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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Campaign: No Place for FSB Chief

The election team that President Boris Yeltsin unveiled over the weekend has a certain kind of logic to it. The president has gathered around him those he trusts most, whose loyalty he prizes.


There is nothing wrong with gathering one's closest advisers around for the electoral fight. Even the presence of Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana, on the team is a refreshing change from the grey anonymity of family members in Soviet times.


But most members of Yeltsin's inner circle are already working high up in his administration and should therefore be barred from outright politicking.


Russia's election law clearly states that officials engaged in electioneering must take leave from their jobs for the duration of the campaign. But there has been no suggestion that the prime minister, or the head of the president's administration, will take a two-month vacation.


Perhaps most troubling is the presence on the team of Mikhail Barsukov, the head of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, a successor organization to the KGB. In no democratic country in the world would the head of the country's internal intelligence organization be allowed to campaign openly for a presidential candidate. The thought of the head of the FBI or the CIA openly endorsing one or the other presidential hopeful would be funny if it were not so frightening.


At the very least, having the head of the FSB on the Yeltsin's election team opens the president to charges that the domestic snooping organization could be used to spy on and intimidate his rivals. In fact, it is difficult to imagine what other function the FSB chief could have -- presumably Barsukov has not been brought aboard to stuff envelopes.


Another disturbing surprise is the presence of NTV president Igor Malashenko in the campaign camp. Although the NTV press service was at pains to emphasize that Malashenko is only acting in an advisory capacity, a close link between what has always been billed as independent television and Yeltsin's campaign is uncomfortable to contemplate. It robs NTV of the moral high ground it has occupied since its inception just over two years ago.


The argument is sometimes made that these elections, and therefore the rules that govern them, bear no comparison with polls in the West because the stakes are so much higher here. But that is to argue that the end justifies the means, which is wrong and damaging.


It is to Yeltsin's credit that the elections are, at least for now, on schedule for June, evidence of how far Russian democracy has come. But the profile of Yeltsin's campaign team offers equal evidence of just how shallow are the roots of that democracy.