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Just try it again, mercenaries Russian lawmakers have adopted legislation that will create regional ‘special militarized formations’ armed by the National Guard

8 cards
  • What happened?
  • What role will these units play?
  • So, people working in these new “companies” will be armed?
  • Who controls these “enterprises”?
  • What does Moscow’s in-house security enterprise do?
  • These new guards haven’t exactly succeeded in preventing drone attacks on Moscow…
  • What separates these new “enterprises” from Russia’s existing territorial defense?
  • Why add these new enterprises? Aren’t they basically the same? Wouldn’t it be simpler to expand Russia’s territorial defenses and arm its members?

What happened?

Just before the State Duma adopted legislation raising Russia’s conscription age, lawmakers added an unrelated amendment that empowers the president to charge governors with the creation of “special militarized formations” during periods of mobilization, wartime, and martial law. Martial law is currently in effect in the newly annexed Ukrainian territories, a “partial mobilization” is still technically underway, and the Supreme Court’s past definition of “times of war” suggests that Russia’s legal system could rule the current circumstances in Ukraine to constitute wartime.


What role will these units play?

Defined in the legislation as “specialized enterprises,” these new units will “assist” law-enforcement agencies and perform several tasks, including the following:

  • Maintaining public order and ensuring public safety;
  • Defending Russia’s borders; and
  • Combatting illegal armed formations and “the sabotage-reconnaissance groups of foreign states.”

The legislation also states separately that employees in these new “enterprises” are permitted, when necessary, to destroy any unmanned vehicles, whether they’re airborne, underwater, or surface. At the same time, these groups are prohibited from performing any functions not spelled out in the law.


So, people working in these new “companies” will be armed?

Yes, the legislation says they’ll be issued firearms “for temporary use.” 

Russia’s existing laws regulating in-house security services will apply to the use of weapons by staff in these new militarized formations. Under these rules, an in-house security company can use weapons and physical force only at the facilities they are assigned to guard and when pursuing people who commit a crime or some other offense at these facilities. Security guards must minimize harm from their actions and warn people before using their weapons, though they can act without warning in extraordinary circumstances (if their own lives or safety is threatened).

Among “significant” crowds, in-house security companies cannot use weapons, but there are exceptions here, too. For example, weapons are permitted if the crowd offers “group resistance” or tries to attack a guarded facility, threatening someone’s life.

The employees of these new “specialized enterprises” must surrender their service firearms and ammunition within 30 days of a presidential order to terminate the activities of their group.

Beyond the facilities they are assigned to guard, employees in these new groups don’t have the legal right to use force or weapons unless they are attacked.


Who controls these “enterprises”?

The legislation charges regional governments with monitoring these groups’ activities while an “authorized federal agency” will register their weapons. The federal government is responsible for selecting this agency, and it will likely be the National Guard, which the State Duma armed with heavy military equipment after Yevgeny Prigozhin’s armed mutiny.

In Moscow, this arrangement is already in place. Since this past spring, the National Guard has controlled the city’s in-house security company. The mayor’s office is required to work with the National Guard to coordinate protected facilities and the types of weapons issued to security guards.


What does Moscow’s in-house security enterprise do?

The government adopted regulations creating the group in March 2023 on the grounds that it was necessary to enhance the city’s public safety and guard against terrorist attacks. Officials immediately endowed this enterprise with other powers, as well, including the authority to participate in territorial defense, protect the population during emergencies, and ensure public safety and law and order “in periods of heightened threats.” 

The State Duma’s new legislation states separately that Moscow’s security enterprise can also be entrusted with “assisting law-enforcement agencies in maintaining public order,” even using firearms.

Additionally, federal lawmakers granted special powers to Moscow officials that are not extended to other regional leaders, such as the authority to reach agreements with police agencies directly, without the president’s intervention, to create regional paramilitary companies. 

The funding for these armed formations nationwide, including in Moscow, comes from Russia’s federal budget — though regions can make their own contributions if they wish.


These new guards haven’t exactly succeeded in preventing drone attacks on Moscow…

So far, relatively little is known about Moscow’s in-house security enterprise. Apparently, the group is still being formed.

The government bylaws regulating these guards’ work were adopted only in late March, and the company is still recruiting aggressively. On July 24 and 25, for example, three vacancies appeared on the employment website — listings for two accountants and one driver. Since July 6, Moscow’s city government has been seeking a military-accounting specialist to work for its in-house security team.

Also, government regulations state that the Moscow mayor’s office must approve templates for certificates, badges, and official uniforms for the new division, but Meduza could not find any open-source proof that this has happened.


What separates these new “enterprises” from Russia’s existing territorial defense?

National defense laws regulate Russia’s territorial defense forces, defining them not as individual units but as a system of actions during martial law and in regions where President Putin’s October 2022 executive order declared a state of “high alert.” Territorial defense forces are charged with defending vital state, military, and energy facilities, combatting enemy special forces, and assisting the army.

In essence, the tasks here differ little from what’s been assigned to the new “specialized enterprises.”

At the same time, however, members of Russia’s territorial defense lack the right to carry weapons because they are considered civilians. Russian politicians and government officials have repeatedly tried to arm these units, even appealing directly to President Putin and asking him to intervene.

Governors oversee territorial defense units (just as they will technically manage the new “specialized enterprises”), while local city officials preside over lower-level offices. It is these local officials who must enact the necessary regulations and manage the allocation of forces and resources needed to complete the defense units’ assigned tasks. The commanders of military districts can also organize local territorial defense groups.

It’s frustratingly difficult to estimate the number of people serving in Russia’s territorial defenses nationwide. In early July, for example, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said that roughly 3,000 men were serving in the region’s territorial defenses. Belgorod has come under Ukrainian attack more than any other region of Russia, and Gladkov’s office even started forming a second territorial defense regiment (also comprising 3,000 men). The governor says these people can’t be drafted into the army but have combat experience.

In early July, Gladkov also announced plans to issue weapons to some members of the regional territorial defense forces but not to everyone. The governor stressed that this new policy would be implemented “within a legal framework.”


Why add these new enterprises? Aren’t they basically the same? Wouldn’t it be simpler to expand Russia’s territorial defenses and arm its members?

Good questions! It’s possible that the authorities have determined that Russia simply doesn’t have enough territorial defense units.

Journalist Farida Rustamova argues that the Kremlin “drew conclusions from the Prigozhin mutiny” and hopes to use new paramilitary groups to protect itself in the event of another armed rebellion.

Text by Petr Sapozhnikov with additional reporting by Denis Dmitriev

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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