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Expanding FSB powers: Treating the symptoms not the disease?

RIA Novosti

20:21 03/08/2010

August 3 (RIA Novosti) - President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a law on introducing amendments to the law on the Federal Security Service (FSB) about administrative violations that expands the powers of the FSB under the current law. The bill had been adopted by the State Duma and approved by the Federation Council.

In accordance with the new law, the FSB has the right to warn citizens whose actions may lead to the law being violated, and to take preventive actions both as regards citizens and legal entities. FSB employees receive the right to demand that individuals and legal entities stop any activities that may eventually lead to a violation of the law. Importantly, the demands of FSB employees must be obeyed.

For individuals the changes in the code on administrative violations introduce a fine from 500 to 1,000 rubles or 15 days under arrest, a fine of 3,000 rubles for officials and a fine from 10,000 to 50,000 rubles for legal entities.

The law’s adoption was initiated by Medvedev, and it has prompted a mixed response in Russia. Some people doubt its effectiveness and others believe that it seriously restricts citizens’ rights. Members of the Public Chamber have expressed their doubts about the new law. They thought that the FSB’s new powers duplicate those of the Ministry of the Interior and the Prosecutor’s Office.

In assessing this new law, it is notable that security services’ powers have recently been increased both in this country and abroad. Here the most graphic example was the crackdown of the late 1970s when the KGB was headed by Yury Andropov.

True, at that time, the scale and rigidity of the methods used were different. Towards the end of 1979 and in early 1980, almost all the leaders and active participants in human rights and opposition national and religious organizations were arrested and exiled. In January 1980 Andrei Sakharov was stripped of his government awards and exiled to Gorky for his opposition to the war in Afghanistan.

It would be appropriate to recall recent events in the United States, where, during the last decade the secret services’ powers have been expanded in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution under the pretext of “the war on terror.”

The effectiveness of these measures was highly doubtful in both those cases, just as is this current expansion of the FSB’s powers.

In all three cases the emphasis is on their demonstrative strengthening, but this is only effective in certain conditions: where it enjoys powerful public support, and where it is introduced only for a short time. Many experts, including those from within the secret services, doubt the suggested format of warnings will be effective. The actions of those whom these warnings would stop are too insignificant to warrant surveillance by the secret services. As for all the others, the only effect the warnings will have will be to raise their self-esteem.

In this case the humanity of the project, noted by some representatives of the authorities, will not play any role. In effect, it will be counterproductive, all the more so in a country beset with internal contradictions.

What measures could make the Russian secret services more effective in their struggle against extremist and terrorist threats?

Many specialists believe that these measures should not expand the FSB’s administrative powers, that they are big enough already, rather they should enhance its intellectual potential. For instance, the FSB could set up expert groups on different areas to assess the threat level and formulate counter measures.

These measures should not include rounding up everyone and anyone who can be described as an “extremist” but homing in on those enemies that pose the greatest threat. They can be countered in many ways – from negating the arguments of certain groups to, where there are credible grounds for it, conducting a fully-fledged inquiry into their activities. In principle, the FSB does already work like this, but many experts believe that they are not doing enough.

Moreover, the FSB should be more active in its use of those more accessible methods it has at its disposal to assess the condition of society. It is no secret that, until very recently it took little interest in popular polls detailing the political and economic conditions in the country, even though scholarly centers in the west, some of which are directly linked with their secret services, often commission such polls to be carried out in Russia. A situation where foreign secret services are seriously studying the attitudes of Russian society, while their domestic counterparts all but ignore them, is illogical to say the least.

The adequate assessment of existing threats is a particular problem. The government is directing considerable forces at countering “nationalism” (often interpreted specifically as Russian nationalism for some reason) and the accompanying extremism. Sometimes, for lack of real threat, the struggle against them is turning into a joke. Thus, a ban is imposed on internet resources that may contain lists of extremist books, and Russian classics are included on that list.

At the same time, the real threats that may lead to the country’s disintegration in the foreseeable future are being ignored – either because they are underestimated or the country’s secret services, as currently constituted, are unable to counter them effectively.

This is due to ineffective state administration resulting from the corruption and red tape that show no signs of decreasing, despite repeated statements by top-ranking officials. Courts are also ineffective and law-enforcement bodies abuse their power. This allows some officials to have the money, contacts and other instruments of power at their disposal, rendering them above the law. The state is obviously unable to compel all of its citizens to obey the same laws, and this bald fact leads to massive interethnic strife. Representatives of national republics, primarily from the North Caucasus, , as well as other Caucasian and Asian republics, often provoke such incidents but are rarely held to account.

This leads to the legal and political apathy of the general public, people who exclude themselves from participating in the country’s political life because they don’t believe the current government mechanisms work. Moreover, some of them start to see the state as an enemy, solely oriented on suppressing its citizens and depriving them of their income, rather than as something that protects their interests and offers them legal opportunities to make money. In these conditions the formation of extremist groups is inevitable, and although of course countering them is as essential as getting a patient’s high temperature down, we still need to treat the disease rather than merely its symptoms.


RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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