PRESIDENT PUTIN FIRES DISTRICT INVESTIGATORS

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Interior Ministry reforms at the federal district level

President Vladimir Putin has issued a decree dismissing the heads of Interior Ministry investigation directorates in all federal districts. The dismissals are actually a step toward abolishing the Interior Ministry’s district system.


It was announced yesterday that President Vladimir Putin has issued a decree dismissing the heads of Interior Ministry investigation directorates in all federal districts except the Central district. According to our sources, this personnel purge is not connected to any plans to reform investigation functions or set up a separate investigation agency, as many experts have been predicting. President Putin does not consider such a move to be expedient. The dismissals are actually a step toward abolishing the Interior Ministry’s district system; the analogous system at the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) may follow.

In effect, the investigation directorates in all federal districts were left leaderless yesterday; although the Central federal district isn’t mentioned in the decree, that’s only because its investigation directorate has no leader at present – it is headed by Nikolai Shelepanov, as acting directorate chief.

The recent personnel purges – first at the PGO, now in the Interior Ministry’s investigation structure – have generated a wave of rumors to the effect that large-scale investigation reforms are finally being launched, and that the investigation bodies from the PGO, the Interior Ministry, and the Federal Security Service (FSB) may be combined to establish a separate Federal Investigation Service (this is also known as the Kozak reform plan). According to our sources, however, President Putin has rejected the idea of reforms along these lines. At a meeting with United Russia faction leaders on July 1, he agreed that the PGO in its present form doesn’t entirely fit in with modern-day legal practice. However, President Putin also said that certain investigation functions performed by the PGO and the FSB cannot be transferred to a unified investigation service, so it would not be expedient to establish such a service.

According to our sources, the Interior Ministry dismissals are related to a different reform plan. Note that Alexei Anichkin, who studied law at Leningrad State University at the same time as President Putin, was appointed as head of the Interior Ministry’s Investigation Committee in April of 2006. A source at the Interior Ministry’s head office told us that the latest dismissals are due to “reorganization of Interior Ministry subdivisions in the federal districts.” Investigation Committee sources explained that on December 29, 2005, President Putin issued Decree No. 1554: on changes to certain presidential orders regulating Interior Ministry activities. The decision to dismiss the heads of district investigation directorates is a consequence of that decree. According to one source, Decree No. 1554 substantially reduced the status of police investigation bodies in federal districts: the directorates were converted to investigation units, and their personnel numbers were halved. Decree No. 1554 also entailed a reduction in status for the heads of district investigation bodies: they would lose the status of deputy heads of the Interior Ministry’s Investigation Committee, and hold the rank of colonel rather than general.

Note that analogous reforms took place at the PGO in summer 2002. Back then, PGO directorates in all federal districts were converted into departments. The only exception was the Southern federal district, where a counter-terrorist operation is under way. Now, according to our sources, the staff of newly-appointed Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika are working on a plan to abolish the PGO’s federal district subdivisions.

According to our sources, reforms to the Interior Ministry’s federal district subdivisions might not end there. The Interior Ministry’s main directorates for the federal districts might be abolished in 2007. However, another source at the Interior Ministry’s head office told us that “they probably wouldn’t be abolished entirely – but their role is likely to be minimized.”

Former prosecutor general Yuri Skuratov told us yesterday: “These abrupt changes of direction stem from the national leadership’s lack of a well-considered concept for law enforcement agency reforms. So we establish federal district units, then abolish them, or shut down the FSB’s investigation functions, then bring them back, or seek new tasks for the tax police.”

Nikolai Petrov from the Carnegie Moscow Center maintains that PGO bodies at the federal district level will indeed be abolished, since their work is done. The PGO established these bodies in 2000, soon after the federal districts themselves were established. According to Petrov, this was due to the need to bring regional laws into compliance with federal legislation, and also because of a personnel problem: “Regional prosecutors were loyal to regional authorities, rather than to the Kremlin.” But now that elections for regional leaders have been abolished, “loyalty to the Kremlin has been restored, and the PGO’s federal district subdivisions are no longer necessary.” However, Petrov considers it unlikely that the abolition of law enforcement bodies at the federal district level would be followed by the abolition of the institution of presidential envoys.

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