An announcement that Russian museums would no longer be guaranteed a police presence to protect their collections has sparked concern that cultural institutions will not be able to afford to pay private security firms, and that foreign museums could stop lending their national treasures to Russia over fears for their safety. Federal police announced the news, saying in a statement that it had been necessitated by budget cuts amid the shrinking economy that prompted a 10-percent reduction in police numbers.
The agency had to choose between cutting back on policemen patrolling the streets and officers guarding buildings and facilities, the statement said. Policemen currently guard 135 museums in Moscow alone, Izvestia newspaper reported. “The security of facilities that have to be guarded by police from stationary posts can be ensured by private and state-owned security firms,” the statement said. But experts expressed doubt over the efficiency and affordability of such companies.
Select private security companies are capable of protecting museums, but their fees are too high for most museums to afford their services, said Sergei Sokolov, a security expert and former head of security for the late Boris Berezovsky, who in the 1990s was one of Russia’s richest and most influential oligarchs.
“Most private security guards in Russia are toothless, while the competent ones employed by Gazprom or Rosneft [energy companies] charge a fortune,” Sokolov said in a phone interview.
“Even if they carry firearms, they often won’t use them, or won’t use force at all, because they don’t know whether they are allowed to by law,” he said. Under Russian law, private security guards are allowed to use force to prevent a crime or defend the property they are protecting if a perpetrator is using physical force.