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Cops, Informants, And The Unemployed

Some 5.8 million Russians are currently out of work. By the end of this year, that figure is expected to rise as high as 7 million.

One area that will not be hit by job losses, however, is law enforcement. The Kremlin has walked back plans to reduce the number of Russia's 200,000-strong Interior Ministry troops. Here's how "Nezavisimaya gazeta" framed the story:

Anticipating social disturbances as a result of mass unemployment, the Interior Ministry has changed its mind concerning a planned personnel reduction. The authorities are demonstrating that they are aware of the problems stemming from rapidly deteriorating living standards in the country and their own dwindling popularity.

Aleksei Malashenko, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, adds this:

Security structures like the Interior Ministry are traditionally the last to be inconvenienced with personnel reductions. They are the foundation that the regime itself rests upon, and the authorities are fully aware of this. They know better than offend these people and kick the very chair they are sitting on...Besides, just imagine where all these people, who have weapons training, will end up in the country with a soaring unemployment.

And not only will the Interior Ministry forces not face cuts, but as "Sovershenno sekretno" reports (and Paul Goble blogs over at Window On Eurasia), their status is being upgraded. Their commander, General Nikolai Rogozhkin, has been promoted to deputy interior minister. They are getting more funds to purchase shiny new weapons. And they are being organized into rapid-reaction forces to deal with potential unrest.

And just in case everybody didn't get the picture, President Dmtry Medvedev warned Interior Ministry officials today that Russia is facing a "systemic threat" from extremism and has urged them to be vigilant:

We are falling under the influence of the global crisis -- a worsening problem of unemployment and other social issues. At such a time one encounters those who wish to speculate -- to use the situation. So one can't allow an already complicated situation to deteriorate. The task is to permanently monitor the situation in the regions.

Forever fighting the last war, the Kremlin is clearly preparing for Orange Revolution-style street protests that could destabilize the regime. They are trying to frighten the population by shouting "Extremism!" and "Separatism!" every chance they get.

But as Robert Coalson has pointed out in an earlier post here, as the economy and social situation continue to deteriorate, dissent is showing up in some unexpected places.

It appears, for example, that the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi has been running an undercover operation, sending spies into the ranks of opposition groups.

That is hardly surprising.

What is surprising, though, is that a Nashi activist closely involved with the program has decided to spill the beans, as "The Moscow Times" reports:

Anna Bukovskaya, a St. Petersburg activist with the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group, said she coordinated a group of 30 young people who infiltrated branches of the banned National Bolshevik Party, Youth Yabloko and United Civil Front in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Voronezh and six other cities.

Bukovskaya told "The Moscow Times" that she decided to go public and "quit 'the 'dirty project' because she had become disillusioned with Nashi and sided with the opposition." She added that she felt strongly that the opposition, "the people who really stand up for the rights of ordinary citizens, must know about this project."

You can watch a video (in Russian) of Bukovskaya telling her story here and here.

Ilya Yashin, former leader of Youth Yabloko, tells "The Moscow Times" that he is concerned about Bukovskaya's safety given her revelations. "She is in a dangerous situation," Yashin said. "She mustn't be left alone."

I'll second that.

A year ago, another government informant, Aleksandr Novikov, applied for asylum in Great Britain after blowing the whistle on his handlers. Novikov said the Federal Security Service had paid him 8,000 rubles a month over a two-year period to inform on Garry Kasparov's United Civil Front. Novikov said he was "ashamed" of his behavior and publicly apologized to Kasparov.

One has to wonder how many more Anna Bukovskayas and Aleksandr Novikovs there are out there and how soon before they begin to surface.

-- 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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