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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Fires 2 Officials Over Slaying

Hours after the designated head of Russian Public Television was shot dead, President Boris Yeltsin announced Thursday that he was firing the Moscow prosecutor general and the city's chief of police.

In a televised speech which broke a period of semi-isolation from the public, Yeltsin condemned the killing of Vladislav Listyev as a "cowardly and vicious murder."

Appearing before a packed auditorium at the northern Moscow headquarters of Ostankino state television, Yeltsin called the firings "a small price to pay for the death of Vlad Listyev. It will be fair because human life has been lost, and these people will just be dismissed."

Yeltsin denounced the still-undiscovered forces behind Listyev's killing, accusing them of infecting the city with a ruthless and invincible criminal element. Only in Moscow does Russia see "the merging of the mafia with various commercial structures, with administrative agencies, the Interior Ministry bodies, the authorities of the city," he said. "And the authorities of these bodies turn a blind eye to these things."

The president did not exclude himself from blame.

"I bow my head to you as one of the people, one of the leaders who are guilty because they have not taken sufficient measures to combat banditry, corruption, bribe-taking and crime," he said.

At several points during his brief speech, Yeltsin appeared emotional and paused to gather himself, clearly personally affected by the murder.

Given that the president has lately avoided the limelight on weighty issues -- he has only twice addressed the nation on the war in Chechnya -- his swift and forthright reaction came as something of a surprise.

According to one political analyst, his decision to go before the cameras indicated how serious the nation's predicament is. "The murder of Listyev is going to have a very large political impact and Yeltsin understood that," said Sergei Markov, a political scientist at Moscow State University and a scholar at the Carnegie Institute in Moscow. "This incident is a symptom that the powers are not in control, that they can no longer control this country."

Markov dismissed the firing of Vladimir Pankratov, the police chief, and Gennady Ponomaryov, the city prosecutor, as a token gesture.

"Everyone is expecting him to fire Viktor Yerin," he said, naming the interior minister. With each high-profile killing, especially the recent killings of two Duma deputies, legislators have howled for Yerin's head. "He will have to give up Viktor Yerin," Markov added.

Others were critical of the move as well. The heads of the legal committees in the Federation Council and the State Duma issued a joint statement disparaging Yeltsin's move.

"The authorities want to place the blame for lawlessness on the wrong people," the statement said.

Yeltsin said that Russia had been holding back from aggressively prosecuting organized crime because it was afraid of becoming "a police state." He held up the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan as an example of how to deal with organized crime.

"In Uzbekistan they seized and executed six groups of bandits. They were executed by Interior Ministry bodies and things began to improve immediately," he said.

While Yeltsin did not advocate declaring a state of emergency or turning Russia into a police state, he said the powers that already exist should be doing their jobs better.

"The Prosecutor General's office is tough enough and has enough firmness to make mafia groups tremble," he said.

Markov warned, though, that Yeltsin may use this occasion to further his own ends. That could include the possible postponing of elections, ostensibly due to the unstable political climate, or the imposition of a police state. Though Yeltsin would never use those words, it was no accident that he used Uzbekistan as an example of how to get things done, Markov said.

"I think you can say that in the near future things are going to be a little too interesting," he said.

Ostankino chairman Alexander Yakovlev, who sat at Yeltsin's side as he addressed the station's staff, thanked the president, and added his own comments.

"If you look at the string of murders," he said, referring also to the killing last year of investigative reporter Dmitry Kholodov, "they are all champions of freedom and reform, campaigners for our progress, for the democratic system that we have," he said. "I believe that in the final analysis, it is a political assassination."

Following is the text of President Boris Yeltsin's televised speech to the staff of Ostankino on the killing of Vladislav Listyev, issued by the Federal News Service:

A tragedy has occurred. A tragedy for the staff of Ostankino, for all journalists, and for the whole of Russia. This tragedy is a hideous murder, a cowardly and vicious murder, of one of the most talented men in television -- Alexander Nikolayevich [Yakovlev] says one of the most talented TV men in the world.

He was certainly outstanding at Ostankino. This is not the first case in which a journalist has died. So there are some causes -- which the state cannot identify, which the government and the president cannot cope with, which the prosecutor's office and the administrative bodies cannot cope with.

Apparently there is something about the atmosphere among the staff at Ostankino. There is something.

Undoubtedly Moscow is most noted for such violent associations. In the rest of Russia, irresponsibility does not hold such sway among the administrative bodies, such laxity, as in Moscow -- the merging of mafia with commercial structures, administrative agencies, Interior Ministry bodies, city authorities -- where the authorities of these bodies turn a blind eye to these things.

Considering that Moscow is separate, that its administrative bodies are separate from the Interior Ministry, I think that it will be too small a price to pay for the death of Vladislav Listyev if both the Moscow Prosecutor and the head of Moscow's Main Directorate for Internal Affairs are dismissed from their jobs. It will be fair, because a human life has been lost, and those people will just be dismissed.

No doubt this is one more lesson for us. We are afraid of ourselves, we are afraid of turning Russia into a police state, and we are afraid to toughen our struggle against these bands.

In Uzbekistan they seized and executed six groups of bandits. They were executed by Interior Ministry bodies, and things began to improve immediately.

I am not calling for a state of emergency. We do not need a state of emergency. But considering that I sent a new law on the prosecutor's office to the State Duma and a new law on greater responsibility for crime and unlawful actions of all bodies and all executives, this should play a part. The Prosecutor General's Office is tough enough and has enough firmness in order to make mafia groups tremble, to make them feel that there will be no leniency. This is the only way we can stop this wave of crimes, of banditry.

I could not fail to come to you at this moment, and as one of the people, one of the leaders, who are guilty because they have not taken sufficient measures to combat banditry, corruption, bribe-taking and crime, I bow my head before you.

In addition, I would like to say that I have supported, and will continue to support, Ostankino. I will sign a decree that has been prepared on some changes, so to speak, but this will be to the benefit of Ostankino. There will be no mergers with the Russian program, etc.

I understand how aggrieved you feel, how aggrieved we all feel. But let us remember how Vladislav Listyev worked, and emulate his example. I express my condolences to the whole staff, to all of you, to his friends, to those who were close to him, and of course to his family. Thank you.