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Russia police corruption row rages on

13 November 09 17:20 GMT

Artyom Krechetnikov
BBC Russian service

The political storm triggered in Russia over accusations of police corruption is still rumbling on.

It all started when a major in the Militia, as Russia's police force is still known, went public this week with details of alleged corruption among his fellow officers in the southern Russian city of Novorossiysk.

Alexei Dymovsky had many complaints about his superiors, but perhaps the most serious was that they deliberately fabricated cases to suggest clear-up rates were improving.

What was even more shocking was that he posted his concerns on the video-sharing site YouTube for Russia and the rest of the world to see.

In the video, he called upon the Russian leadership to make the law enforcement agencies act properly.

Disgruntled man?

His superiors were furious, and the fallout has begun.

Mr Dymovsky has now been suspended, and his colleagues and former officers from the Novorossiysk police garrison accused him of "slinging mud at achievements accumulated over the years".

He was, they said, a "disgruntled man, denigrating the effort of honest officers".

They have threatened him with libel charges.

Meanwhile, the Russian Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev, has ordered an inquiry, and the Prosecutor General's Office has also taken an interest.

The authorities have acknowledged that the problems described by Major Dymovsky are widespread and far from new.

As a journalist working for the official magazine of the Soviet police in the 1980s, I heard many stories about the "pressers" - those bullying senior officers, motivated by careerism, leaving trampled people in their wake as they progressed through the ranks.

I heard dozens of stories of junior officers forced to write humiliating self-denunciations for failing to reach performance targets.

Arguably, Maj Dymovsky's greatest mistake was to voice what everybody in Russia already knows.

But what motivated him to do so?

There has always been a category of professional complainers in Russia, people convinced that the "kindly Tsar" knows nothing of the corruption permeating everything everywhere else.

Appeal to leaders

So, Maj Dymovsky called upon President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin directly for help, bypassing both his own managers and the Interior Ministry, which controls the Militia.

Fate has not always been kind to Russia's complaining class. In Soviet times, many of them ended up in psychiatric hospitals.

Things are easier now, of course, but there are still plenty of conspiracy theories as to why Maj Dymovsky behaved as he did.

It has been suggested that he was acting on behalf of former police officers with their own grudges and agendas, or - the most serious thing you can be accused of in Russia these days - he was acting on behalf of western intelligence agencies or non-governmental groups.

Maj Dymovsky denies this.

Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin are unlikely to agree to Maj Dymovsky's request for a personal meeting.

It would be a public humiliation for the interior minister who has repeatedly pledged personally to tackle every case of corruption in the militia.

Yet it might just convince a rather cynical public that Mr Nurgaliyev is serious, were he to hold an open meeting with Maj Dymovsky to listen to his accusations in person.


Russia has conducted campaigns against corrupt police officers before.

From 1982-1986, a time of authoritarian Soviet rule, some 200,000 officers were dismissed.

The method was simple: those visibly living beyond their means were asked to write resignation letters. As an alternative, they were offered a spell behind bars.

So what is stopping Russian leaders from adopting similarly harsh tactics?

The respected Russian political analyst, Alexander Goltz, says: "The staircase needs to be swept from the top.

"If the state can use the police to bankrupt the oil giant, Yukos, every neighbourhood police officer understands he can do whatever he wants to the shop owner opposite."

Stability or stagnation

Russia's recent experience suggests that the state is quite picky about who is labelled corrupt.

In 2008 an MP, Alexander Khinshtein, accused one of Russia's most senior judicial officials, Alexander Bastyrkin, Head of the procurator's investigative committee, of having private business interests - in contravention of the law.

Mr Khinshtein invited the official to sue him, or to resign. He did neither.

At the two men's next public meeting, Mr Bastyrkin announced that he had "explained himself to the country's leadership, and that's the only explaining he needed to do".

Russia's leadership likes to flag up its major achievement - "stability". Yet more and more Russians compare the current era with the zastoi of the late Brezhnev period.

Zastoi is Russian for stagnation, but it also refers to the crushing dullness, the emptiness, of life.

Russia now has little of the desire for reform and change that characterised society in the late 1980s.

The national mood won't allow it.

That's why it's thought that Alexei Dymovsky's demarche will have little if any effect.

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