Policy To-and-Fro on Military Police

State Secretary and Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov probably didn’t surprise a lot of people when he announced the latest Defense Ministry flip (or flop this time?) on the military police issue last week.

 Pankov announced that:

 “The Defense Ministry has found the establishment of military police inexpedient at this stage of Army and Navy reform.  Directive documents on the establishment of military police in the Russian Army have been suspended, and orders on the formation of these structures in the military districts and the fleets have lost force.”

 Later, the press quoted Pankov differently:

 “I wouldn’t say it so categorically – this work is suspended for now.”

But he didn’t elaborate on the Defense Ministry’s reasons for stopping or suspending the effort at this moment.

Military police units are, or were, supposed to stand up in 2010.  Their mission was to maintain order and discipline, and prevent hazing and other barracks violence and crime, primarily thefts of military property.  A military police department started working in the Defense Ministry’s Main Combat Training and Troop Service Directorate last December, drawing up plans and training programs for the new MP units.

In early February, a Defense Ministry representative denied press reports that Defense Minister Serdyukov had suspended work on the military police force.  But a source in the Defense Ministry’s press service told the media that “the documents establishing it have been sent to the appropriate legal directorates for reworking.”  He said that forming the military police would require amendments in federal legislation beyond the Defense Minister’s purview.

The back-and-forth, on-and-off nature of Russia’s yet-to-be created military police calls into question the Defense Ministry’s capacity to formulate and implement policies, or at least to do it so its doesn’t  look foolish.  Why would any military district commander or brigade chief of staff hurry to introduce any new policy or regulation that might just be overturned 6 months from now, or never implemented at all? 

As with the rumored halt in February, the latest stop may in fact be related to legal issues, but they usually only become an obstacle when they’re really protecting someone’s bureaucratic empire.  In this case, the military prosecutor and MVD are obviously very interested parties when it comes to devising a military police policy.  And they are pretty big hitters vis-à-vis the Defense Ministry.

The Defense Ministry already has plenty of people and organizations involved in military law enforcement, but they seem unable or unwilling to organize and cooperate to do the job.  Existing military law enforcement mechanisms could be made to work properly. 

Another sticking point may continue to be who will be in charge of a new military police force.  The prosecutor and MVD probably don’t want military police to answer to the Defense Ministry.  Military commanders could misuse or corrupt military police who would be enforcing laws on those commanders as well as ordinary servicemen.

Svpressa.ru talked to Anatoliy Tsyganok in this vein.  He said:

 “It once again attests to poorly thought-out reforms, zigzagging from side to side, senseless expenditure of resources needed for reequipping the army, and social programs.”

From the get-go, Tsyganok was against spending a ‘not small’ amount of money on a new structure seen as a panacea for all the army’s ills, at a time when the existing military command structure should be able to handle military police functions.

Tsyganok continues:

“. . . I came out not against military police per se, but against the dissipation of resources allocated for army reform:  the fact that they change conscripts for contractees, but then reverse this, the fact that they bring Yudashkin to design uniforms, but then chuck it, now here’s the confusion with military police.  It’d be better to use these resources on weapons for the army.  Russia’s military-industrial complex exports 90 percent of its production.  Aircraft to China and India, helicopters to Latin America and Middle Eastern countries.  Automatic weapons to Venezuela.  But the Russian Army scrapes by with old weapons.  At the same time money is invested in not well thought-out projects.”

“At present our servicemen who have violated order or broken the law are sent to do their time in basements, in special trenches, in storage areas.  Serdyukov doesn’t have financial resources even to build apartments for officers, there can’t even be talk about guardhouses.”

 “Now order among the troops is controlled by commandant (komendatura) forces, commandant patrols, commandant platoons and regiments, internal details; military traffic police structures are active.  This is a huge force.  For example, in Moscow there are 10 districts.  An integral commandant regiment patrols every district.  And is this little?  But military prosecutors, special departments [OO – FSB men—особисты or osobisty, embedded in large military groupings, units, and garrisons] also exist to maintain legal order in the army.  We need to force all this organizational and personnel mass to work effectively.  But for this the Defense Ministry itself needs to work effectively, and not spend money on schemes.”

 “The Defense Ministry leadership in answer to criticism about rampant crime in the army created nothing but the appearance of vigorous activity.  It’s hard to keep order, but forming something else at the expense of budget resources is easy.”

 “The failure of the project was sealed in its very organizational basis.  They proposed to subordinate the military police to the Defense Ministry in the person of the first deputy minister.  The fact is the very same operational structure of military control and repression would wind up in the hands of military leaders themselves.  This is a criminally corrupt thing.  Any Defense Minister, major troop commander, or independent unit commander could arrest on any pretext and end the contract of any inconvenient serviceman.”

Tsyganok kind of skirts around the issue without saying so, but it may be there’s not enough money to pay for building a military police force.

 Interfaks cited Duma Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Mikhail Babich, who called on the Defense Ministry to be more cautious about making changes in the armed forces and to avoid revoking its own decisions, as may be happening in the case of military police.  Babich is a somewhat critical and independent-minded member of Putin’s United Russia party.  He also said armed forces reforms require serious budget expenditures, so every time this or that program is dropped, the reasons should be closely studied and analyzed.  He concludes:

“I think the Defense Minister should hold to account those who were responsible for drawing up and implementing programs deemed unsuccessful.  First of all, this means the federal targeted program for recruiting professional sergeants in 2009-2015, which has not really started and the allocated money was spent on different purposes.”

Babich goes on to note that it’s still unclear what’s happening with Russia’s 85 permanent readiness combined arms brigades that replaced divisions in the Ground Troops.

“The Defense Ministry is keeping silent about this but it’s already clear that plans to establish permanent readiness combined arms brigades have fallen through.  As a result, it’s been decided to divide them into three types:  heavy, medium, and light.  Yet again everything is being done by rule of thumb.”

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