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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Assault On the State By the State

The institution of rent-a-cops, or vnevedomstvennaya okhrana, has been much in the news of late, as has the use or abuse of state law enforcement agencies for the purpose of settling commercial disputes. Prima facie, the rationale behind the police guard service seems sound: The state is unable to pay its police force a decent wage, so why not put part of the force on a commercial footing. The drawback, however, is that it seriously blurs the line between the state and the private sector in the all-important area of law enforcement.

What guarantee is there that cops will give priority to their public duties when their wages are paid by commercial clients?

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Lately, there has been a spate of high-profile cases in which the state's law enforcing limbs have been manipulated by powerful groups attempting to resolve private business disputes. The battle for control of Slavneft has been the most prominent, variously involving OMON special police forces and off-duty policemen pitted against on-duty policemen guarding company headquarters.

Boris Gryzlov, a Putin loyalist, was installed as interior minister almost 18 months ago, apparently with a brief to clean up the ministry and make it more accountable. He started off well by disbanding the elite RUBOP regional organized crime prevention units (which had gained a reputation for making their services available to the highest bidder), introducing a more progressive system for evaluating performance and (more recently) doubling salaries. However, Gryzlov's tenure has not been marked by major successes, and he himself has all but disappeared from the public eye.

At the beginning of June, Putin gave Gryzlov and other top police officials a dressing down, highlighting the problem of corrupt police officers who had "turned their job into a form of business" and bemoaning the lack of any tangible progress.

Clearly, transforming the police force into a relatively clean and accountable body is a monumental task that will take years (if not decades) to achieve. But all efforts will be in vain without the necessary political will at the highest level, which is so manifestly lacking.

One example: Why has there been no official denunciation of the use of OMON and police officers in the Slavneft dispute? And why has there been no internal Interior Ministry investigation into the maski-show there and elsewhere? Shouldn't someone be held accountable?

The sociologist Max Weber famously defined the state as an agency that successfully claims a monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force. The government through its inaction only serves to delegitimize the state and discredit those that are trying to run it.