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April Fools!

Russia -- Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev speaks at the State Duma in Moscow, 29Oct2008
Russia -- Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev speaks at the State Duma in Moscow, 29Oct2008

Reports of Russian police corruption and human rights abuses have been a daily occurrence for a long time now. The litany of outrages has become so ardent and so insistent that President Dmitry Medvedev has been forced to intervene personally on numerous occasions. Just last month, he fired a few senior Interior Ministry officials and sternly ordered Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to come up with a new plan for battling police corruption within a month.

In fact, that order came on February 18, which means, Rashid, time’s up! Pencils down. Let’s see what you’ve got. Actually, Nurgaliyev seems to have given himself an extension. In an interview with “Moskovsky komsomolets” published today, he says he has until April 1 to stitch something together.

“A lot of work is going on,” Nurgaliyev says. “We are preparing a new law on the police and are carrying out work on personnel questions and the optimization of work.”

One wonders whether his new law on the police will incorporate his recent, incredible suggestion that citizens strike back at police who abuse them and violate their rights. After all, Nurgaliyev said in a strangely Orwellian formula, “we are all equal and a citizen is doubly equal.”

But today’s “Moskovsky komsolets” interview is revealing in other ways too and casts considerable doubt on whether Nurgaliyev is really the right person to be working on this reform project at all.

“Our meeting took place in the minister’s office at Zhitnaya 16,” the article begins. “And the context was a press announcement claiming that the minister had been given the Golden Toilet Brush award by a youth organization for mindless state expenditures. The press release claimed that the minister had furnished his office with a super armchair and other new items for some 25 million rubles.”

But is the report true? As the MK reporter notes, “the head of the Interior Ministry showed his office, in which practically nothing had changed since Soviet times.” (Actually, to be fair to the Golden Toilet Brush folks, their press release says Nugaliyev authorized the purchases for "the ministry," not for his personal office. Maybe they should look in his house...)

But anyway, that’s a quotation worth repeating – “practically nothing had changed since Soviet times.”

“And I haven't been given any toilet brush,” Nurgaliyev is quoted as saying. “On the contrary, when I came to the ministry, I decided not to change anything. The spirit of my predecessors is preserved here and that creates a certain working atmosphere.”

That’s worth repeating too – “I decided not to change anything.” “The spirit of my predecessors is preserved here.”

Sounds like a great reformer.

Nurgaliyev goes on to suggest that a lot of the Interior Ministry’s woes are due to the “fact” that it has “become the most open state agency and we don’t hide our shortcomings and problems from the public.”

The interviewer tries to wind up the conversation with a soft-ball question, but Nurgaliyev blows even that one. Asked what he is reading right now, he says: “I found a bound volume of the 1959 issues of the magazine ‘Soviet Police.’ And there is a lot of interesting and useful stuff there that can be used today.”

Nurgaliyev’s April 1 plan to reform the Interior Ministry is beginning to look more and more like it’ll be the best April Fool’s joke of the year.

P.S. As I was posting this, came across with a report of a discussion of police reform that was sponsored by the Public Chamber today. At that meeting, A Just Russia Duma Deputy Gennady Gudkov made the reasonable suggestion (in fact, it is so obvious that it is hard to believe anyone had to make it) that it doesn't make sense to put the Interior Ministry in charge of reforming itself, as Medvedev has done. But the really interesting part was the response from United Russia Deputy Vladimir Vasilyev. Vasilyev said that all the reporting on police abuses and corruption were like "whipping a child": "If you whip a child every day, he never grows up." And then, revealling the ruling elite's contempt for the Russian public, he said the population of Russia "is a dangerous contingent inclined toward breaking the law." Incredible.

-- Robert Coalson

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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