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27 October, 2011  ▪  Andrii Duda

Watchdogs of the Regime

The Ukrainian police force outnumbers the military. Armed to the teeth, it can only fight against citizens but not protect them

The title of this article comes from a cover story about the black Tuesday of 18 July 1995 in one of Ukrainian newspapers. On that day, Berkut, a special-purpose police unit, violently beat up priests and lay people at the funeral of Volodymyr Romaniuk, the Patriarch of Ukraine-Rus. In those distant days, when racketeering thrived and young children knew criminal slang – krysha for theprotectorate offered or rather enforced by a criminal group and bratva for a gang - Berkut was fighting against the common people it was supposed to protect.  

It is known that history has a tendency to repeat itself. Today, the police, including the “warriors” of the above-mentioned special-purpose police unit are once again efficiently fighting against opposition protest meetings, very “professionally” bringing a peaceful rally on Independence Day to a halt, heroically confiscating T-shirts with prints that insult the president, but when it came to stopping a car with several bandits…


At a parliamentary hearing, Minister Mohyliov stated that “182,000 police officers are conducting the tasks of the militsia”. Thus, he concludes, 393 policemen per 100,000 citizens making the “number of police virtually equal to that in developed democracies”.

Reality differs somewhat. The Law “On the General Structure and Number of Staff of the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Ukraine” gives more specific figures: the total number of staff at the Ministry of the Interior, less the internal army, is 324,400. This includes the infamous Berkut, which is structurally composed of two regiments, six separate battalions, 19 companies made up of a total of more than 3,250 people. Each oblast has Sokil, a special-purpose unit established under the Interior Ministry’s Department for Fighting Organized Crime that includes 10 to 50 people, depending on the oblast. There are also many other units. In addition, the 33,300-strong internal military forces are subordinate to the Interior Ministry. Therefore, the estimated number of the police is more like 357,000, than 182,000. If this is the case, comparing Ukraine to developed democracies makes no sense.

However, the Minister is right about one thing: of these 357,000 only 50% perform functions that are typical for the police. The Interior Ministry’s headquarters alone employs as many as 2,653 people, and this is after administrative reform. Such overstaffing of administration offices is not only inherent in Kyiv, but also in other regions. Meanwhile, the average district police inspector is responsible for 3,000 city residents and 2,200 rural ones. One can only imagine the efficiency of their work, bearing in mind the chronic underfunding of the expenses of policemen “in the field”.  

Surprisingly, though, the Interior Ministry has pretty good funding. The 2011 State Budget designated UAH 11,1bn for it from the general budget alone. This makes the Interior Ministry almost as expensive as the Ministry of Defense which costs the state UAH 11.4bn. The Draft State Budget for 2012 provides for an increase in funding for the Interior Ministry in the amount of UAH 570mn.


When the special operation to eliminate criminals in Odesa[1] failed, Anatoliy Mohyliov, the Minister of the Interior, blamed this on lack of funding. According to Mr. Mohyliov, the police needs UAH 26bn annually to operate properly. The Minister also blamed his predecessor, Yuriy Lutsenko: “Special operations training has been eliminated throughout these years,” Mr. Mohyliov claimed. “As a result, our police units were completely unprepared to fight against terrorism.”

Which are “these years” that are at issue? “Throughout these years,” i.e. from January 2005 until January 2010, the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior was not headed by Yuriy Lutsenko alone. On 1 December 2006, Vasyl Tsushko was appointed as the Interior Minister, staying in office until 18 December 2007. Until recently, Mr. Tsushko was Anatoliy Mohyliov’s colleague in Mykola Azarov’s Cabinet of Ministers. Now, he chairs the Antimonopoly Committee. During February-March 2010, Mykhailo Kliuyev was the Interior Minister. Since then, i.e. March 2010, Anatoliy Mohyliov has been running the Ministry, currently in office for more than 18 months. After all, Mr. Lutsenko worked under Viktor Yanukovych’s administration in August-December 2006. So, why have neither Mr. Tsushko, nor Mr. Mohyliov resumed special operations training?

Perhaps, the fault does not lie with Lutsenko or the Orange government, but in the fact that Messrs. Tsushko and Mohyliov saw and continue to see their priority task as turning the police back into the regime’s watchdogs rather than efficiently fighting against criminals efficiently? Party of Region’s Vasyl Tsushko, a former minister, is also notorious not only for the infamous special operation of storming the Prosecutor General’s Office, but also for his demand for an arsenal of weapons to be transferred to the balance sheets of his authority back in 2007, before the President dissolved parliament. The arsenal included 5,000 SKS or Simonov self-loading carbines, 5,000 TT pistols and more than 20mn cartridges. In April 2007, the Ministry of the Interior asked for a further 70 Dragunov sniper rifles and 150 AVL sniper army rifles. Was the police going to fight criminals with Dragunov rifles and Stechkin pistols, all intended for use in military action? Mr. Mohyliov, yet another PR Minister of the Interior, failed to answer MP Hennadiy Moskal’s request to clarify why his Ministry had purchased GP-25 grenade launchers designated for use against manpower and as a rule, used in hot spots. The Interior Ministry is also buying a lot of Fort-224 assault rifles with silencers, Fort-301 sniper rifles, Fort-401 light machine guns and so on. Whom is Minister Mohyliov going to fight with all these firearms?


In fact, the main problems with the Ukrainian police force include inefficient training, corruption, police officers performing functions that are not part of their duties, and ultimately, the total lack of transparency and non-accountability for the operations of enforcement authorities before society as a whole.

Ukraineis not the only country that entered the 21st century dragging an inefficient soviet-style militia behind it. However, Ukraine is one the countries that has so far failed to reform its law enforcement sector. Such reform in Georgia showed how it is possible to overcome corruption quickly and efficiently. The essence of improving the Interior Ministry of this country lay in the total replacement of personnel and increased motivation for new employees. The new professionals, made up of regular residents from rural areas, were trained over a period of several months. The only category safe from the mass layoffs included criminal investigation officers and other specialized services. However, they were subjected to a much stricter control.
Nearly 80,000 employees were laid off from Interior Ministry agencies over the two years of the reform. 88% of police officers were replaced. Currently, Georgia, with population of 4 million people has only 26,000 police officers. They work efficiently. The police have already eliminated the category of thieves in the law. Whole spheres of traditional criminal business have been eliminated. The car-jacking rate has dropped to zero in both Tbilisi and rural areas. The crime-solving rate is nearly 33% which is comparable to that in Europe. Georgians themselves claim that their state motor vehicle inspectors never take bribes. Each Georgian police officer’s integrity is tested every day – the country has special units that provoke officers to take bribes. Yielding to temptation has costly consequences, ranging from dismissal which means losing their salary, social package and pension, (which is quite significant for Georgia where unemployment is high - a district police officer earns USD 400-500 and heads of departments or detectives are paid up to USD 2,000) to 10 years in jail.  

[1]On 30 September, two police officers were killed and four more injured while arresting Russian killer Aslan Dykayev and his two companions. On 1 October, the police raided a private hotel in Odesa. After a violent shoot-out, the police killed two criminals. The third killer fled and is now on the wanted list. 


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