Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: One Cheer For Premier's Crime Fight




This week has seen the resignation of the prosecutor general, high-profile raids on properties associated with Russia's most infamous business tycoon and rumors that the president and the prime minister are in conflict.


In any normal country, at least somebody from the government would be explaining to the public what is going on. Yet we have still tohear from either President Boris Yeltsin, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, former Prosecutor Yury Skuratov or even financier Boris Berezovsky. The public, as always, are left to guess what is going on.


Fortunately we have lots of practice. We can see, for example, that Primakov is bent on breaking the oligarchy - specifically, on bringing down Berezovsky. The prime minister is trying to wrest free every major property Berezovsky controls or influences, from ORT television to Aeroflot to Sibneft to the president and his family. This is long, long overdue. Primakov deserves the nation's gratitude and support for this effort.


Even so, there is much alarming in Primakov's behavior - and one can't help thinking we are being flipped out of the frying pan and into the fire. It is disturbing to see a man who has served decades in the Soviet spy bureaucracy talk of "optimizing" the use of jails by filling them with "economic criminals" (a spooky term that sounds like a 1990s version of the 1930s "wreckers").


Primakov's rhetoric sets a national tone, and so it's not surprising to see that the Supreme Court has unexpectedly condemned environmentalist Alexander Nikitin to years of limbo. And it's hard to imagine spymaster Primakov ever stepping in to protect Nikitin, even though both men are in their own way the truest of patriots.


It is even more disturbing to see this prime minister angling to put himself above the constitution. Amid a political honeymoon, Primakov nevertheless feels the need to ask parliament to renounce its power to challenge his government. Basically, Primakov does not like the idea of ever being democratically removed from office.


Many wonder if Yeltsin will now sack Primakov. That's unlikely for now, because Primakov is shepherding the 1999 budget through parliament. But afterward, losing Primakov would be no disaster. The Duma won't like it, but the Duma is about to grind to a halt anyway, as deputies' thoughts turn toward December elections.


If Primakov passes the budget, breaks the oligarchy and then is sacked, he will earn that coveted title, "reformer," and with it Russia's gratitude. His replacement could be anyone - from Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky to former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov to Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov - and Russia would be better for it.