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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Leave Voting To Citizens, Not Chekists

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin addressed a meeting of the Federal Security Service. His message: FSB agents have a crucial role to play this winter in keeping undesirable elements from being elected to the parliament.

We would disagree with the prime minister's assertion entirely. Let the voters decide who should be in the parliament.

It's hard to imagine a situation in any democracy where the security services should be encouraged to place their own political judgments above those of the electorate. But it's even harder when that security service is the not-so-reformed former KGB. This is the same organization that in April offered parliament its cheeky and unsolicited opinion that the Duma's drive to impeach President Boris Yeltsin was illegal.

Stepashin told his Chekists that "criminals" are about to slip into the Duma through the December elections and called for vigilance. Now, again, this is the same FSB that earlier this year was torn between two camps f each of them accusing the other of running organized crime rings within the agency. Alexander Litvinenko and two other former FSB agents told a national television audience they had been instructed by superiors to assassinate Russia's best-known political intriguer, tycoon Boris Berezovsky. Amid giggles and criminal slang, the three also bragged of their own exploits, which included kidnapping, torture and killings.

So no matter how one parses this, it seems that the FSB is having a problem keeping contract killers out of its ranks. How is it going to keep more run-of-the-mill criminals out of the entire national political scene?

For that matter, why should we trust Stepashin when he publicly wrings his hands about organized crime creeping into politics? Isn't this the same Stepashin who, as interior minister, airily announced he would ignore an arrest order for Berezovsky issued by the prosecutor general? We are not making a commentary here on Berezovsky, only on Stepashin's sense of duty f here was the nation's No. 1 police officer, defiantly brushing aside orders from the prosecutor. Berezovsky will come in his own good time and "explain matters," was how Stepashin put it. (After this performance f to say nothing of Chechnya f how could self-described "democrats" applaud Stepashin as prime minister?)

Stepashin has been vague about how FSB vigilance might translate into action. However, he has put forward one concrete task: to keep these elections "clean" of kompromat, compromising materials. But what is kompromat f except evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of government officials that finds its way into the news media? And what can the FSB do to stop this, except muzzle the media?