By Russ Read
In an apparent attempt to further consolidate power, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his plan to create a Russian “National Guard” that will take over the duties of several other security agencies, potentially upsetting the precarious balance of power in the Russian security apparatus.
The new force will be comprised of personnel in the Russian interior ministry and headed by Putin confidant and former bodyguard Viktor Zolotov, who will report directly to the Russian president. The announcement came Tuesday after Putin held a meeting with several security officials.
“Decisions have been made: we are creating a new federal executive body on the basis of the Interior Troops – creating the National Guard, which will handle the fight against terrorism, the fight against organised crime, and in close cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs,” said Putin in his statement.
The National Guard will take over responsibilities from OMON, the Russian riot police, and SOBR, Russia’s SWAT team equivalent. Russia’s Federal Drugs Control Service (FSKN) and the Federal Migration Service (FMS) will also be consolidated under the interior ministry. The National Guard may also be utilized to quell domestic disputes and maintain order.
With Russian elections coming in September, there is rampant speculation that the announcement shows Putin is concerned about civil unrest, though Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied the allegations.
Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University who specializes in Russian history and security, described the announcement as a “big deal.” He outlined four reasons in a recent blog post as to why he believes Putin’s decision will have a major impact on the security system in Russia.
First, Galeotti noted the announcement came almost unilaterally from Putin and his close circle of advisers. Second, the creation of such a force shows there are clearly concerns for potential national unrest, despite what Peskov may claim. Third, with the force reporting directly to Putin, it shows “this may not only be a force to keep the masses in check, but also the elite.” Finally, the decision will undoubtedly break up the balance of power in the Russian security forces.
Putin’s announcement follows a major revelation into the nature of the system of power and corruption in Russia via the Panama Papers leak.
While corruption has been the status quo in Russia for the entirety of Putin’s tenure, the leak gave the public its first glimpse into how Putin keeps himself, and his cronies, in power. While Galeotti doesn’t believe the revelations will have major impacts on the Russian public, they do show that the currency in Russia is power, not money. It seems that Putin’s new National Guard is yet another example of power currency being used in Russia.