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Russia: Military declares war on crime in its ranks

Moscow, 21 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian legislators are considering establishing a powerful law-enforcement force to battle a soaring crime rate among Russian troops.

Vladimir Volkov, a member of the Defense Committee of Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, is drafting a proposed military police law. It would establish a pilot 5,000-person unit in the first year. If the test unit were found to be effective, the force would be expanded in a second stage to a full military police force of 27,000.

Defense Committee staff researcher Nikolai Karpov says the force would consolidate now-fragmented military police jurisdictions, and would be expected to stem the tide of crimes within the military. Karpov is assisting Vokov in preparing the police bill.

Russia has 17 federal agencies and ministries commanding troops. The Economics Ministry estimates their strength at 3.7-million persons. Since the collapse of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union and its fiercely disciplined Soviet war machine, crime in the ranks has proliferated. Military prosecutors say that in 1992, reported cases of weaponry thefts exploded to 5,814. There had been 181 such cases in 1988. They say the rise of corruption and fraud in the military is equally alarming. More than 100 criminal cases have been opened this year against colonels, generals and admirals.

Karpov says that only police professionals will be able to overcome this wave of military crimes. But, he said, military police commanders -- for economic reasons -- will have to make do with draftees for the foreseeable future. Even using conscripts as the base, Karpov estimates, the first stage of the pilot police program would cost the equivalent in rubles of $ 9.5 million to implement. He gives no estimate of total costs for the full program. Where such funding would come from in the cash-strapped Russian state is unclear.

Even so, the law-in-progress has won endorsement from power agencies such as the Federal Border Guard Service, Interior Ministry, Federal Security Service and the Office of Chief Military Prosecutor. These agencies agree that the proposed military police should be an independent service, reporting directly to the president, and immune to political and bureaucratic pressures.

There are some opinion differences among the supporting agencies, but all agree that the proposed police should have broad powers. As it is taking shape so far, the draft empowers the proposed new police to investigate a variety of crimes committed by military servicemen, including financial misdeeds. It allows seizures of draft-evaders and deserters. It gives the military police such specific power as closing down soldiers canteens, and such general power as barring pilots from flying warplanes if the police determine the planes to be out of order. The military police even would be able to detain civilians they suspect of doing wrong.

The deputy chief military prosecutor, Lieutenant General Eduard Gaveto, said his office welcomes the proposal. He told our correspondent in Moscow that his office lacks any staff to carry out preliminary investigations, to monitor crime at every military unit, and to fight it.

The Russian military once had a formidable police force, but began disbanding it in 1910. General Gaveto said that was an error that should not be repeated.