THE MAGAZINE

Moving Beyond Soviet-Era Security

By Teresa Anderson

In the 1990s, Russia was on the cusp between Soviet rule and Glasnost. The era, often referred to as the Wild Wild East, saw a nascent private security industry made up of former athletes organized under former military officers. These security guards wore track suits as uniforms and carried hunting rifles because firearms licenses were nearly impossible to obtain legally.

This disorder in the newborn security industry mirrored the upheaval in the rest of Russian society, according to Robert Jones, a security consultant based in Moscow who spoke on the subject at the ASIS International European Security Conference held in Berlin earlier this year. “Contract murders, murky privatization deals, corruption of gigantic proportions, and an outrageous wealth inequality were hallmarks of this period,” said Jones.

But those days are over, he told attendees. Today, Russia has a more professional, fully licensed and regulated private security industry. To obtain a security guard license, applicants must now complete a government-run training program lasting four weeks for full-time students and six weeks for part-timers. In addition to classroom and hands-on training, the applicants undergo medical and psychological testing.

Despite that progress, much work must be done before the more than 250,000 private security companies currently operating in Russia meet consistent standards of professionalism, according to Jones.

One problem is that Russia’s insurance industry is poorly developed and none of its companies specialize in private security. And getting insured by foreign companies is extremely difficult. As recently as two years ago, Jones said, the two largest security industry underwriters in the United Kingdom refused to insure Russian companies.

Those Russian insurance companies that do insure private security firms are frequently unreliable. “Insurance companies often draw up unscrupulous contracts whereby the insurance companies avoid paying any claims,” said Jones. “The result is that many private security companies, lacking proper legal support, fall victim to this scheme and go bankrupt after a single incident.”

Another difficulty is recruiting and retaining quality employees. Due to a dearth of workers and a surfeit of jobs, it is becoming increasingly difficult to retain workers in large cities. “Security companies are forced to look further afield to find workers,” said Jones.

Under an old work rule from the mid 1990s, officers work 24-hour shifts followed by four consecutive days off. Making the situation worse, guards frequently work for more than one company and log several consecutive 24-hour days, a practice that produces exhausted, overworked guards and poor security.

“I have no idea when we might see the first eight-hour shifts and a 48-hour work week for Russian guards,” said Jones. “Sixty hours a week is still the average work week in reputable companies.”

Russia’s security industry also wrestles with corruption in its own ranks, which Jones attributed in part to low pay.

While new guards are thoroughly screened during the application process, security firms do not conduct intermittent background checks during a guard’s tenure.

Further, checks on employees’ status are impossible, Jones said, because Russia’s fledgling consumer credit system does not provide individual ratings.

It’s up to managers to notice if a guard suddenly sports a Rolex or reports to work driving a new sports car. Then they alone must determine whether the employee’s wealth is ill-gotten.

Jones reminded the audience that though Russian private security service providers still have far to go in catching up with their Western peers, it can take pride in coming so far in such a short period. “Fifteen years is not a long time.” Jones said. “I’m sure that most of you have whiskey on your shelves that is more developed than our industry.”

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