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Russians relish sex and video `skandal'

RUSSIANS RELISH political "skandals" more than any other blood sport, and the latest to surface in the feral world of Moscow politics is a classic.

The chief exhibit is a secretly recorded videotape, which purports to show the country's top prosecutor cavorting with two young women.

Such scenes ought to be a fatal blot on the curriculum vitae of one of Russia's most senior officials. As Prosecutor General, Yuri Skuratov is in the front line of law enforcement, a medal-bedecked warrior in the battle against corruption.

That is not how it turned out. In the early hours yesterday, a clip of the film was screened on a national television station. There was no sign of the spotless military uniform that Mr Skuratov, 46, is fond of wearing. Instead the portly stud was seen in a pair of underpants.

The screening came as the prosecutor was confident that his job was secure, for the first time since being forced into offering his resignation six weeks ago. Only hours earlier, he had strode out of the Federation Council, parliament's upper house, after it voted to refuse to accept his decision to quit.

The council, made up of powerful regional leaders, was shown the videotape before the vote, but decided that what the prosecutor may have done within the walls of someone else's bedroom was his own business.

While this may appear to be a refreshing example of Russian liberalism, the reality is less attractive. The Prosecutor General's survival revealed only that the upper house was intent on humbling the sick and meddling Boris Yeltsin. The President wanted the Prosecutor General out; the council, which has the final word, was having none of it. So it delivered Mr Yeltsin's second defeat by parliament in just over six months, providing further evidence of his wasted political sinews.

There is another issue. Russia's regional heavyweights in the Federation Council have plenty of their own skeletons. They doubtless hope for the same generosity from the Prosecutor General that they have accorded him. Mr Skuratov's fight against crime will now be tougher still.

Not that he was making much headway. His term has been marked by a failure to crack any high-profile cases - neither the murder of the television executive Vladislav Listyev, nor that of Dmitri Kholodov, an investigative journalist blown up by a briefcase bomb, nor that of the democratic parliamentarian, Galina Staravoitova, gunned down in St Petersburg last year.

Mr Skuratov disagrees. This week he portrayed himself as a victim of his own intrepid labours. Complaining of "illegal bugging" and "interference with private life", he linked his attempted ouster with sensitive operations by his department. It has been looking at how Russia's Central Bank transferred foreign reserves into a Jersey account, and into the activities of the tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

But before he can pursue these matters, Mr Skuratov must fend off a counter-attack by a wounded Mr Yeltsin, who has launched a Security Council inquiry into his conduct.

But one case looks likely to forge ahead. Mr Skuratov's office yesterday said it mightprosecute the RTR channel, which screened the offending clip. The channel had "jeopardised the Prosecutor General".