In a move that shouldn’t cause ordinary Russians any concern for their personal freedom at all, President Vladimir Putin announced this week that he has established a National Guard for the purposes of riot suppression, combating terrorism and fighting organized crime and drug trafficking.
Additionally – and this should in no way contribute to the perception that Putin is establishing his own personal army – command of the National Guard, along with an appointment to the Security Council of Russia, has been given to Viktor Zolotov, the former head of Putin’s personal security service.
And just because, in the 2008 book Comrade J., former Soviet Intelligence Officer Sergei Tretyakov accused Zolotov of helping to develop a “hit list” of political assassinations necessary to cement Putin’s power, ordinary Russians shouldn’t think that the new National Guard will be used for any extra-legal activities.
The new force will fold together personnel and responsibilities of several existing groups, including troops previously under Zolotov’s command in the Russian Interior Ministry, as well as riot police and elite rapid reaction force units.
According to state media outlet TASS, new National Guard will have broad powers to seal off parts of cities and other areas where it deems it necessary for controlling riots and other undesirable activity. Its members will also have the right to commandeer the personal vehicles of ordinary Russians “to come to the scene of an extraordinary event or chase criminals.” The force will be empowered to stop citizens and demand their identification “if there are sufficient grounds to suspect them of committing a crime or an administrative offence” and to detain them either on suspicion of wrongdoing if they were unable to satisfactorily prove their identity.
Further, Interfax news service, also controlled by the Kremlin, reported that members of the guard will have the authority to enter peoples’ homes to apprehend suspects. In addition, “An employee of the National Guard troops has the right to use physical force, special instruments or firearms without warning.”
But Russians who feel concerned about the introduction of a new military force set loose across the country, and run by a man who allegedly knocked out a colleague with a punch to the head during a meeting, should also note that there will be significant restrictions on the National Guard with regard to the use of force.
For example, randomly shooting pregnant women is out of the question.
TASS, again, reports that the bill establishing rules to guide the new force includes the following language: “It shall be prohibited to use firearms against women with the visible signs of pregnancy, people with the apparent signs of disability and underage persons, except for the cases when such persons put up armed resistance, make an assault involving a group of attackers or commit another attack threatening the life and health of citizens or a National Guard serviceman, and it shall also be prohibited to use firearms at largely crowded places, if their use may casually hurt people,” the bill reads.
Of course, the unstated assumption in that language – that the use of firearms in cases not enumerated in the legislation is permissible – should concern nobody.