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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Burlakov: Only the Beginning

General Matvei Burlakov has been sacrificed. If he did one-tenth of what he has been tarred with in the press then he deserves firing and worse. But his demise by no means answers the questions that have been raised about corruption at the highest levels of government since the killing of reporter Dmitry Kholodov.

The first such question is how much further up the ladder did this go? Burlakov was the commander of the Western Group of Forces and the text of President Boris Yeltsin's decree firing the general suggests that he has been implicated in an orgy of profiteering. What then of Burlakov's mentor, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev?

Grachev has received vocal and solid support from the president against charges of involvement either in corruption or in the death of Kholodov, the Moskovsky Komsomolets reporter who had been investigating the Western Group. But even diehard Yeltsin supporters are finding this hard to accept on faith.

Why, we too may ask, did Grachev fight to have Burlakov named to the post of deputy defense minister as recently as August? This was many months after official and journalistic investigations had implicated Burlakov's command in corruption on a massive scale. Prominent figures in government advised against the appointment for precisely this reason.

The president himself was shown the results of the corruption investigations, only they were buried and he fired the country's then chief inspector, Yury Boldyrev. None of this amounts to evidence that Yeltsin -- or Grachev for that matter -- was guilty of personal wrongdoing. But it does raise some dark suspicions about the nature of the political structure over which Yeltsin presides.

Ever since the collapse of Soviet power three years ago, jaundiced commentators have maintained that Russia was being run on principles of theft. Nobody cares, the argument went, if you attack their politics -- but touch their piece of the financial pie and there would be serious trouble.

This was the brutal message behind Kholodov's death. Had his killers wished, they might have done away with him in a staged "accident." But they chose to assassinate him in the most public fashion, sending a warning to the country's journalists.

It was the suspicion that a government or military mafia was responsible for this message that brought thousands of mourners to Kholodov's funeral. That suspicion has also tipped the balance for a large number of former Yeltsin supporters, now persuaded that they are ruled by ruthless thieves.

Yeltsin faces a serious political crisis over this loss of credibility. And he has a great deal to do, in addition to firing Burlakov, if he is to escape that crisis.