Oligarch-owned private “armies” are set to benefit from the new law on security activities
The Law On Security Activities went into effect on November 18, greatly expanding the rights of security guards. In particular, privately-owned security firms duly licensed by the Interior Ministry now have the right to use billy clubs, tear gas and service dogs, as well as detain and search people. Experts say that there has long been a need for a law regulating the security business, but the current redaction may well lead to more bitter conflicts between security guards and ordinary citizens. Moreover, the law clearly benefits large business owners who now have their own “armies” of guards and sorely want official permission for them to use weapons, even if they are non-lethal.
PROS AND CONS
“This document is innovative as far as legislation on privately-owned security firms is concerned,” lawyer Oleh Dorofieiev says. “First, it clearly lays down the requirements for security agencies. Second, it expands their much debated authorities. From the purely legal standpoint, I can’t say that this law has an exclusively negative effect. Security agencies must filter and upgrade their personnel in order to meet the new licensing requirements. In addition to this law, other regulations must be passed to clearly define the use of special equipment and the application of physical force by security guards.” The law is clear on when these cannot be applied – against the elderly, women showing signs of pregnancy and in crowded places. Special equipment can only be used by security agencies licensed by the Interior Ministry, and they will hire only professionally trained and experienced personnel.
However, there is also a psychological side to the issue. “If you look at what has been happening between citizens and private security guards, the enforcement of the new law may have sad consequences,” Dorofieiev continues. “Considering that the authority of the latter has been expanded, conflicts may rise to a new level. In this context, it is impossible to omit an important psychological factor: people become irritated in confrontation; they generally despise uniform-wearing staff, especially those with the chevrons of private firms, and so on. All of this may lead to security guards applying physical force more often, even if not involving special equipment like non-lethal weapons. Another negative consequence is that from now MPs and other government officials guarded by private firms (they are a majority) will have a quieter life, while citizens, especially journalists, will have limited, and definitely less safe, access to them.”
AN INTERIM PROFESSION
“The situation on the security services market in Ukraine is now ambiguous,” Serhiy Starovytsky, a security expert and ex-chief of a large security firm, says. “The professional level of ordinary security guards protecting most establishments, such as supermarkets, stores and warehouses, is too low. Meanwhile, true professionals will always find good, well-paid jobs on the market as rich Ukrainians are increasingly building their private security structures.”
Serhiy Shabovta, president of the Ukrainian Federation of Security Professionals NGO, said in a comment for The Ukrainian Week: “The events in Luhansk (where supermarket security guards killed a person – Ed.) and in the Karavan shopping centre (on September 26, a man shot three guards and severely injured one at the Karavan shopping mall in Kyiv – Ed.) have proven that, unfortunately, a large number of guards are simply not up to the requirements set for them.” He emphasizes that security guard positions are not highly paid jobs in Ukraine: “Most guards earn UAH1,500-2,500 or around USD 180-315 a month.” Understandably, the profession has suffered from low wages and the turnover rate has been high. Shabovta says that even stable companies see 40-60 per cent of their staff come and go every year. There are 100 education institutions of various levels in Ukraine that are licensed by the Ministry of Education to train security guards. Their average student quota is 40-50 persons. “Even if we multiply that by 100, we will get 5,000 people that all these institutions can train. But the security services market has 450,000-500,000 jobs,” he adds.
The Ukrainian Week ran an experiment. Oleksiy, an IT-developer, was sent to find a job as a nighttime security guard. His lack of any experience working in law enforcement agencies or the military was no obstacle – he was hired by a small food store in Kyiv. The only thing was that he had to use a small lie and claim he had an advanced level in combat sambo. No one asked him to show any documentary proof.
“The main thing is that you have to watch things when drug addicts enter,” the security chief instructed the newcomer. “These bastards are always looking to steal something. If you have any problems, press the red button by the cash register right away, and the police will come.” The two nights our “agent” worked there were pretty uneventful, apart from drunkards he had to stop as they tried to make their way into the store when cash was being collected to be taken to the bank.
“Imagine that real criminals came to rob the store. I wouldn't have had anything to counter them with,” Oleksiy says. “First, I have no special training, and second, no experience or education in this area. So my unprofessional work did not cause any damages to the store only because there were few customers during my shift. The most shocking thing was the ease with which they hired me and then let me go. I guess the owner views guards like dishwashers who can be replaced even day to day.”
VIP SECURITY GUARDS
The situation for security guards protecting oligarchs and large companies is the exact opposite. This is where privately-owned security companies hire only professionals. These companies have received the lion’s share of authority under the new law. Their recruitment is based on a system of personal acquaintance. “If you want to be a security guard of a banker and you have no experience of serving in special-task forces, to say nothing of the army, it is almost unrealistic,” Starovytsky says. “This is a closed market that is inaccessible to a person who walks in off the street. It was this market that demanded getting official permission to use special equipment. Of course, every truly rich person in this country has, as is the custom elsewhere in the world, his own private security unit, loyal and extremely professional. It is also clear that such organizations have for a long time been in possession of firearms de facto and will use them if needed. But this situation needed to be legalized. And now with a crisis similar to the one that struck Ukraine in 2008 again approaching, the rich are beginning to take security measures in advance. So they need their security guards to have the legal right to use non-lethal guns at the very least.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a manager with Rinat Akhmetov’s Metinvest company told The Ukrainian Week that every top manager there has special emergency telephone numbers to be called in case of any physical threat. A call will quickly bring a “powerful group” to the spot and it will solve all issues in an urgent and extremely tough manner.
Soon after the tragedy at the Karavan shopping mall in Kyiv, rumours surfaced that all these events had been inspired by the security services lobby in an effort to prove that security guards had to be given the right to carry weapons and use special equipment. “That’s a load of baloney,” Starovytsky says. “The bill started being lobbied a year ago, and its purpose is not to enable security guards in supermarkets to use tear gas. In fact, some of the main lobbyists were private agencies that provide services to some serious people and are concerned about their security in the increasingly dangerous socioeconomic situation. So they need their small armies to have every means to effectively protect their clients.”
The Interior Ministry also has a stake in the law. With the much tougher licensing requirements set to security agencies, the police receive countless new ways to earn money under the counter. The simplest way is to receive bribes for extending or granting licenses, turning a blind eye to patent violations of regulations, etc. On the other hand, the police also receive the official right to monitor the activities of security firms.
The most cautious expert estimates of those solicited by The Ukrainian Week put the number of various security structures in Ukraine at around 5,000. “The size of the market is at least $500mn,” Oleksiy K., chief of one of the leading Odesa-based security agencies, says. “This covers, so to speak, official security activities. Only large business owners know how much they spend on their private structures, but the figure is no doubt in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The question of oligarchs’ private armies is shrouded in mystery. Their enterprises are ostensibly protected by official security agencies, and no-one says a word about any personal guards. “Each agency that provides protection to a high-ranking official or businessman has two levels,” Starovytsky explains. “The first, lower level is ordinary, officially employed guards. The next level includes true professionals who may be officially listed as consultants or coaches, rather than guards. It is these people who are responsible for personal protection of the clients and resolving any sensitive issues as part of protecting their interests. These are most often former law enforcement officers, more specifically members of special-task units who begin to work for the rich after retirement or sometimes in pursuit of money and a normal job. Moreover, this option is viewed as the best continuation of a law enforcement career.”
Experts say that the business empires of Ukrainian oligarchs essentially include entire armies numbering up to 10,000-15,000 people. They are used not only to protect business entities or the oligarchs themselves but are also employed in corporate conflicts, raider attacks, etc. Furthermore, bodyguards often carry out political tasks, according to some sources. In particular, during the parliamentary election they managed “public order” and the protection of pro-government candidates on their campaign trail. They are also used for rallies and protests. For example, sources tell The Ukrainian Weekthat people who work in security structures owned by one oligarch were present near the Verkhovna Rada building in large numbers while supporters of the Party of Regions were blocking it when the law on languages was put to a vote in the first reading.
Consequently, some experts fear that further expansion of the rights of privately-owned armies and their use in political confrontations may lead to bloodshed.