It was somehow appropriate that the Prosecutor General’s Office’s latest moves against Media-Most corresponded with Press Day. In its honor, Putin held a two-hour meeting with thirty-two top Russian media editors, during which the head of state, paraphrasing Mark Twain, declared that rumors of the death of Russia’s free press were greatly exaggerated. Aleksei Venediktov, chief editor of Media-Most’s Radio Ekho Moskvy, responded with an aphorism, which he attributed to Montesquieu, that it is all right to die for the state, but not to lie about it. Putin reportedly listened politely, but did not leave the meeting a changed man.
The Russian president also addressed the nearly 4,000 prosecutors who gathered in the capital to commemorate another official holiday–the 279th anniversary of the founding of the Russian procuracy. Putin called the prosecutors’ “vast functions and strong supervisory powers” a “compensation” for the lack of law and order in the country. Neither he nor the assembled prosecutors referred to calls from liberal parliamentarians and the Russian Supreme Court’s deputy chairman that the procuracy system, unreformed from the days of Josef Stalin, be overhauled. In fact, a high-level official from the Prosecutor General’s Office even declared that the procuracy was the country’s “chief human rights protector.” For his part, Boris Uvarov, a veteran top investigator who was driven out of the Prosecutor General’s Office last year, told an interviewer that political interference in investigations was greater today than it was during the Soviet period. As if to illustrate his point, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov reportedly ordered that an investigation of Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov’s daughter, who was detained while trying to take more than $5000 in hard currency on a flight to Switzerland, be dropped. As Montesquieu once wrote, “every man who has power is inclined to abuse that power.”