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Nurgaliyev in No Mood to Celebrate Police Day

Alexei Dymovsky showing a flash drive with what he called "compromising materials" on his superiors at a news conference in Moscow Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009. Misha Japaridze

The police force marked its professional holiday Tuesday, but Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev was in no mood for celebration.

The country’s top cop has been under pressure since April, when Moscow police Major Denis Yevsyukov killed three people and wounded six other during a supermarket shooting rampage that shocked the nation.

But these days he is facing almost unprecedented rebellion from within, after another police major, this time from the southern town of Novorossiisk, became an Internet sensation after publicly complaining to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin about corruption and unbearable working conditions.

In an departure from the usual self-congratulatory tone for his annual Police Day address, Nurgaliyev made bitter and self-critical remarks and lashed out at criminal behavior among his ranks.

“Those who commit a serious crime will be held responsible. We won’t give cover to anybody!” he said, according to a transcript published on his ministry’s web site.

The country’s police force, notorious for corruption, has been hit hard by a series of shootings and killings committed by officers in recent months.

Nurgaliyev admitted that this year had been “exceptionally hard” for the police because of the Yevsyukov shooting spree and said he felt personally touched by the incident.

“Everyday we must remember the tragedy that happened in Moscow, sadly by the fault of one of our staff,” he said.

President Dmitry Medvedev, who attended a Police Day gala concert with Nurgaliyev late Tuesday, fired Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin shortly after the shooting and has since stepped up pressure to fight police corruption.

Medvedev told German magazine Der Spiegel in an interview released last weekend that rooting out corruption in the Interior Ministry would take years rather than a month.

However, Nurgaliyev on Tuesday failed to mention the latest scandal that must have soured his mood. Novorossiisk police Major Alexei Dymovsky on Tuesday arrived in Moscow, where he told a news conference that he had gathered evidence of police abuse of power and stored it on a memory stick, which he showed reporters. He urged police officers nationwide to speak out.

Nurgaliyev on Sunday suspended Dymovsky and set up a commission to investigate the officer’s claims in two videos posted on his personal web site, Dymovskiy.ru, and on YouTube late last week.

Dymovsky suggested Tuesday that officers send him text messages on his cell phone, which he would then pass on to journalists, the BBC’s Russian service reported on its web site.

Dymovsky also denied accusations from the Interior Ministry that he secretly worked for the U.S. government.

“I have only met foreigners twice in my life — in a Chinese market in the Amur region and when my grandmother took me to Dnyepropyetrovsk and Almaty when I was 5,” he said, Interfax reported. Dnyepropyetrovsk is in Ukraine and Almaty is the former capital of Kazakhstan.

An unidentified official in the Interior Ministry’s security department told Interfax on Monday that Dymovsky was backed by a human rights group funded by USAID, the U.S. government agency providing worldwide economic and financial assistance. He identified the group as the Novorossiisk Human Rights Committee.

Regional police have jumped at the idea that Dymovsky is an agent seeking to destabilize the country. “We have information that [Dymovsky] might have been used by a foundation acting for Western secret services. We are looking into this,” Sergei Kucheruk, chief of police in the Krasnodar region, said Tuesday, Interfax reported.

The accusation of foreign funding was strongly denied by the Novorossiisk Human Rights Committee, which has supported Dymovsky. “This is complete nonsense. We have not received 1 ruble from foreign or Russian sources,” committee representative Vadim Karastelyov told The Moscow Times. He said the group was solely made up of unpaid volunteers.

Speaking by telephone from Novorossiisk, Karastelyov said he first met Dymovsky on Sunday, two days after the officer had posted the video. Karastelyov said his family was now the target of psychological pressure by local police. “Yesterday, two officers came to our house asking to take photos of my eldest son because he apparently resembles a person on a search warrant,” he said.

Dymovsky, meanwhile, said that his plan to travel to Moscow almost failed because he was temporarily detained by traffic police on the way to Rostov-on-Don. There he found that he could not buy a plane ticket because his bank card had been blocked.

“So I had to travel by car,” he said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

In a sign that he might find support in Moscow, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said Dymovsky’s accusations should be carefully investigated.

“If what he says is true, we need to take concrete action urgently,” said Gryzlov, who is a top official in the ruling United Russia party and a close ally of Putin, RIA-Novosti reported.

Gennady Gudkov, deputy head of the Duma’s Security Committee and a senior member of A Just Russia, praised Dymovsky’s bravery, calling him courageous and desperate. “What he said in his video address was by no means new, but it is important how he did it — openly and publicly,” Gudkov said, Interfax reported.

Calls to the Interior Ministry’s press service went unanswered Tuesday.

Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Center for Political Information, said Nurgaliyev’s days in office might be numbered.

“Nurgaliyev was appointed as an outside reformer five years ago, but the situation in the ministry has changed little over the years and has actually worsened recently,” Mukhin said.

Nurgaliyev, an ethnic Tatar from the Karelia republic, rose in the ranks of the Soviet KGB and its successor, the Federal Security Service, before being appointed minister in March 2004 by then-President Vladimir Putin.

Like all the heads of the other “power ministries,” he reports directly to the president and cannot be fired by the prime minister.

Since acceding to the presidency in 2008, Medvedev has left largely intact the Cabinet formed under Putin’s presidency.

Andrei Soldatov, an expert on the security services and editor of the Agentura.ru web site, cautioned that it might not be easy to fire Nurgaliyev.

“While there are some people who want to see him removed, there is a powerful faction that supports him,” he said, explaining that Nurgaliyev belongs to the same clan as Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.

“He is clearly not Medvedev’s guy, but he still is very loyal,” Soldatov said.

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