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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Legal Officer Should Not Be Political

If the Federation Council is President Boris Yeltsin's best friend in the legislature, then why has it refused to approve his candidate for the job of prosecutor general, Alexei Ilyushenko? On Monday parliament's upper chamber voted 72 to 65 against approving Ilyushenko, Russia's acting prosecutor general since February. The refusal hardly came as a shock but it has thrown a large question mark over the president's relationship with the supposedly tame upper chamber of parliament. At first glance the vote might seem petulant, a way for the deputies to get their own back after Yeltsin usurped their constitutional powers by effectively dismissing Ilyushenko's predecessor, Alexei Kazannik. The Council, a conglomerate of elected and appointed regional leaders, was clearly miffed and twice voted not to accept Kazannik's resignation -- a privilege which is theirs under Russia's new constitution. But there is more to it than petulance, for the role of prosecutor general was entirely political in the ex-Soviet Union, has remained so since and, under Ilyushenko, there is no reason to believe it would change. The first post-Soviet prosecutor general of Russia was Valentin Stepankov, who sided overtly with the former Supreme Soviet in its struggles with Yeltsin. Stepankov was sacked on Oct. 5, one day after resistance in the former parliament was crushed. Next came Kazannik, who had a reputation as a loyal Yeltsin man and honest law-yer. He resigned in anger in February, saying Yeltsin had tried to force him to prevent the release of the leaders of the October revolt under an amnesty passed by the Duma. Enter another president's man, Ilyu-shenko. There is nothing inherently harmful in loyalty: Thomas Beckett too was loyal to his king, and yet proved all too independent of spirit. But Ilyushenko's recent history gives reason to believe that, like Stepankov, he would use his office as a political tool. Ilyushenko in 1993 helped to form the infamous presidential commission on corruption that went after former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi using documents that later proved to be forged. The commission -- and indeed the entire exchange of corruption charges between Rutskoi and the president's administration -- was a sordid affair that had nothing to do with justice. Recently, Ilyushenko's office has announced that it is reopening some of those corruption cases. Surely a figure less tainted by Russia's bitter political feuding can be found for a post so vital for this country's development as a law-based state. As Yeltsin prepares for the signature Thursday of a peace accord with his political opponents, the best sign of his good faith would be to name a truly independent prosecutor general.