Difficult search for civil control


On the eve of elections, people in Russia started talking actively about tightening of civil control over security agencies of the country again. To some extent, this looks like a PR action. Thus it is possible to view the recent roundtable meeting in the framework of the public council of the Defense Ministry dedicated to the topic “Army, law and order.” Among participants of the roundtable meeting were Chief Military Prosecutor, Sergei Fridinsky, ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, chair of the presidential council for assistance to development of civil society institutions, Ella Pamfilova, chair of the commission of the public chamber for control over activities of the law-enforcement agencies, Anatoly Kucherena, and other politicians and officials of the Defense Ministry and the government.

In this event, the positive tone that Deputy General Prosecutor and Chief Military Prosecutor, Sergei Fridinsky, has tried to add is interesting. Reading his report, Fridinsky said that the quantity of crimes in the troops was decreasing significantly in the last two years. For example, in 2006 the quantity of crimes in the troops decreased by 2% and in the first eight months of 2007 it decreased by 18%.

Fridinsky announced, “A trend of decrease in the quantity of gross and especially gross crimes, cases of deaths of servicemen from accidents and crimes (-10.8%) persisted in 2007. The quantity of hazing cases decreased by more than one-third (by 34.5% in eight months), the quantity of illegal actions against military property or budget money allocated for needs of the Defense Ministry decreased too (-7.9%).” Along with this, Fridinsky emphasized that “it is too early to speak about the solving of a number of army problems.”

He stressed, “The issues of traumas and deaths of servicemen including such injuries from beating, as well as use of servicemen for work not connected with their service are permanently in the field of our vision.” Fridinsky mentioned an example of recent case of beating of 20 servicemen of a marine regiment, as well as the case of Baikonur where one servicemen died from a beating. Fridinsky added that the criminals were already arrested and commanders responsible for the accident were dismissed and fired from military service.

Lieutenant General Victor Buslovsky , deputy director of the main department of ideological work of the Armed Forces, spoke about problems of the army too.

Buslovsky said, “Unfortunately, the growth of crime and suicides among contract servicemen continues. In the first eight months of 2007, the quantity of suicides grew by 11%.” Along with this, he remarks that “as a rule, suicides happen on the everyday family grounds – soldiers go home on official leaves, come back and hang themselves.”

Both military and the public see a need for an increase of the influence of society on the army for the sake of crime elimination. How can this be done? There are different approaches to this problem. Thus, Buslovsky hopes for parent committees formed in the Armed Forces in 2007. More than 2,700 such committees were organized in the military units.

He stresses, “No matter what is said about them, they make their positive contribution to the normalization of the situation in the troops.” According to Buslovsky, “telephones of confidence” were also created over which parents of servicemen could report various problems and accidents.

Buslovsky pointed out, “Urgent measures were taken in regard to 38 such telephone calls.” Speaking about relations with the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office, Buslovsky said that by joint efforts, they issued a book entitled “100 questions and 100 answers” in which they explained the rights and duties of servicemen in a comprehensible way. Buslovsky also mentioned the positive experience of cooperation with youth movement Ours, 250 activists of which provided direct assistance to commanders with regard to drafting and army service issues.

Meanwhile, ombudsman Vladimir Lukin says that existing control over the army is inefficient.

Lukin explained, “Despite the statistical data, I think that it is much more important to state that the crime situation in the Armed Forces is far from being favorable yet and it is necessary to improve the interaction of military command, military prosecutor’s offices and other state institutions for the sake of the problem solving.” Lukin advocated the organization of independent military police in Russia again. He added that in the past, the Defense Ministry even supported this idea with regard to the case of Private Sychov. When it turned out that military police should be a financially independent structure, the idea was somehow frozen. Lukin emphasized that military police should be independent, should not be subordinated to military command and its functions should include patrol and sentinel service, convoying of detained and arrested and the fulfillment of other specific functions.

In turn, Chief Military Prosecutor, Sergei Fridinsky, expressed objections to the idea of military police organization in the Russian army.

He started arguing with the ombudsman, saying, “In this case, it is necessary to consider all aspects thoroughly including those connected with legal and financial support. Besides, where will we find this quantity of trained people?” Fridinsky mentioned the example of some countries where the establishment of the military police institution did not lead to improvement of the situation in the army. For instance, according to him, negative experience was accumulated in Hungary and the country decided to abandon this institution. Along with this, Israel has a 10,000-men strong military police that, according to Fridinsky, “is feared both by ordinary soldiers and commanders.”

Fridinsky stressed, “With the conditions of our country, there is no guarantee that military police will lead to positive changes. There is no guarantee that we will not receive the same lawlessness that people speak permanently about with regard to the police. We cannot recruit different people and this will be the same contingent.”

Meanwhile, Valentina Melnikova, responsible secretary of the union of the soldiers’ mothers committees, believes that it is possible to achieve control over the situation in the troops on account of joint work of civilian and military institutions. She adds that now human rights organizations, military command, military prosecutors and military investigators have different systems of perceiving the facts. Melnikova points out that “a common scheme will allow for better understanding of each other and more correct evaluation of the situation in the troops.”

Melnikova also says that the transition to a professional army puts the issue of establishing the institutions that comply with conditions of the Armed Forces manning to the maximum extent on the agenda. For instance, she proposes the establishment of a labor union of the professional military. According to Melnikova, this labor union can undertake the solving of many problems connected with social guarantees to servicemen, the provision of their legal rights and can play an important role in strengthening law and order and discipline in the troops in general.

Thus, society, the prosecutor’s office and Defense Ministry are again concerned about the problems of crimes and accidents in the army. They attempt to improve this work through civilian control over the Armed Forces. We would like this not to be a single-moment action and to be really useful.