Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 237

President Boris Yeltsin held a meeting today in the Kremlin with Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, during which he castigated Russia’s top police official for having painted too rosy a picture of the crime situation in Russia. Yeltsin said while some law enforcement statistics had claimed to show a decrease in crime, his data showed that the number of crimes committed this year increased 5.7 percent over 1997. “And you tell me everything is fine,” a clearly displeased Yeltsin told Stepashin and the Russian public in a film fragment shown on television news reports (Russian agencies, December 22).

Stepashin assured the president that “no one is going to conceal data,” and noted that while the crime situation was indeed serious, his ministry had removed 2,000 police officers who had “discredited” themselves, and prosecuted 300 of them for corruption and other offenses (Russian agencies, December 22). The issue of statistics falsification is a live one in Russia: A former high-level Russian law enforcement official assured a Monitor correspondent earlier this year that the falsification of crime statistics to suit the country’s political leadership has been a regular practice since the Soviet period. The practice is not limited to law enforcement: Earlier this year, top officials in the State Statistics Committee, including its head, were arrested for having allegedly falsified statistics in such a way as to give certain commercial enterprises tax breaks, for which they received kick-backs.

While warning Stepashin not to “let up” in his work, Yeltsin said he “trusted” and “respected” his interior minister. However one newspaper today (Wednesday, December 23) reported that the public upbraiding of Stepashin may have been the prelude to Stepashin’s removal.” “Kommersant daily” reported that there may be a connection between Yeltsin’s critical remarks and rumors circulating in the Interior Ministry that Stepashin will be replaced by Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo. Rushailo was involved earlier this year in the freeing of a number of kidnapping victims in the Caucasus–including Valentin Vlasov, Yeltsin’s envoy to Chechnya–and is widely thought to be an ally of CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky.