Anti-Organized Crime Unit Dissolved

President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree dissolving the Interior Ministry's powerful anti-organized crime and counterterrorism department.

Officers from the department, widely known by the acronym UBOP, and its regional branches will join a newly created department focusing on two seemingly divergent responsibilities: battling extremism and witness protection.

The ministry's criminal investigations department will be tasked with fighting general organized crime, while battling organized economic crime will be led by its economic crimes department, commonly known as UBEP.

There will be no personnel cuts in the reshuffle, according to the decree, which says Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev is responsible for establishing internal regulations to carry out the changes.

An UBOP spokesman at the ministry said Wednesday, however, that he was unaware of any pending structural changes and that, as far as he could tell, the department is merely being renamed.

"We are now called the department to fight extremism and provide security to persons in need of state protection," the spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity. "The name was changed immediately after the decree was signed."

The department will provide protection for participants in criminal cases, including witnesses, judges, prosecutors and investigators, he said. It had been carrying out this function even before Medvedev's Sept. 6 decree, he added.

The reshuffle could be aimed at improving the quality of investigations in extremism cases, which commonly collapse when taken to trial, said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

Makarkin cited as an example the recent acquittal by a jury of three retired military officers charged with trying to kill Anatoly Chubais, the architect of 1990s privatizations.

UBOP was first created under the auspices of the Soviet Interior Ministry in 1988.