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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

When Police Receive Too Much Power

Worrying signs are mounting about the intentions of the Yeltsin administration in the delicate period following the White House siege and leading up to the December elections. These signs are concentrated mainly in one area: police powers.

Colonel General Alexander Kulikov, the commandant of the state of emergency in Moscow, provided much cause for concern by indicating that the broadened powers enjoyed by the security forces at present might be maintained after the state of emergency is lifted next Monday.

According to Interfax, Kulikov said that President Boris Yeltsin was preparing a decree to give police across Russia broader crime-fighting powers and that this would allow the current crackdown to continue even after the curfew is lifted. The additional powers were not specified.

Few in Moscow would deny that police action against the swelling crime wave in the city is desirable. But the crackdown being enforced now by regular police and special OMON forces has taken a disturbing direction that looks more like an ethnic purge of the Russian capital than an assault on criminality.

The latest factor to come to light is the presence of processing and detention centers around Moscow where people from the Caucasus republics are being held prior to their expulsion from the city. The knots of relatives and acquaintances at the gates seeking news of those inside form a troubling image.

These detention centers are being used to process the people being rounded up by the police under an order that specifically asks them to target nationals of the Caucasus republics. Figures issued by the police themselves confirm that the purge is continuing: around 1, 000 people were said to have been formally expelled from Moscow by Monday, by Tuesday the figure was over 3, 000 and on Wednesday it had passed 4, 000. In addition, Kulikov said, 10, 000 have left "voluntarily" - out of fear.

That this is happening under the pretext of a crackdown against crime in a country that until just a few years ago was viewed internationally as a police state is disquieting. That the officer in charge of the operation is hinting that it could continue is even more so.

Like Paris and New York, Moscow draws its energy and cultural richness from its ethnic diversity. Attempts to "Russify" the city not only violate the rights of those expelled, but are a shortsighted and terribly misguided policy that will harm the city itself as much as Yeltsin's image abroad. Enhancing police powers to conduct this campaign, if that is what is planned, would be more than wrong. It would return Russia to its former status of international pariah.