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The Politics Of Police Reform

President Dmitry Medvedev and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev at a meeting of the Interior Ministry in Moscow on February 18.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev at a meeting of the Interior Ministry in Moscow on February 18.

Were the police reforms President Dmitry Medvedev announced yesterday also a political power play? In an article in today's "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Aleksandra Samarina suggests this might be the case.

By sacking 18 senior Interior Ministry officials, including two deputy interior ministers, and ordering structural changes, Samarina argues that Medvedev has launched a "major offensive" to assert his authority:

Russia has never seen so dramatic a sweep of the Interior Ministry. Medvedev fired more senior police officers overnight than Putin had done in his eight years as the president... Medvedev is out to prove that he is a doer and not just a talker...The purge became a signal to the elites rather than to society. Reorganization of the Interior Ministry is politics. The head of state reminded everyone that security structures were his turf and his alone and that he had the stamina to reorganize the structure that had discredited itself so thoroughly.

Color me skeptical for the time being -- but that could change. It will take a little bit of spade work to get a firm grip on the political ramifications of Medvedev's move. The key questions, of course, relate to the personnel changes. More specifically, are they real or are they cosmetic? Did they benefit any particular Kremlin clan? Or were they politically neutral? Will those sacked show up weeks or months later in some other influential position?

I don't have answers to these questions yet. But I plan to do a little digging (and would welcome any input from other Kremlin-watchers out there).

In his biggest personnel change, Medvedev fired Deputy Interior Ministers Nikolai Ovchinnikov and Arkady Yedelev, replacing them with Sergei Gerasimov and Sergei Bulavin.

Both Gerasimov and Bulavin had served in Medvedev's Kremlin administration. Gerasimov was head of the department for constitutional rights and Bulavin worked in the legal department.

As I have blogged here before, Medvedev has been trying to fill the bureaucracy with so-called "civiliki," officials with backgrounds in civil law, to counter the strength of the "siloviki" clan of security service veterans surrounding Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

According to some reports, Medvedev has been particularly keen to do this in the law-enforcement and criminal justice structures, where the siloviki are strongest. Medvedev has reportedly been trying, apparently without success thus far, to get his old law school colleague Aleksandr Konovalov, currently the Justice Minister, named Prosecutor General.

Were yesterday's personnel changes part of the effort to promote the civiliki? And if they were, how will the siloviki respond? It seems I have something to keep me busy for a little while.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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