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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MOST Raid Must Not Be Hushed Up

Dozens of armed, masked men roar up to a downtown office building. Brandishing Kalashnikovs, they order everyone to lie in the snow. When police and reporters try to interfere, they threaten to shoot. And when intelligence officers arrive, the tires of their cars are shot out.


This was the extraordinary scene last Dec. 2 at the headquarters of MOST-Bank. And no one was comforted when reports emerged a couple days later that the raid was not the work of criminals, but of General Alexander Korzhakov -- President Boris Yeltsin's chief of security -- and his merry men, sparing no effort to guarantee the safety of Russia's first democratically elected leader.


On the contrary, the news of Korzhakov's involvement merely magnified the feelings of helplessness that Muscovites live with in a city where open shoot-outs and bombings are a common occurrence, and the tactics of the police sometimes differ little from those of the mob. Korzhakov's stunt seems to have been a blatant -- and successful -- attempt to intimidate and terrorize not just MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky, but the entire city as well.


Now the military prosecutor investigating the case has reported that charges will not be pressed, that no laws were broken and that, as far as he is concerned, the matter is closed. No one, apparently, witnessed or was willing to testify as to how two MOST employees received injuries severe enough to require hospitalization.


It is, however, crucial that the matter not be allowed to end here. The prosecutor claimed that Korzhakov's men acted within the framework of existing rules of conduct for the president's security apparatus. If this is true, and it staggers the imagination, then those rules must be immediately rewritten.


A country with Russia's sad history of totalitarianism can ill afford to give any law enforcement body free reign. Korzhakov has given no reason why the MOST raid, if it was justified in the first place, could not have been handled in coordination with other law enforcement authorities.


The ball now is in the Duma's court. Hearings must be held without delay and Korzhakov must be compelled to explain why it was necessary to act in this way. The prosecutor's office and legal experts must make specific recommendations for drafting new codes of conduct. The Duma must approve them and see that they are observed.


Perhaps the saddest part of this matter, though, has been Yeltsin's own silence. Neither in December nor since has he condemned the action, reprimanded Korzhakov or even expressed regret that his bodyguards became so apparently overzealous in his protection. And that is inexcusable, since there is clearly much more at stake in this matter than the president's personal security.