Russia's Medvedev zeros in on police corruption
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev broke sacred ground Monday by admitting for the first time that police often act in the interests of businesses who have hired them for "protection".
Medvedev has made police corruption into one of the focal points of a two-year presidency that has featured a softening of some of the other more strident positions adopted by his predecessor Vladimir Putin.
Medvedev has pushed through a new law aimed at erasing some of the biggest faults of the Russian police force, which has built renewed confidence since the Soviet era's collapse.
The new legislation has included a split of the Interior Ministry between soldiers and general police officers, and a provision prohibiting the police from using interrogation tactics once common to the Soviet-era KGB.
But Medvedev delved even further into the issue on Monday by unexpectedly admitting something that has become legend in popular culture -- that at times, there was little difference between criminals and those responsible for hunting them down.
In a meeting with state newspaper reporters, Medvedev lamented that Russia remained one of the world's only countries in which the police could exercise duties throughout the country and not only in the region to which they were assigned.
He cited cases "of law enforcement agents breaking the law by traveling to another region to help some business, or simply committing crimes and traveling thousands of miles to do so."
But Medvedev vowed to put a final stop to such police involvement.
"We must put an end to this," said Medvedev. "Whether you call them the militia or the police, they are not a force with the right to protect the interests of others."
The Interior Ministry enjoyed unprecedented authority under Putin's presidency, spearheading investigations into the jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and involving itself squarely in several other prominent business disputes.
Analysts suggest that Medvedev recognises corruption as a major complaint of not only the general voter but also potential foreign investors in Russia.
The issue could potentially put him in stark contrast to Putin -- a former KGB agent -- in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election that will decide the Kremlin's leadership for the coming six years.
Russia's more nationalist forces are likely to rally closely around Putin, while Medvedev would need the support of Western governments and liberal forces to mount any meaningful campaign of his own.
© 2010 AFP