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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Death Penalty Decree Seen as Yeltsin Boost

President Boris Yeltsin's decree on phasing out capital punishment may not spare lives, but it may rescue some votes for the president's re-election campaign, analysts said Monday.

The decree, signed by Yeltsin on Thursday, seemed designed to bring Russia into line with the requirements of the Council of Europe, which accepted Russia as a member in January on the condition that it abandon the death penalty.

But Yeltsin's decree seemed a curious move, coming just one month before the June 16 presidential elections.

"On the one hand, it doesn't seem to make any sense in terms of the election, because only 20 percent of the Russian population is firmly against the death penalty," said Viktor Kogan-Iasny, an anti-death penalty activist.

Kogan-Iasny claims that some 55 percent of the population is firmly in favor of the death penalty, while 25 percent remain undecided. But he said that Yeltsin would benefit from the votes of all three groups by the passage of his decree.

"With the decree, he gets the support of that 20 percent in any race against a death penalty advocate," he said. "But he also gets the vote of those in favor of the death penalty, because that voter knows that the decree means nothing and that the number of executions is actually increasing all the time."

This assertion was backed by statements made Sunday by Valentin Osotsky, a member of the Presidential Commission for Executive Clemency. Osotsky told Interfax that appeals for pardon are being rejected by the president much more often than in previous years.

He said that while only one out of 56 appeals was rejected in 1992 and only four out of 153 were rejected in 1993, 86 criminals were rejected in 1995 and 30 were rejected in February of this year alone.

Andrei Piontkowsky, an analyst for the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Studies, agreed that the decree was signed with elections in mind.

"His decree doesn't mean the end of the death penalty. It's just the beginning of some long process," he said. " I think it has two meanings. It was necessary to make a gesture to the Council of Europe. And the second, I think the main problem for Yeltsin is to return the democratic electorate which he to a large extent lost after the Chechnya adventure."

Yeltsin's decree is actually a directive to the government to design a bill on phasing out capital punishment. The bill must then pass through both houses of parliament to become law.

But the move is already encountering opposition among Yeltsin's own ministers. On Saturday, Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov told ORT television that it is "unrealistic" to abolish the death penalty. "We cannot renounce the death penalty during the present difficult period of our life," he said.

?Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma took his first step Monday toward abolishing the death penalty, a move Ukraine promised to make when it joined the Council of Europe last year.

Quoting Itar-Tass, the Associated Press reported that Kuchma created a commission for phasing out capital punishment, naming Justice Minister Serhy Holovaty as its chairman.