In my last post about the Law on the Police, I dedicated a section to Aleksandr Khinshtein, whose opposition to the legislation I characterized as phony and predicated on bad blood dating back eleven years to a bizarre run-in with the MVD involving a traffic violation. A very knowledgable friend immediately wrote me to explain that Khinshtein’s relationship with the MVD is a lot more complicated than that. Thoroughly shamed, I’ve done some reading up on Mr. Khinshtein, and I offer the following text as a corrective on my previous representation of the man.
In 1999 and 2000, when Khinshtein was catching heat from the police, he was working at Moskovskii Komsomolets as a muckraking journalist. It was around this time that he targeted Vladimir Rushailo (Minister of Internal Affairs from May 1999 until March 2001) and a number of MVD senior staff in a series of exposés about corruption and criminal activity inside the police. For example, in an article from May 2000, Khinshtein told the story of Eduard Budantsev, an officer in the MVD’s organized crime unit who foolishly authored a report implicating Rushailo and his “righthand man” Aleksandr Orlov in accepting bribes, using police resources for commercial activities, and serving the private interests of various oligarchs (namely, Boris Berezovsky). Neither Orlov nor Rushailo were brought up on charges, whereas Budantsev was demoted and threatened with criminal prosecution himself.
Skip ahead five years to August 2005. Khinshtein is a Deputy in parliament now, whereas Rushailo’s career is on the decline. No longer the head of the police, he recently finished a three-year stint as Secretary of the President’s Security Council. In 2005, he is still bumbling about officialdom as leader of Russia’s Executive Committee to the CIS. It was then when Rushailo fell back into Khinshtein’s crosshairs in a campaign against the dachas of elites tied to former President Boris Yelstin. (This “witch-hunt,” as some have called it, bears certain similarities to the ”Putin’s Palaces” scandal recently fueled by Sergei Kolesnikov.)
From what I can tell, nothing ever came of Khinshtein’s allegations against Rushailo (or against Mikhail Kasyanov). This history is important, however, to understanding the very personal nature of Khinshtein’s relationship with the MVD.
Now fast-forward again another five years to 2010. The issue at hand is Zakonoproekt 431376-5, otherwise known as the Law on the Investigative Committee (the SK) of the Russian Federation. Like with the Law on the Police, Khinshtein is again a vocal member of a parliamentary opposition collation to pass certain liberalizing amendments. Much as he did in his conflict with Rushailo years before, Khinshtein authors several articles in MK that attack Aleksandr Bastrykin (Head of the Investigative Committee of The Prosecutor). The accusations are familiar: corruption, illegal expansion of authority, unprofessionalism, and so on.
But — and this is key — Khinshtein was not opposed in principle to the concept of a unified Investigative Committee. When he was accused of trying to block a presidential initiative, he responded: “The people standing against the President are the ones who want to push through these rules, under which the SK becomes accountable to no one. I strongly doubt that this was the President’s goal.” Khinshtein’s preference for building a unified SK was simple: he wanted it to be built on the MVD’s Investigative Committee, not the SK under the Prosecutor’s branch (the SKP). The MVD’s SK had a staff almost three times the size of the SKP. It also investigated 4-5 times more criminal cases. And perhaps most importantly, the MVD’s Investigative Committee wasn’t headed by Bastrykin, who led the SKP.
As with the Law on the Police, Khinshtein didn’t get what he wanted. The SKP was made the foundation for the unified Investigative Committee of Russia and Aleksandr Bastrykin became its first Chairman on January 21, 2011.
What I failed to realize in my previous post, however, is that Khinshtein is not so anti-MVD that he simply opposes MVD empowerment at any opportunity. Indeed, when it came to the SK reforms, he actually fought to strengthen a branch of police bureaucracy. To understand his politics, the vital factor seems to be the personalities involved. With the SK law, there were at least two important relationships operating: Khinshtein’s animosity towards Bastrykin and Khinshtein’s dedication to a certain interpretation of Medvedev’s modernization campaign. (Unpacking this second factor would require a separate blog post.)
To put it simply: Khinshtein is a more complicated guy than I gave him credit for. In the future, I’ll do my best to appreciate the quirks and histories that shape his behavior and the behavior of others out there like him.