Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who along with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov heads the Fatherland-All Russia election coalition, said yesterday that corruption in Russia has become a threat to Russia’s national security. As with much in Russia, there are twists and takes on this. Primakov, the coalition’s putative presidential candidate, estimated that criminal activities were costing Russia US$20 billion a year, discrediting the idea of a market economy and possibly paving the way for a dictatorship, which could be established in the name of fighting corruption (Russian agencies, October 14).
Primakov’s foes, perhaps not coincidentally, are accusing him of just this: harboring the intention to overturn democratic principles in the name of fighting crime. On October 9, the newspaper Novae izvestia–which is generally assumed to be controlled by Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky–ran a front-page article alleging that Primakov, back in February, when he was still prime minister, compiled a list of 162 people “on whom law enforcement agencies, including the Prosecutor General’s Office, have compromising materials connected with criminal activities and violations in the spheres of administrative, economic, and financial activities.” The alleged list was a who’s who of Russia’s political and financial elite, and Berezovsky himself was at the top of it (Novae izvestia, October 9). Primakov denounced the list as a fake. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his predecessor Sergei Stepashin, concurred. Primakov has vowed to sue the paper.
Today, however, more unfolded. Primakov was said to have ordered, this time last year, that the Interior Ministry, Prosecutor General’s Office and the government’s watchdog Audit Chamber “begin work to establish the reasons for [the August 1998] financial crisis and those persons responsible for it.” Last December, according to this allegation, Primakov ordered one of Russia’s law enforcement agencies to consult with the Prosecutor General’s Office about beginning criminal cases. The paper claimed that this order directly followed Primakov’s public announcement of a prison amnesty, which he said would make room for 90,000 “economic criminals.” It was suggested that Primakov was attempting to establish “a police state” (Novae izvestia, October 15).
It is worth noting that Prime Minister Putin’s defense of Primakov gives some credibility to rumors that the Kremlin may be ready to cut a deal with Primakov–if he abandons his alliance with Luzhkov. The other likely victim of such a turn of events would be Berezovsky, which may explain the articles in Novae izvestia.
ABSENCE OF JOURNALISTS PORTENDS TROUBLE FOR ETHNIC RUSSIANS IN CHECHNYA.