The Russian commentariat is all abuzz today following Pres. Medvedev’s initiation of major reforms at the Interior Ministry (MVD) yesterday. Medvedev not only halved the number of personnel at the Ministry’s head office (to 10,000), but also fired 16 officials. Reports indicate that half of the firings were related to “job rotation” and half were related to violations by those officials. Two of the highest-level officials released from their positions included Deputy Ministers Nikolai Ovchinnikov and Arkady Edelev, who were replaced by Sergey Bulavin and Sergey Gerasimov, both senior members of the presidential administration. The Moscow Times wrote that this “move indicates that Medvedev may be trying to install his own people in key positions in law enforcement agencies.” Those falling on the “black list” of lawbreakers included many regional MVD officials, listed here. Medvedev’s reforms also limited many of the MVD’s functions – such as road inspections – that are often used to harass the population, solicit bribes, and generally just engage in nastiness. Here is Medvedev addressing a meeting of the MVD yesterday:
Say what you may about Putin having the real power, but nobody can deny the significance of these reforms. They also are occurring alongside a number of moves by Medvedev in the regions (see The Power Vertical’s excellent coverage here), especially in the Urals Federal District which is overseen by Medvedev law school classmate, Nikolai Vinnichenko, to remove or encourage the “graceful exit” of many regional leaders – e.g., Egor Stroev in Orlovskaya Oblast, Eduard Rossel in Sverdlovskaya Oblast, Mintimer Shaimiev in Tatarstan, and Nikolai Maksyuta in Volgogradskaya Oblast. Rumor has it that Vladimir Chub of Rostovskaya Oblast – who even started a blog after Medvedev asked regional leaders to do so – is next on the chopping block. Of course, the Ural Federal District is of particular significance due to the large number of strategic oil and gas deposits located there.
I think all of these moves are consistent with a Medvedev consolidation of power, under the rubric of the “war on corruption” as I have noted in the past. The key is for Medvedev to either gain control or diminish the influence of “power ministries.” Starting with MVD was a natural choice, because the Russian police are the most despised group in Russian society – I think even common criminals evoke more sympathy. A relevant anecdote that helps explain this – recently, one of the top money managers at a major Russian investment bank – a person responsible for bringing in literally billions of dollars in investment to the country – was attacked and robbed by five police officers in Moscow. The officers did not plan their crime – they just saw him walking down the street and attacked him and took his money because they wanted to and they could. It is these sorts of abuses that need to stop as soon as possible, along with the high-level corruption among officers (e.g., Hermitage Capital case).
If Medvedev is able to bring about meaningful changes at MVD, he will not only be a lot further along in forming his own independent power base, but also he will improve the daily lives of ordinary Russians. This will only fuel his still-rising popularity, which will provide him with the legitimacy he needs going in to the 2012 elections.
(Image credit: RIA Novosti)