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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sleaze Wars No Shock to Jaded Public

Are the tapes published in Moskovsky Komsomolets on Friday genuine? Were they provided by President Boris Yeltsin's former chief body guard and confidant, Alexander Korzhakov? It is impossible to say for sure.


But in Russia's current political culture, it may not matter. Where nobody expects justice or accountability, it is the appearance that is all. The tapes will be accepted as real and Korzhakov as their source because that fulfills popular expectations on both counts.


Korzhakov will be seen to have confirmed some of the worst rumors about himself. Previously, he has bolstered his reputation as a killer by alleging that the financier-cum-politician Boris Berezovsky had come to him with a request to murder several leading figures. Presumably, Berezovsky knew where to go for such a request -- if he indeed made it.


This time, it is the popular perception that Korzhakov systematically bugged his colleagues in the Kremlin -- not to mention opponents outside the administration -- that will have been cemented.


But the publication of recordings -- whether real or not -- from the fateful evening when two campaign staff were caught with a cardboard box stuffed with $500,000 will also solidify popular beliefs about the level of sleaze inside the Kremlin.


This time the matter at stake is not murder but rather the cynical flouting of campaign finance laws, disinformation and a gross abuse of powers. If there were any believers in the existence of honest men in the Kremlin left, they are disillusioned now. The distinction between good and bad is reduced to one between officials ready to kill and those who are not.


Friday's publication may well be only an opening salvo in a renewed sleaze war. Already in the alleged tapes, Yeltsin Chief of Staff Anatoly Chubais says he is ready to reveal evidence of the blood on Korzhakov's hands if the general should say anything about the $500,000.


Yet again, none of this will come as much of a shock to the Russian public. They have long since assumed that Korzhakov was a killer, that Chubais broke all the rules in winning Yeltsin's reelection last summer, and that the country's courts and prosecutors are at the beck and call of its politicians.


But what is interesting and new about these alleged transcripts is that the ultimate target is not just Chubais, but Yeltsin. The president is presented as having been told about the money illegally sloshing its way in and out of his campaign headquarters, and sanctioning it. He is presented as willing to telephone the prosecutor general and tell him to ignore the case of the $500,000.


It is, on all sides, a tale to disgust.