An interview with Chief Military Prosector Sergei Fridinsky

This is Sergei Fridinsky’s first interview since his appointment as chief military prosecutor of the Russian Federation. He shares his views on the recent conflicts between military prosecutors and the Defense Ministry, and the need for a separate military justice system.

This is Sergei Fridinsky’s first interview since his appointment as chief military prosecutor of the Russian Federation.

Question: What are your views on the situation which has developed recently in relations between the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office (CMPO) and the Defense Ministry?

Sergei Fridinsky: It has always been my belief that there should not be any tension, let alone confrontation, in relations between the leadership of the Defense Ministry, other military formations, and the CMPO. I am deeply convinced of this, because the CMPO and Defense Ministry leaders have the same task: upholding law and order. In my view, we cannot achieve this separately. Only joint efforts and understanding in these matters can bring about the desired results. Otherwise, a great many problems will be generated, hampering our efforts and not producing positive results.

Therefore, both in my past experience as military prosecutor and in the present, I see my task as working with the Defense Ministry leadership to take all available measures to reinforce discipline and order in the Armed Forces, and make as much progress as possible in solving the problems that exist in the Armed Forces today. I am very clearly aware that neither side can succeed in solving these problems on its own. The CMPO cannot carry out its responsibilities without cooperation from military commanders, and commanders cannot achieve their objectives without the military justice system’s cooperation. I have, of course, observed everything that’s been happening in relations between the CMPO and the Defense Ministry, and I’ve never approved of it. I have always considered that we should work toward our objectives together.

Question: Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika instructed you to carry out an internal investigation in connection with media reports of alleged pressure on participants in the Sychev case. Any results?

Sergei Fridinsky: As regards the Sychev case, what I see as the main task at this stage for the CMPO and everyone else comes down to only one thing: allowing the court to investigate everything in an unbiased, objective manner. So, while the trial is under way, the CMPO will not interfere in the process, and in meetings with some Defense Ministry leaders I have expressed the wish that other bodies will do likewise. In principle, I think, we have reached an understanding at this stage.

The court will evaluate everythng, including evidence heard in the court-room about pressure on witnesses; the court will deliver its verdict, and that will make everything clear.

Question: Have you read the preliminary investigation report? Have you formed your own opinion about this much-publicized case?

Sergei Fridinsky: I didn’t read the preliminary investigation report, because the case is being considered by the court – moreover, my personal intervention in this criminal case at this stage would not be of any benefit, and I should not intervene. The investigators performed their duty at a certain stage. The appropriate prosecutor signed the prosecution’s concluding statement, fulfilling his tasks and duties, sending the case to court – and now the court will make its decision. I see no need to intervene in this case now.

Question: Now let’s talk about the problem of crime in the Armed Forces. The first half of 2006 is over – are there any preliminary figures available?

Sergei Fridinsky: Yes, we do have some preliminary figures, but I don’t think we need to talk about them now – because there will soon be a CMPO collegium meeting to report on results for the first half of the year, with all district prosecutors attending. At this meeting we’ll discuss the results for the first half of the year. We do have something to discuss, and we’ll release those materials to the media, concealing nothing. The immediate matters of concern include non-regulation relations between military personnel, as before, and preventing theft or misspending of state funds, and a number of other problems. So I hope that our collegium meeting will be held in cooperation with Defense Ministry leaders, and we’ll try to identify the paths we need to take in order to achieve current objectives.

Question: With the recent leadership changes at the Prosecutor General’s Office and the CMPO, there have been many rumors about the possibility of the CMPO being merged into civilian prosecution services. What would you say about that?

Sergei Fridinsky: It’s not the first time this option has been discussed. As I understand it, the key issue is the necessity of the military justice system and its functions. Over many years of experience, I have become deeply convinced that the military justice system is necessary at this stage, and will remain necessary until some part of civilian law enforcement agencies – prosecutors and courts alike – are trained and prepared to perform the functions of military justice bodies in the Armed Forces. This is primarily because legal relationships in the military are somewhat different. Factors to consider here are relations between superiors and subordinates; the atmosphere that surrounds military personnel throughout their period of military services; and certain restrictions on rights, due to military service, according to the law.

Consequently, civilian investigator, prosecutors, and judges would find it difficult to investigate and judge what happens in this environment. Moreover, practically all countries have a separate military justice system.

Question: When introducing yourself and your colleages to the Federation Council, Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika said “this is practically the backbone of my team.” Do you feel like a member of his team?

Sergei Fridinsky: If I didn’t feel like a member of the prosecutor general’s team, I probably wouldn’t be doing this job. The fact that he considers me part of his team places certain responsibilities upon me, and I’m sure I’ll be able to handle them.