such maneuvers. After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin himself drew the parallel between the strong secure state and the current problems facing contemporary Russia. Little in the details of the MVD’s hopes to play a more crucial role in counter-terrorism, both in prevention and dealing with an attack or its consequences, gives grounds for believing that the Russian authorities have new ideas for combating terrorism. Rogozhkin illustrates the complex matrix of planning, readjusting, and improving existing security structures that must be undertaken to bolster public confidence in the Kremlin’s ability to combat terrorism effectively.

(Itar-Tass, Interfax, December 9-10).