Russian History



In the mid-1990s, the Russian government maintained a precarious balance between the newly discovered rights of citizens and the government's perceived need for security from domestic criticism and threats to its power. Between 1992 and 1996, the record of the Yeltsin administration was decidedly mixed. Reforms gradually appeared in prison administration, the rights of those accused of crimes, and the introduction of trial by jury, but beginning in 1993 legislation and executive decrees increasingly had the objective of strengthening the arbitrary powers of government over its citizens in the name of national security. The Procuracy maintains much of the independence it had in the Soviet period; although the role of judges and defense attorneys nominally is greater in the post-Soviet system, Russia suffers a severe shortage of individuals experienced in the workings of a Western-style legal system.

The national security establishment, generally smaller and less competent than the pervasive KGB monolith of the Soviet period, has undergone reorganization and internal power struggles in the 1990s, and in some instances it has been made the scapegoat for setbacks such as the Chechnya invasion. Agencies such as the regular militia (police) and the Federal Border Service have not been able to deal effectively with increased crime, smuggling, and illegal immigration; lack of funding is an important reason for this failure. More specialized national security agencies such as the FSB maintain special investigative prerogatives beyond the purview of normal law enforcement.

As average Russian citizens have gained marginally greater freedom from the fear of arbitrary government intrusion, they have been plagued with a crime wave whose intensity has mounted every year since 1991. All types of illegal activity--common street theft, drug-related crime, murder, white-collar financial crime, and extortion by organized criminals--have flourished. Although the government has announced studies and special programs, Russian society continues to present an inviting target to criminals in the absence of effective law enforcement and the presence of rampant corruption.

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The status and development of Russia's internal security agencies and crime situation are described in numerous periodical articles and a few substantive monographs. In The KGB: Police and Politics in the Soviet Union , Amy Knight describes the structure and influence of the KGB in its final stage before the end of the Soviet Union. The post-Soviet position of internal security agencies is described by J. Michael Waller in Secret Empire: The KGB in Russia Today . In Comrade Criminal: Russia's New Mafia , Stephen Handelman investigates Russia's organized criminal element and official corruption, against the backdrop of social conditions and government attitudes prevalent in the 1990s. The 1996 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report of the United States Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics Matters provides a summary of narcotics activity and government prevention measures in Russia. Penny Morvant's article "War on Organized Crime and Corruption" describes Russia's crime wave and government attempts to combat it; two articles in the RFE/RL Research Report , Christopher J. Ulrich's "The Growth of Crime in Russia and the Baltic Region" and Julia Wishnevsky's "Corruption Allegations Undermine Russia's Leaders," approach the same topics from different perspectives. Numerous articles in the Christian Science Monitor , the Foreign Broadcast Information Service's Daily Report: Central Eurasia , and the Moscow daily newspapers Nezavisimaya gazeta and Izvestiya include current information on Russia's criminal justice and prison systems and on the crime problem. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)