Police law given European makeover
Russia's Interior Ministry has prepared a new draft law on the police code of behavior, a meeting in the ministry revealed on Wednesday. Deputy Minister of the Interior and State Secretary Sergei Bulavin introduced the opening chapters of the draft.
"One of the draft's principles," he said, "is that the police will only use force in extreme cases to achieve aims stipulated in the law." He did not give any details of what is understood by "extreme cases."
According to the draft, a special file will be opened on every individual detained by police to safeguard their rights "in accordance with the European code of police ethics." The file will include a full account of the individual's detention, his or her placement in holding cells and measures taken. In Bulavin's view, "this will make all police action fully accountable with respect to the person detained."
Whenever it is necessary to use arms in detaining criminals who do not pose a particular danger, priority will be given to non-lethal weapons such as gas and tasers. "Naturally, other weapons will be used against those who are armed with automatic rifles," the deputy minister said.
Bulavin said that the police tasks formulated in the draft resemble those of law enforcement agencies in most other countries. He cited protection of citizens' fundamental rights, the prevention, detection and combating of crime, and also the observance of law and public order.
In recent months, the Interior Ministry has been active in meeting human rights activists and members of the public. It launched a discussion on its website and is analyzing proposed amendments to the new law.
The main criterion, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev stressed several times in his interview with Moskovsky Komsomolets, is the ministry's transparency. The chapters published so far make this particularly clear. The main thing, he said, is to avoid going from one extreme to the other, risking police officers' lives and operations themselves for the sake of particular current circumstances. The ministry's task group sifting through suggestions for the law is well aware of that and is not in any hurry to accept half-baked proposals.
But what Sergei Bulavin has revealed points to serious, if not revolutionary, shifts underway in the ministry's work.
Russia needs to revise Balkan policy
Last week, Bulgaria made several moves that clashed with Russia's interests. On June 11, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said the country was pulling out of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline project. On June 12, Deputy Foreign Minister Marin Raykov said the EU-backed Nabucco gas project was more important for Bulgaria than Russia's South Stream. Although Bulgaria has not yet canceled its agreements to participate in both projects, the country's new policies may prevent their implementation.
There is a more serious problem lurking behind these developments. In 2000, Russia announced a policy of "energy dialogue" with the Balkan countries. Consistent with this policy, Moscow signed partnership deals with Croatia in 2002, Bulgaria in 2003, Hungary in 2007 and Greece in 2008. In 2007, three major pipeline projects were initiated: the Burgas-Alexandroupolis and Constance-Trieste oil pipelines and South Stream gas project. All three were bound to undermine Europe's Nabucco plans to ship Central Asian gas to Central Europe across Turkey and Bulgaria.
Bulgaria's latest moves have put the energy dialogue in jeopardy. Its withdrawal from the projects has stripped Russia of a key gas transporter. Moreover, other countries might follow suit. Greece, hit hardest by the global financial meltdown, may drop the pipeline plans altogether. Hungary signed a declaration on joining Nabucco in 2009.
There is, of course, always the Constance-Trieste project. However, in 2008, Romania put forward a requirement that it involve the European Union. Slovenia and Croatia still have to ratify their South Stream cooperation agreements with Russia, but there is no indication as to when this could happen.
Russian analysts believe these recent developments are the result of pressure exerted by the United States and Europe on the Balkan countries. But the problem seems even greater than that. The disintegration of Yugoslavia and growing tensions between the United States and Turkey have given Bulgaria a hope of becoming a major regional power. The easiest way of realizing that ambition was, it seems, by becoming an outpost of U.S. influence in southern Europe. Hence the recent prevalence of an anti-Russian component in Bulgaria's foreign policy. The country has signed military and political partnership deals with the United States, while local media broadly discussed the possibility of building a U.S. military base in one of Bulgaria's Black Sea ports.
The Boyko government's withdrawal from energy projects with Russia is the finishing touch to these policies.
In these circumstances, Russia needs to revise its priorities in the Balkans. The most important one would be to try and keep Bulgaria as a crucial resource. However, at the same time it would be advisable to think of a replacement partner, such as Turkey, Romania or Hungary.
Belarus told to pay up for Russian gas
Belarus is still pondering Gazprom's request that it pay the $192 million it owes for Russian natural gas. Russia said Belarus must decide within five days, and Gazprom announced its plans to raise the gas price for Belarus to $250 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2011.
Independent Belarusian analysts do not believe President Alexander Lukashenko when he says they lack the funds to pay for Russian gas. They say the country has the money and that it even makes a profit out of Russian gas.
To begin with, the Belarusian government sells Russian gas to consumers at prices that are higher than Gazprom's price, Belarusian political analyst Yuri Baranchik said. In other words, individual and corporate users in Belarus pay the difference to the budget. Moreover, Russia continues to grant considerable subsidies to the Belarusian economy. In particular, Belarus receives oil at Russia's domestic prices and pays much less for Russian gas than average prices on the world market.
But Belarusian authorities have grown used to living off Russian subsidies, and have not used the time agreed with Gazprom to adjust to global prices, Baranchik said.
The republic's government is putting off economic reforms, which are critically important also for closer economic integration within the Union State of Russia and Belarus. Unless it accelerates the process, it will soon be unable to pay as little as $50 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas. One of the results of this policy is the average monthly wage in the public sector, which is $700 in Russia and only $350 in Belarus.
These problems have gained prominence ahead of the presidential election, but they are purely Belarusian problems, analysts say. Judging by a recent meeting between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russia does not intend to interfere.
Baranchik said that the five days the Russian president has given Belarus to resolve the problem of its gas debt is proof that relations between the two countries have reached their limit. In five days, Belarus must formulate practical proposals for repaying their gas debts, deepening their bilateral relations and expanding ties within the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, the analyst said.
The Russian Defense Ministry proposes copying U.S. and Chinese experience in making young people more patriotic. However, the attitude toward the armed forces will not change unless institutions themselves are overhauled.
On Wednesday, the boards of the Defense Ministry, the Science and Education Ministry, the Sports, Tourism and Youth Policy Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office held a joint meeting to discuss giving the younger generation education in patriotism.
The meeting noted the deteriorating health of conscripts and their dwindling number, which is a result of the current demographic slump. In 2009, 160,000 young people were called up, while another 3,000 drug users had to be rejected, said Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov. Recruiting offices continue to call up conscripts who are not eligible for health reasons. Chief Military Prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky said up to 500 sick conscripts are discharged each year during their first three months in the army.
Science and Education Minister Andrei Fursenko proposed extending the conscription age. An officer in the Defense Ministry said the ministry had previously called for the maximum conscription age to be increased from 27 to 30 years, but that no decisions had yet been made. Due to the lack of conscripts, the Defense Ministry regularly proposes extending the summer-time conscription season until September 1 and advocates simplified conscription proceedings to make it harder for draft-dodgers. Although no specific decisions have been made, these issues are under discussion, a Defense Ministry officer told the paper.
Prosecutor General Yury Chaika told the meeting that expanded school-level military training, as well as introducing modern approaches to patriotic education, could improve conscript quality. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Sobyanin said that copying Soviet-era models would be ineffective. Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov said patriotic computer games similar to those in the United States should be ordered and toy military equipment manufactured.
Several companies are ready to fulfill computer game contracts worth several hundred million rubles, a Defense Ministry source told the paper.
Such games are distributed free of charge in the United States and China and can prove effective, but this measure is pointless, unless the army itself is improved, said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) and member of the Defense Ministry's Public Council.
Washington opposes ICQ sale to Russian company
U.S. law enforcement officials oppose the sale of instant messaging service ICQ to Russian holding Digital Sky Technologies Ltd. (DST) co-owned and managed by Russian businessman Yury Milner, The Financial Times writes.
Their main objection is that, were the sale to go ahead, the secret services could have difficulty accessing criminals using the ICQ chat service. ICQ's head office is unable to explain U.S. reluctance to expanding bilateral relations in this sphere.
ICQ is a popular Internet instant messaging service with over 40 million users worldwide, mostly in Russia, Germany, Israel and some East European countries. It was first developed in 1996 by the Israeli company Mirabilis and was acquired by America Online (AOL) in 1998.
A number of U.S. law enforcement officials have described ICQ as a major online communications channel used by Eastern European crime rings, whose representatives in some cases never meet in person. Washington can now easily access deciphered messages sent by suspects stored on servers in Israel where ICQ's headquarters is located.
The United States fears that its law enforcement agencies would lose this cooperation opportunity if DST establishes control over ICQ traffic because it would be much harder to reach agreement with Russia than Israel, sources told The Financial Times.
ICQ Vice-President for Business Communications Schraga Mor declined to comment on the situation, saying the ICQ purchase deal was currently being coordinated, and that the company was not commenting.
An RBC Daily source inside the company said ICQ managers were dismayed by the U.S. law enforcement officials' statements.
ICQ remains the leading instant messaging service in Russia, Germany and the Czech Republic. A total of 42 million people, including 18.5 million Russians, use ICQ each month.
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MOSCOW, June 17 (RIA Novosti)