In Soviet times, the procuracy was probably the most highly respected institution in the eyes of the general public. The procuracy was responsible for investigating and prosecuting serious crimes, uprooting corruption, and monitoring the performance of the judicial system. Its officials were seen as honest public servants, without the sinister undertones of the KGB.
Over the past six years, however, the procuracy has lost that public esteem, since it seems unable to deal with the explosion of crime and corruption that Russia has witnessed. It is attacked in particular for its failure to deal with the murder of leading figures such as broadcaster Vladislav Listev, or the corruption of top officials. In a recent interview Procurator General Yury Skuratov defended his agency, arguing that his 25,000 prosecutors and 8,500 investigators are insufficient to deal with the rising crime wave. (Komsomolskaya pravda, July 8) He claimed that his agency solved 81 percent of the 30,000 premeditated murders committed in 1996 — a rate that works out at 20 murders per 100,000 residents, compared to just 8 per 100,000 in the U.S. He said that 336 cases of gangsterism were prosecuted in 1996, up from just 8 in 1993. Skuratov noted that the wave of crimes associated with the transition period (fraudulent privatization and the like) are now being replaced by "types of crimes inherent in democratic society" like drug dealing, kidnapping, and international fraud. He said that he was "worried" by the emergence of Cossack groups in some regions, who have taken the law into their own hands and who in some cases even serve as a cover for criminal gangs.
However, as Skuratov started enumerating the important fraud cases now pending, the weakness of his agency in dealing with top-level corruption became apparent. The investigations of the Balkar Trading Company (Aleksei Ilyushenko ), and the Russian Precious Metals Committee (Yury Bychkov) have dragged on for years and still seem far from closure.