Sergei Stepashin, named as justice minister on July 2, has been appointed to Russia’s powerful Security Council by President Yeltsin. He takes the place of former Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev, sacked in wake of the "sex in the sauna" scandal. (Itar-Tass, July 22)
Meanwhile, Stepashin has been telling the public how he intends to reorganize the Justice Ministry’s work. He says that, under his stewardship, the ministry will be more zealous in carrying out its task of registering political parties and movements, maintaining not just a register of their names but following up to ensure that their actual activities conform with their declared aims and closing them down if they do not. In keeping with the Yeltsin administration’s determination to crack down on maverick provincial leaders, Stepashin says, too, that the Justice Ministry’s watchdog role will be upgraded to ensure that legislation adopted in the regions conforms with federal law. Stepashin also says that, in order to fulfill Russia’s obligations as a member of the Council of Europe, he will speed up the transfer of responsibility for Russia’s overcrowded and disease-ridden prisons from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry. Responsibility for people in pre-trial detention (whose conditions are reportedly even less humane than those in regular prisons) will pass to the Justice Ministry from the Federal Security Service (FSB — the domestic successor to the KGB). (Itar-Tass, July 19)
Stepashin is a close associate of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who has given him his vocal and enthusiastic support. In a series of TV and newspaper interviews, Stepashin, who until 1995 was the head of the FSB, has sought to allay fears that he intends to resurrect old KGB methods of prying into the activities of political parties and individual citizens. But he has made no attempt to deny his close links with the security services. Stepashin recently affirmed that he has remained on the active reserve of the FSB since 1995, when he left the FSB in the wake of the Budennovsk hostage-taking drama and took up a senior administrative post in the Russian government. "I did not sever my links with the Lubyanka after my resignation in 1995," he said. "I have excellent personal and official relations with FSB Director [Nikolai] Kovalev. I used to visit the Lubyanka regularly, people used to come to me from there, and jointly we resolved many questions." (Komsomolskaya pravda, July 15)
The FSB is perhaps the only federal institution that managed to preserve its provincial links more or less intact during the upheaval of Russia’s move to democracy and the market. Stepashin’s appointment to head what could turn out to be one of Russia’s most important government ministries is fresh evidence that the security police and their associates continue to play an influential role in post-Soviet Russia.
Russia’s Military Bureaucracy Resists Reform.