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Cops, Crime, And The Crisis

Defenders or perpetrators?
Defenders or perpetrators?
Is Russia on the verge of a massive crime wave? Some analysts certainly think so.

In most countries, when an economy goes in the tank, crime rate tends to spike. But as political analyst Andrei Ryabov writes in "Vedomosti" this week, the well-established correlation between economic deprivation and crime takes on added -- and potentially sinister -- dimensions in Russia.

Ryabov argues that as Russians lose faith that the social and political system will continue to provide for their needs, turning to crime -- both petty and large-scale -- actually becomes a form of protest as well as a survival mechanism:

Our country's history over the past decade shows that an alternative form of social protest is possible: the criminalization of social behavior - a 'great criminal revolution' with significant layers of society being drawn into criminal activity.

There is increasing evidence that such a developments is realistic prospect. On an almost daily basis there are reports of bank robberies, armed raids, armed street, random drive-by shootings -- just like in the Roaring Nineties. Moreover, as the crisis continues and deepens, the desire to 'restore social justice' and 'take what is ours' by criminal means is increasingly evident.

But what is really a cause for concern, Ryabov argues, is the tendency for the police to get in on the act as well. As crime rates increase amid an economic downturn, law-enforcement bodies -- already notorious for rampant corruption -- are empowered to bring the situation under control.

But instead of addressing the problem, they instead use their new powers to ratchet up their own criminal activities:

There seem to be two reasons why this phenomenon is spreading within the law enforcement agencies: uncertainty about the stability of their position as a bulwark of the ruling hierarchy, and the contraction of sectors and businesses where corrupt police have usually run protection rackets. In a corrupt environment - characteristic of governance and state administration in contemporary Russia - such disappointments and grievances do usually lead to an upswing in criminalization.

The result, Ryabov says, is a vicious circle:

Instead of serving only as a tool for 'restoring order' in the social arena and maintaining its stability, various groups that are part of the hierarchy's security and enforcement component could start to play a game of their own, directly opposed to that objective. The crisis only accelerates and exacerbates this trend.

Ryabov's article, while well-argued and thought provoking, is largely speculative. But the scenario he outlines seems entirely plausible.

The legitimacy of the system Vladimir Putin created was based largely on three pillars: rising living standards, restoring social order, and resurgent (anti-Western) Russian nationalism.

The economic crisis has already undermined the first pillar. If Ryabov's argument is correct, a new crime wave could take out the second pillar as well.

-- 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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