Russian president Boris Yeltsin is expected shortly to sign a decree according to which the Ministry of Justice will report to him directly. (RTR, December 9) This will raise the status of the ministry and put it on a par with the "power ministries" which are, under the constitution, subordinated directly to the president. Justice Minister Sergei Stepashin said Yeltsin’s decree would strengthen his ministry’s ability to fight crime. Earlier this year, the Justice Ministry was given responsibility for running Russia’s prisons.
The Justice Ministry is also responsible for registering (in effect, licensing) political parties and religious movements in Russia, and its new status may herald an effort to crack down on political organizations and religious sects seen by the Kremlin as "extremist." Stepashin said yesterday that his ministry has denied registration to a number of organizations whose aims and activities it considers unconstitutional. These include the extreme right-wing Russian National Unity movement led by Aleksandr Barkashov and the Union of Officers led by Stanislav Terekhov. So far, the ministry has refused to register the Movement for Defense of the Armed Forces, lead by retired Gen. Lev Rokhlin.
The ministry is also supposed to alert the federal authorities whenever one of Russia’s republics or regions adopts a law that conflicts with federal legislation (see today’s item on Bashkortostan). Stepashin said yesterday that, of the 9,000 regional laws his ministry has examined over the past two-and-half-years, more than one-third were found to violate federal law in some way. The ministry’s new status is clearly intended to strengthen its position vis-a-vis Russia’s increasingly autonomous regional leaders, who have, until now, largely ignored the ministry’s protests.