Circling the Lion's Den

Control Over Society: The Kremlin methods

Irina Borogan

Ezhednevnyi Zhurnal and Agentura.Ru has been investigating the government's campaign against extremism, which was unveiled today, in our opinion, in order to gain control of civil society and strengthen the government's police services.

In recent years, the Siloviki have often put pressure on political activists and public figures, citing the struggle with extremists; however, it has to date always targeted people who interfere with the government.

But now the government has widened such resources and powers include anti-extremism measures that will inevitably affect people far removed from politics as well.

Blacklists of alleged extremists, which currently include 10,000 Russians, will grow to include hundreds of thousands, and the freedom to make critical statements online will become a thing of the past.

Massive investments in systems for the electronic monitoring of citizens will make all popular movements in Russian cities impossible, as a consequence, eliminating not only unsanctioned meetings, but also flash mobs. And the non-conformist youth are marked out for surveillance as one the legislations goals.

For the first time in 18 years, the government, citing the need to fight the "destabilization of the situation" against a backdrop of the global crisis, has openly tasked the special services with ferreting out politically unreliable citizens, from soccer fans to separatists.

The lead role in this campaign was not given to the FSB, which in principal is tasked with defending constitutional order in Russia, but to the Interior Ministry.


The establishment of the Interior Ministrys Department to Combat Extremism, which took place in September of 2008 and was based on the Department to Combat Organized Crime and Terrorism (DBOPiT), may be considered the starting point of this far-reaching campaign to control the politically unreliable.

On 23 April 2009, Yurii Kokov, the commanding General of the Department, announced that the new structure is fully prepared for deployment.

It is asserted that organized crime in Russia has decreased considerably and that the criminal investigation and economic crime departments can handle it. It is also asserted that extremism represents a threat to constitutional order in Russia, especially against the backdrop of a financial crisis in which all social groups may become active.

This explanation does not stand up to scrutiny. First of all, extremist crimes are not considered serious as compared with the activities of criminal organizations. In Russia, public utterances inciting racial, social, or other forms of hate are considered extremism - that is words, not actions. Secondly, the crime rate in our country is tens times higher for organized crime than extremist crime. According to data from the Interior Ministrys Main Information Analysis Center, 36,601 of the crimes investigated in 2008 were committed by members of criminal organizations.

There were 430 extremist crimes recorded over the same time period. One can hardly consider them to represent a serious threat to the state, even if they were to see a several-fold increase.

It seems that the government is mobilizing the structure of the former Department to Combat Organized Crime and Terrorism, which earlier included the Directorates Bureau of Special investigation, T Centers, and even regional departments to Combat Organized Crime and Terrorism, in order to combat an insignificant number of minor crimes.

Centers for Combating Extremism (So called E Centers) were established country-wide by the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs and the Directorate of Internal Affairs, based on the former Department to Combat Organized Crime and Terrorism. There are thousands of experienced and efficient operatives throughout Russia, who have in the past dealt with real bandits and terrorists and who have developed well-defined methods in the course of this struggle.

A legal chain of command has been established under the struggle with extremism: it comprises the extremism departments in the public prosecutors office and the investigative committee. Of course, all these people will need something to do to keep them busy at least, nobody avoided accountability to the Interior Ministry. And it is obvious that half a thousand crimes a year is clearly insufficient to justify the mechanism established, not to mention that almost half of the extremist cases collapse in court.

It is no secret that there are plans to use these anti-extremism units to suppress and disperse popular demonstrations. Yurii Kokov, the chief of the new department, did not exclude the departments participation in suppressing social protests.

The government recently invested a massive amount of resources in the program for the suppression and repression of popular unrest. Two main steps were made in this direction.

In June 2008, the Center for the Protection of Public Order was established within the Interior Ministry, its task is to coordinate the activities of the internal affairs agencies and internal security troops during public events. We are reminded that the planned decrease in internal troops (VV), which currently number nearly 200 thousand, was delayed until better times.

By order of the countrys leadership, at the end of last year, a situation center was established by the Interior Ministry and the Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) to monitor the state of affairs in the social sphere and migration. Information from the network of these centers throughout the country will converge there. The aim is to monitor the public mood and to control situations on-site.

Technology and Intentions

Judging by the Interior Ministers announcements, the main focus is assumed to be efforts to suppress extremist crimes. "The Functions of the Department for the Struggle with Extremism is, other than operative-agent work, aimed at the discovery and prevention of crimes, and the prevention and monitoring of what is going on in the sphere of extremist activities," Rashid Nurgaliev, Interior Minister said in one interview.

Of course, many methods of controlling public order were used during the Soviet era, but technology has made great advances since then. Now, the Interior Ministry is prepared to utilize all modern developments in the sphere of electronic surveillance in order to establish the identity of malcontents and to track their movements. These are, for example, facial search and recognition programs assisted by cameras installed in train stations and airports.

The Interior Ministry has been setting up an electronic complex incorporating all data banks, including video surveillance data, data from the purchase of plane and train tickets, and all possible sorts of records into one system for the entire country. As a result, an ever increasing number of citizens are appearing on the databases and are beginning to have their freedom of movement and other rights limited. The reasons for people being entered into the database are deemed a purely internal matter within the Interior Ministry and the special services and this procedure does not involve any judicial decision. The way such a system could work in theory can be seen in the movie the Bourne Supremacy. Jason Bourne boards a train headed from Berlin to Moscow, his image is captured by a camera, after which the CIA determines his itinerary and sends his information to Russia, where agents try to arrest him.

Naturally, in practice, such a system may fail. However, the arrest of political activists en route to other cities is something we have already seen repeatedly, and it has been established that this was possible thanks to the police quickly receiving information from ticket sales systems. All of this occurred even prior to the unified electronic system of these internal affairs agencies.

The Interior Ministrys focus on suppressing extremist crimes, and not disclosing and transferring these cases to the courts suggests ample possibilities for agent field work, and for all types of intelligence surveillance wire taps, the opening and inspection of email, and internet surveillance. As far as may be understood from the announcements made by the chiefs of the police and from departmental records, the following are designated target groups of this anti-extremist campaign:

  • Islamists all associations and communities, independent of the Religious Administration of Muslims (DUM)
  • Non-systematic parties and public associations such as the outlawed National Bolshevik Party, the Red Youth Vanguard, the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, the United Civil Front, environmentalists, and human rights activists.
  • Informal associations: from soccer fanatics and neo-Nazis to Pagan cults and associations.
  • Professional Unions
  • Non-politically motivated dissenters such as those who came out in defense of the Khimkinskii Forest and who oppose high-rise developments.
  • Sectarians of several public figures of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hare Krishnas, Scientologists, Jehovahs Witnesses, etc.

In addition, ordinary people who participate in anything may become victims of this struggle: the more lists, records, and databases there are, the higher the probability of mistakes being made.

Having allotted powerful resources for the prevention of extremism, the government has allocated separate budgets for the purchase of technologies which may come in handy should a crisis arise. They are developing new domestic techniques for dispersing meetings and demonstrations which have not been worked on since the end of the 1980s. Three types of water-jet machines based on the Gazel, Kamaz, and the Ural are already being purchased by the Interior Ministry, and the Special Police Forces (OMON) and the Specialized Designation Police Detachments (OMSN) are training for new crowd dispersal techniques.

Agentura.Ru September 2010