A former diplomat, one who knows Russia and its leaders quite well (I should refrain from mentioning him by name) told something very interesting and, to be honest, quite obvious (if you look at it that way) recently in Brussels. He drew my attention to the fact that Russian leaders are not completely dumb: they are fully aware that Dmitry Medvedev’s top-down approach to modernisation won’t make any tangible difference. The reason why they’re doing this, the diplomat said, is that they want to cover something up. Something bigger, or the lack thereof.
This is quite obvious, when you say it out loud, isn’t it? I mean, even Medvedev himself raised some doubts about the seriousness of the whole thing when he mentioned the possibility not to run for office in 2012. Still, the world keeps on talking about the possible effects, the failures, and the drivers of modernisation. Assuming that it is just a camouflage we must ask ourselves the question what it is supposed to cover. It might be the fact that rule-of-law records, instead of getting better, have in fact deteriorated under Medvedev’s presidency. In fact, this seems to be quite a plausible explanation: modernisation is in fact something that leads us (and Russian citizens) to believe that something is happening in Russia while actually nothing is.
How do we get with this to our topic?
One of this autumn’s top priority events in Russian politics has been the debate about the police reform. Almost every independent commentator agreed that the “reform” does not go far beyond a simple window-dressing. Another cover-up, we might say. However, there is undisputedly a group of people behind the President that sees an opportunity in this political quasi-platform called modernisation (this group supposedly includes i.e. Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s gray cardinal, ex-privatisation mogul Anatoly Chubais or even the vice-Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov). While some of them are outspoken opponents of more openness in political or legal terms (like Surkov), there are undoubtedly some that would be willing to push for more changes.
The President’s Human Rights Council has recently published its opinion about and its suggestions to the police reform law. This paper is by far the most daring criticism the reform has gotten so far from a public institution. “We see uncoordinated efforts, not an in-depth reform” – said Valentin Gefter, a member of the Council. They, on the other hand, suggested further downsizing, a considerable pay hike and more openness of the police force – while, of course, transferring the control authority to the President’s Office. The proposal, if taken into account, would make two big changes. First, it would be the biggest step so far in Medvedev’s takeover of the interior ministry. Second, it would make real changes within the police. All of this, of course, accompanied by a large-scale public campaign.
These are changes that certainly would not be allowed if the motion of modernisation is only a camouflage. If they still do, that could mean two things. Either both I and the former diplomat who planted the thought into my head are wrong, or the tandem is beginning to fail. If the latter happens, then the police reform could indeed be of crucial importance regarding the 2012 election.