MOSCOW — No flashy raids or mass arrests were reported, but Russia entered a new regime Monday--the tougher new order dictated by President Boris N. Yeltsin's controversial decree cracking down on organized crime.
From now on, Russian police on the trail of certain crimes have the authority to detain suspects for up to 30 days without bringing charges, search vehicles and offices without a warrant and inspect bank records without a court order.
Russia's rocketing crime rate and widespread corruption have become devastating political liabilities for Yeltsin, second only to the ravaged economy in the Russian people's litany of reform-era grievances. In popular perception, the "mafia" is taking over much of the country, the streets are unsafe and officialdom is all on the take.
The thirst for law-and-order measures contributes to mass support for ultranationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, who backs the creation of summary courts with the power to execute "bandits" on the spot.
After months of pledges to fight crime and ineffective commission work, Yeltsin finally issued what is known as the "anti-banditry" decree June 12--only to be confronted by a wave of political opposition and complaints that the decree would violate Russians' rights.
Police and the Kremlin have responded with a public relations campaign touting the decree as simply a way of making the procedural nuts and bolts of crime-fighting easier. They assure Russians that there will be no human rights abuses. "The start of the decree won't come with fireworks," Mikhail Yegorov, head of the Russian police's department on organized crime, told reporters recently.
In fact, in classic post-Soviet fashion, the decree's first day in effect began not with fireworks but with confusion. Vladimir Kolokoltsev, chief of the 108th Police Precinct in the very center of Moscow, said he had heard about the measure on the radio Monday but had yet to receive instructions on how to implement it.
A worker at the Interior Ministry press center at first said, "Decree? What decree?" when asked about its first day in action, then a colleague recalled that they had spent much of the day making copies of it to be distributed to local police stations.
Yevgeny Ryabtsev, director of the press center, said police are working on "a special schedule for our staff to cover the most criminal places," in tandem with counterintelligence agents, Interior Ministry troops and prosecutors. He hastened to add, however, that the decree would not mean "a roundup of all of Russia."
Police are under extra pressure to use the decree to good effect in the wake of their embarrassing performance last week in a sweep of organized-crime haunts dubbed the "Hurricane" operation. According to Moscow media, leaks gave the mobsters plenty of time to clear out well in advance, leaving police largely empty-handed.
Authorities here, though, are also under pressure to avoid abusing their new powers, particularly because any complaints of unfounded harassment and arrests will play directly into the hands of Yeltsin's opponents. In a rare harmony among Communist, nationalist and reformist lawmakers, all three voted to ask Yeltsin to rescind the decree last week. Yeltsin responded with a stubborn, simple \o7 nyet, \f7 and his chief of staff, Sergei A. Filatov, said Monday that he is convinced the Russian president has the public's support for the crackdown.
Yegorov assured the public that the new police powers will apply only to those suspected of serious crimes, such as murder and extortion.
While much of the Russian public may know that it wants an offensive on crime, many here appear to have little knowledge of Yeltsin's decree. The latest poll by the independent Institute of the Sociology of Parliamentarism showed that 59% of 1,000 Muscovites surveyed had not heard of the decree or had only vaguely "heard something about it." A total of 33% said they thought it should be carried out, 10% were against it, and 57% could not say either way.