Russian Defense Minister, Anatoliy Serdyukov has announced the creation of a new structure in the Russian Armed Forces: Military Police. The long mooted initiative marks the first appearance of this structure tasked with improving life in the barracks and tackling “hooliganism.” Yet, in all the areas of the reform agenda that involved introducing features present in foreign militaries, but absent or weak in the Russian Armed Forces, confusion, lack of clarity and experiment have been the hallmarks.
On numerous occasions since the reform was launched in October 2008, senior political and military officials have attempted to outline its main priorities, usually involving listing the five key targets. In November 2011, the adherence to “five” as the critical number, suddenly gave way to “seven.” Addressing the Defense Ministry Public Chamber on November 17, 2011, Serdyukov included the formation of Military Police as fifth among seven future priorities, while the Chief of the General Staff, Army-General Nikolai Makarov ranked the same innovation in seventh place (Moskovskiy Komsomolets, Krasnaya Zvezda, November 18, 2011).
Clearly, the defense ministry attaches importance to forming Military Police, which has found articulation in bilateral defense cooperation, as part of wider efforts to learn from foreign experience. Serdyukov expressed such interest during a working visit to Germany in September 2011, to learn how the Bundeswehr Military Police are trained, as well as their functions (Zvezda TV, September 15). However, as fresh details emerged on Moscow’s plans for the new structure, it seems that limited use was made of German or any foreign military experience. The Feldjager, or Bundeswehr Military Police, like other NATO counterparts has developed its structure to support the national Armed Forces beyond traffic control, military security, law and order to support mobility and police the army (www.militarypolice.de).
Nevertheless, during his year-end interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta Serdyukov stated that the Russian Military Police will not have investigative powers; they can participate in “preliminary enquiries” currently conducted by officers, or escort and protect military columns on the move, but they cannot investigate an alleged crime. In January 2012, the Military Police began to function, and they appear to be tasked with some functions formerly carried out by others, inter alia, guard duty on bases, accompanying freight, or “maintaining law and order.” Some of the functions of the commander have been transferred to the new structure, while Serdyukov stressed the need for legal training and enhancing the organizational skills of the Military Police. In the minister’s opinion this will considerably change life in the barracks, and combat “hooliganism” (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, December 23).
Combating dedovshchina, to which Serdyukov euphemistically referred, would surely require not only investigative powers, but the capability to conduct an independent investigation free from external interference and with some reference to basic rules of evidence. The roots of this oddity lie in managing competing interests and structures in relation to forming the Military Police. Questions, such as under whose jurisdiction would they function, or how they relate to the Military Prosecutors Office (GVP), liaise with commanding officers or even the Federal Security Service appear to have resulted in a negative compromise. Clarifying the issue of jurisdiction, the Main Military Police Directorate, headed by Lieutenant-General Sergei Surovikin, will be placed under the defense ministry (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, December 23).
In the future, “several thousand” Military Police will serve in the Armed Forces, consisting of officers and contract personnel. Some estimates suggest this would total no more than 50 personnel (including around five officers) serving on a base of up to 5,000. In October 2011, Aleksandr Kanshin, Deputy Chairman of the Defense Ministry’s Public Council, criticized plans to introduce Military Police, arguing that it needs to be preceded by improving discipline standards among officers, sergeants, and contract or conscript soldiers. He also suggested that it must be independent from commanders and the military top brass, adding “at the present time, any commander is responsible for the state of military discipline for the sake of making points and keeping up appearance. The more the violations, incidents, and crimes, the worse it is for the commander. That will have an effect on his performance rating, bonuses, and promotions during his service career.” Kanshin was also unclear as to how recruits would be found to fill the posts (Vzglyad, October 17).
Executive Secretary of the Committee of Soldiers Mothers, Valentina Melnikova, expressed skepticism about the Military Police: “It would be premature to speak about the efficiency of the military police until we have professional Armed Forces and the State Duma adopt a military police law to define the latter’s powers” (Interfax, October 13). Yury Gavrilov’s interview with Colonel Boris Khubiev, spokesman for the GPV, left an impression that the Military Police would be little more than glorified traffic cops. Khubiev stated that the use of Military Police to improve discipline or law and order of the barracks could not be “expected any time soon.” Khubiev certainly believed that something was needed to improve discipline and tackle the culture of dedovshchina. The GPV officially recorded “1,623” personnel as “victims” of bullying or harassment in the first nine months of 2011; nine were beaten to death, and 86 suffered serious injury. Of course, these “statistics” are the tip of the iceberg; for many the only way out is suicide, which, according to the GPV, resulted in 51 conscripts, 29 kontraktniki, 25 “warrant officers” and 14 officers committing suicide in 2011 (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, October 16).
One indication of a turf war behind the scenes, also indicating the Military Police has not yet reached its final form, has been the near vitriol expressed in some quarters against Serdyukov preferring to appoint General Surovikin to head the organization. Critics have played up an incident while Surovikin attended the Combined-Arms Academy in Moscow in 1995, to portray him as a criminal, and thus render the impression that the Military Police will be led by a criminal. However, Surovikin has a reputation for being a tough general, and Serdyukov understand that such an individual may be needed to fight the vested interests of a largely corrupt officer corps. Equally, as the numbers of kontraktniki swell by 2017 to 425,000 (if achieved) it may be the case that Surovikin will seek to expand the powers of the Military Police to do a job that currently many officers would rather not see (Argumenty i Fakty, December 11).