Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Travesty Of Justice at Parliament

Russia's efforts to build a law-based state have suffered a serious setback. The decision Thursday by one of the top legal officers in the land to disclose the results of a corruption investigation before the case came to court was a clearly political ploy aimed at discrediting senior members of the Yeltsin administration and derailing the Constitutional Assembly. Instead, Deputy Public Prosecutor Nikolai Makarov succeeded only in discrediting himself and the office he serves.

The events of Thursday would be viewed as outrageous if they had happened in the West, and indeed they are outrageous here too. Makarov stood up in parliament -- as though it was a court of law -- and cited detailed charges against some of President Boris Yeltsin's closest aides: First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and Mikhail Poltoranin, the head of the presidential information service.

Each of these men is viewed with contempt by various different anti-reform members of parliament: Shumeiko as one of the prime movers of economic change, Grachev as the leader of the Russian Army's conversion from war machine to a less offensive force and Poltoranin as Yeltsin's "bad boy" of ideology.

To charge them in a political forum -- and particularly the one led by Yeltsin's prime nemesis, Ruslan Khasbulatov -- without benefit of judge or jury is a contemptible political act. It is like, and is linked to. Vice President Alexander Rutskoi's announcement on the eve of the April referendum that he had a strong corruption case against senior Yeltsin officials.

This case smacks of the sort of irregular justice practiced by Makarov's boss. Public Prosecutor Valentin Stepankov, with respect to the accused plotters of the August 1991 coup. By publishing the results of his investigation before the case came to court, Stepankov ultimately succeeded in derailing the trial, which was suspended on May 19 and has not resumed.

It is far less likely that Makarov's ploy will succeed in derailing the Constitutional Assembly, which is moving toward a draft of Russia's first constitution as a democracy. Certainly the ploy produced spectacular effects -- parliament demanded that Shumeiko and Poltoranin step down, and threatened to pull all legislators out of the "tainted" constitutional gathering.

But the Yeltsin team looks prepared to weather the storm. Whatever the outcome of Makarov's gambit, the Constitutional Assembly has defied predictions and forged ahead with its new charter. and if that new constitution comes to fruition, the Russian legal system should no longer be subject to such blatant irregularities.