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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Prosecutor Too Subject To Politics




Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov has spent the past three years caught between a rock and a hard place.


While Skuratov came to his job in 1995 with an honest reputation, he has not been able to change his office's reputation for engaging in political interference.


On one side, Skuratov has faced mounting public pressure to solve a series of high-profile murders with clear political links. The very long list is led by the cases of television journalist Vlad Listyev, shot in 1995, and newspaper reporter Dmitry Kholodov, blown up by a briefcase bomb in 1994.


On the other, despite public statements deploring the murders, Russia's political elite has kept Skuratov on a tight leash, restraining him from getting too far on any cases that might affect them personally.


This provides the background for Skuratov's decision this week to charge a former head of intelligence for the Russian paratroop command with the Kholodov murder.


On the face of it, this might look like a break with the past and a sign that Skuratov has become more fearless in the pursuit of justice. But Skuratov will have to do a lot more before he can clear his record.


For one thing, it is incredible that a lone intelligence officer killed Kholodov without orders from his superiors, the senior generals who were the targets of Kholodov's investigative reporting on military corruption. Skuratov has promised more charges soon, but the public will not be satisfied unless somebody in the top brass is named.


Even a plausible resolution of the Kholodov case will not, however, remove the stain of political interference from the Prosecutor General's Office.


Skuratov may have the courage to move against a group of generals four years after the event, now that their political influence has waned. But he has shown little interest in pursuing cases that might embarrass key players in the political hierarchy.


The generals are easy targets. Most are now retired and, for his own political ends, President Boris Yeltsin has endorsed a campaign against military corruption.


Skuratov showed similar courage last year in laying charges in the Kotlyakovskoye Cemetery bombing that killed 14 people in a feud over control of a fund for Afghan War veterans. But in framing the charges, Skuratov steered clear of implicating top politicians.


The really big fish still seem to be untouchable. For instance, Skuratov shows no sign of pushing ahead with the Listyev case, which could involve media moguls and politicians who are still highly influential.


An independent judiciary is crucial for the operation of a democracy, but unfortunately Russia does not have one yet.