Whistleblower Tackles Russian Police Corruption
This story was filed by CBS News producer Alexsei Kuznetsov in Moscow.
Tired of working amid corruption, a 32 year old Russian police officer made an unthinkable video appeal directly to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He says he now fears for his life, but thinks this whistle had to be blown.
"Vladimir Vladimirovich, I am appealing directly to you," says Major Alexei Dymovsky in his video (at left), referring to Putin's by his traditional name. "You have been talking about corruption – you have been saying that not only should corruption constitute a crime, you said it should also be unseemly to engage in corrupt practices. But this is not the case in this country."
The words were more likely to come from a human rights activist or an opposition politician. But this rare outpouring of emotion came from within the Russian power structure, from Dymovsky, a cop in the city of Novorossiysk.
"I want you to know how we live – ordinary officers, ordinary policemen – those who solve and untangle (crimes) and detain (criminals), those who do the real work," Dymovsky said in his recorded speech, during which he looked visibly nervous and stumbled at times.
He's clearly had enough. In his appeal, full of pain and desperation, he criticizes his superiors for neglecting the needs of police officers, for low wages and for trumping up criminal cases, something he even confesses to doing himself.
"I was promoted to the rank of Major last May for having given a promise [to my superior] to put an innocent person in prison. I am not afraid to say this, even though I know that I can be punished for that. But it is a fact."
Reached by CBS News on the phone in Novorossiysk, Dymovsky explained what prompted him to take such an unusual step.
"Now I have got nothing to lose. I decided to burn my bridges and posted the video on the Web because I am a Russian man… I could no longer live and work like that – I could no longer stand being treated like cattle. So even if I am to go, I want my younger colleagues to have a normal life — to work hard, to be paid well and to be treated with respect."
The real situation inside the Russian police today, Dymovsky said, could not be farther from that. Policemen in his city are paid about $400 per month, have to work, "30 days out of 31 without any paid overtime," and are often denied basic medical attention for not solving enough crimes.
But worst of all, "when young guys come to work on the force and say that the wage of 12,000 rubles (about $400) does not frighten them, they know they will be making some extra money on the side. How can it be that a police officer is making money on the side?"
Andrei Narvatkin, a former police operative in Novorossiysk seems to have the answer. "What we have in Russia today should not be called the police. It is a complete mess with police bosses taking tremendous bribes collected for them by their underlings. While the bosses are basking in the sun on the Canary Islands, rank and file policemen work round the clock to collect bribes from citizens and businesses to be passed on to the top," Narvatkin told CBS News.
Having quit the force after seven years of service, Narvatkin knows what he's talking about. "Those officers who try to stay honest and do not take bribes, are eventually gotten rid of. Others just keep their mouths shut and keep collecting – they have families to support. No wonder the entire police system is corrupt to the core."
"Dymovsky said what nearly every police officer feels in Russia," Mikhail Pashkin, chairman of the Moscow police union's coordinating committee, told Ekho Moskvy radio station. "We have the same happening in Moscow."
To most Russians, what Dymovsky said hardly comes as news. Opinion polls show the public views the police as one of the nation's most corrupt agencies. Nevertheless, his video appeal was a sensation on Russian Web sites, attracting over 450,000 viewers in a matter of several days.
So, what was so special about Dymovsky's appeal?
"He was the first one from within the system who openly told this indifferent country the exact same thing that is being discussed in private over kitchen tables. One man against the system – that deserves respect," wrote a blogger going by the name "anna_amelkina".
The ultimate questions facing Russian society was iterated by another Russian blogger, who asked, "Will honest police officers give their support to major Dymovsky? Will Russia rise in his defense? Will this small stone ever become a landslide that will transform our society?"
So far, there are no signs of a looming landslide. Vladimir Putin and his press service have remained silent. In a trademark Russian manner, Dymovsky was quickly fired from the police for "spreading slander about his colleagues and actions besmirching the dignity and honor of a Russian policeman."
Short of counterarguments and apparently unwilling to properly investigate the incident, the police authorities even resorted to a tried-and-true method in from Soviet-era (and Putin's) Russia — blaming all problems on an outside enemy.
"The way, the form and the timing of the publication of the video appeal bear witness to the fact that Alexei Dymovsky is getting support from some third parties," a source in the Department of Internal Security of the Russian Interior Ministry told Interfax news agency, hinting that the United States Agency for International Development could well be that "third party."
The Russian blogosphere brushed off this idea with a smile: "Dymovsky – an American provocateur!!! I can literally see the CIA plotting a crafty conspiracy of how to recruit Major Dymovsky! Apparently, the Interior Ministry is low on fresh ideas – it is the Americans again! Poor imagination and no creative work!" wrote a blogger nicknamed "alga72".
Alexei Dymovsky is in no joking mood. Fearing retributions, the Major has all but gone into hiding – he changes his cell-phones frequently, does not spend nights at home, has hired a bodyguard and is planning to send his wife, who is six months pregnant, to Moscow.
But he remains true to his quixotic crusade. "If I do not get killed, I am planning to travel to Moscow and meet with Vladimir Putin personally," he told CBS News. "I am ready to tell Putin everything and I am not afraid to die or that my family may be persecuted. I am ready to carry out an independent investigation and I will show him the seamy side of a Russian cop's life - with all the corruption, all the ignorance, all the rudeness, when honest police officers die because their commanders are blockheads."
Logic dictates that Mr. Putin should be interested in meeting the Major - a broader issue that Alexei Dymovsky's personal drama raises is how heavily the Kremlin can rely on a police force staffed by disgruntled and desperate officers like him.
As the economic crisis deepens in this country and more lay-offs are looming this winter, Moscow could one day find local police siding with outraged citizens, instead of following orders and dispersing unsanctioned rallies.
"The system has already started to come apart at the seams. If our needs are simply ignored, there will be a cop revolt in Russia. I have lost my job, but other officers will heed my words – those who do not want to keep living on their knees," Dymovsky told CBS News.
"In any case, after what I have done, the police will never be the same again. This is my truth, and I am fighting for it."
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