Police Get Orders to Crush Crisis Unrest

APMedvedev examining a bank note at a crime laboratory in St. Petersburg.
ST. PETERSBURG Ч President Dmitry Medvedev ordered police on Friday to stamp out any social unrest or crime arising from the global financial crisis.

"We have a stable state Е We do not need a return to the 1990s when everything was boiling and seething," Medvedev told a meeting of senior officials.

"The law enforcement agencies should keep track of what is happening," he said. "And if someone tries to exploit the consequences of the financial crisis Е they should intervene, bring criminal charges. Otherwise, there won't be order."

The longest economic boom in a generation has helped the Kremlin maintain political stability, but some analysts say the financial crisis could give rise to a wave of social unrest.

The benchmark RTS Index has fallen about 70 percent since May, making it one of the worst performers among emerging economies.

High oil prices, which fueled Russia's economic boom, have fallen from a peak of over $140 in July to just over $60 now.

The impact on ordinary people so far has been limited, partly because share ownership is not widespread and few people have private pensions. But firms in some sectors have started laying off staff.

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told Medvedev at the meeting that higher unemployment could lead to a rise in crime.

He also said there was a risk of greater extremism and racial tension centered on the millions of immigrants working in Russia, most of them from other former Soviet republics.

"The mounting consequences of the world financial crisis could well have an unpredictable effect," he said. "Anti-crisis groups have been set up in the regions Е to intercept any early indications of destabilization."

Analysts say the financial crisis poses no political threat to the Kremlin for the time being because opposition parties are too weak and divided to mount a serious challenge. Garry Kasparov, a Kremlin opponent and former world chess champion, predicted last week that the crisis would bring new recruits to the opposition.

Nurgaliyev also told Medvedev on Friday that Russia should revive the Soviet-era practice of compulsory treatment for alcoholics.

"I propose returning to the idea of compulsory treatment for alcoholism," Nurgaliyev said, adding that alcohol-related crime was an acute problem.

He said there were 253,000 alcoholics registered with police but that the actual number must be higher.

The Moscow Serbsky Institute for Social and Forensic Psychiatry says more than 10 percent of Russia's population of 142 million could be alcoholics.

Demographers often cite high alcohol consumption as a major factor in the low life expectancy of Russian men.

Russians consume the equivalent of 15 liters of pure alcohol per person each year, according to government figures.