It has been nicknamed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “personal army,” and now the recently created National Guard of Russia could be authorized to shoot into crowds.
Putin announced the creation of the National Guard in early April, saying its mandate would include maintaining public order. The guard comprises troops from the Interior Ministry, led by Viktor Zolotov, Putin’s former bodyguard. Zolotov has served by Putin’s side since his rise to power as prime minister in 1999. The Russian leader said lawmakers were working to ensure the National Guard would be a fully working service.
“Its key function is control of the turnover of weapons. Besides, in close contact with the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) it will fight terrorism and organized crime,” Putin said Thursday.
Russia’s State Duma Committee on Defense recommended that the National Guard also be allowed to shoot into crowds, according to local media reports Thursday. The National Guard is currently not allowed to use its weapons in situations where there is “a large gathering of people, as a result of which random people may be affected.” Russian politicians, however, have argued that in the case of terror attacks or hostage situations, the National Guard should be allowed to fire into crowds.
“We believe that in these cases the risk of harming random individuals will be justified,” the committee’s statement said. Lawmakers said if members of the force need to fire, they should not be held liable.
Critics of the guard allege Putin created the force in order to protect himself before scheduled September parliamentary elections. Putin said in February Russia’s “foes abroad” would interfere in the election. The Kremlin has denied the National Guard force was created for this reason.
“The National Guard is not just another law enforcement agency. This is another army, with the right to conduct military operations on the territory of the country and against the country's citizens,” sociologist Ella Paneyakh wrote when the force was created.
The creation of the National Guard comes amid an economic crisis in Russia. Government officials admitted Thursday that the country’s economy would not experience any growth in 2016 amid low global oil prices and Western economic sanctions.