When the nation's top law enforcement official starts sounding a bit like a wild-eyed anarchist, you know something must be up.
Speaking to a group of students last week, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev
said citizens should be allowed to strike back at police who attack them without cause:
May a citizen hit back at a policeman who has attacked him? Yes he may; if he is not a criminal, if he is walking along quietly and breaking no rules...We are all equal, and a citizen is doubly equal...If there is an attack then there should be self-defense. When a police officer attacks, then he is a criminal in uniform who should be isolated and put in jail.
Also last week, State Duma Deputy Andrei Makarov
, a leading member of the ruling United Russia party, upped the ante, suggesting at a press conference
that maybe it was time to scrap the country's massive 921,000-strong police force altogether and start over:
You can neither modernize nor reform the Interior Ministry. You can only abolish it. The whole police force needs to be decommissioned and cleansed with help from civil society and human rights groups.
It has indeed been rough going for Russian law enforcement in recent weeks.
There was Novorossiisk police Captain Aleksei Dymovsky's
YouTube video alleging massive corruption, brutality, and falsification of evidence.
There was the suspicious death of imprisoned attorney Sergei Magnitsky
, who was reportedly denied medical care after refusing to give evidence against his own client.
And there was the case of three drunken Moscow police officers
who were detained after beating an Abkhaz man to death.
Russia's police have been under fire -- and intense scrutiny -- since April, when Denis Yevsyukov
, a Moscow police officer, killed three people and wounded six more in a drunken shooting rampage at a supermarket. President Dmitry Medvedev fired Moscow's police chief several days after the shooting.
In May, Supreme Court Chairman Vycheslav Lebedev and Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov issued a report singling out the Interior Ministry as Russia's most corrupt institution.
But the current rumblings in high places are likely the result of something other than a sincere desire to reform the law enforcement system. The latest wave of high-profile cases notwithstanding, police corruption and brutality in Russia are nothing new
. What is new, however, is the attention the issue is receiving from the elite.
The latest wave of police scandals come at a time of intense clan warfare in the Kremlin, as security-service veterans or "siloviki" surrounding Prime Minister Vladimir Putin battle for influence with technocrats close to President Dmitry Medvedev over Russia's future political and economic direction.
Nurgaliyev is closely associated with the siloviki and there has been persistent speculation
in the Russian media and on the Internet that his job could be in jeopardy.
Political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky
told "The Moscow Times" that Makarov's proposal to disband the Interior Ministry could be interpreted as an attempt by people close to Medvedev to weaken the siloviki:
Makarov is an important ideologist within United Russia, and I’m sure his statement was not made by chance, but organized in circles close to Medvedev. Everybody hates the police today. If he can solve that problem, he can get 90 percent support and also reform the security services.
Makarov's proposal has divided the ruling party. Some in United Russia distanced themselves from his comments. Andrei Pisarev, the political head of the party's executive committee, said they reflected Makarov's personal opinion and not that of United Russia. But he did get a nod of support from Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska, who said, "there is no sense in reforming the Interior Ministry and perhaps a political decision should be made to take the steps proposed by Makarov."
-- Brian Whitmore