The position of chief prosecutor is meant to rotate every five years and thus it is unsurprising that Yuri Semin (Syomin), who was appointed in 2006, has stood down and is being replaced. I find it hard to regret Semin’s departure (I’d only call him a heavyweight tongue-in-cheek), who did little to prevent his office being politicized in terms of the cases brought to court and, arguably at least as important, the cases which were not, and, I felt, handled racial violence especially poorly. Of late, the Moscow region and city procuracies alike have also been embroiled by investigations, not least one relating to links with gambling bosses which tarnished his deputy, Alexander Kozlov who is also under investigation for an illegal privatization. Semin was presumably seen as having proven himself a safe pair of hands, though, as he has moved on to head the General Procurator’s Office’s department overseeing anti-corruption legislation – a great place to protect the Kremlin’s friends.
Although technically his candidature has to be confirmed tomorrow by the Moscow Duma, with today’s announcement of his candidacy, the choice of Sergei Kudeneev to replace him is essentially a foregone conclusion. It is quite an interesting choice, though. (First Deputy Prosecutor Vyacheslav Rosinsky at the same time was transferred out to become deputy head of the GerProkuratura’s department for criminal prosecutions – perhaps either as a consolation prize for not getting the top spot or else because Kudeneyev wanted a clean slate.) Kudeneyev, was previously prosecutor of the Mordovian republic (this is presumably the same S V Kudeneev who wrote his 2005 thesis on ‘Pressing questions of maintenance of legality at municipal level: On the Republic Mordovia example’?) and then Orel, where he played a role in laying the foundations for the anti-corruption campaign that followed the removal of long-time regional boss Yegor Stroyev. Most recently, he headed the Prosecutor General’s Office for the Supervision of the Legality of the Execution of Criminal Penalties, which hardly sounds like an exciting position, but is a significant one and a stint at the central GenProkuratura is an essential part of the cursus honorum of a rising star. There, he proved rather more open than some of his predecessors, in February even admitting to a 6% rise in deaths in Russian prisons last year. I can’t say this with absolute surety, but I also get the sense that he was genuine in trying to extend the use of parole in non-violent crimes, too.
Orel is hardly cleansed, and I’d hesitate to identify Kudeneyev as some kind of paladin ready, willing and able to swoop in and cleanse Moscow. I’d like to think so, but we don’t yet know him well enough – and how free a hand he will have. The first indicator, though, will be what happens in the Moscow procuracy itself. That needs to be cleansed thoroughly for any wider systemic progress: watch this space.