From the bowels of the President Hotel, once reserved for the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, a shadowy team of operatives works behind doors guarded by armed men.
They are led by a former KGB general who has taken a key role in President Boris Yeltsin's bid for reelection, according to officials familiar with his campaign.
Gen. Georgy Rogozin, deputy head of the Kremlin's security service, stays out of the limelight. But his presence at the nerve center of Yeltsin's campaign symbolizes a tightening cloak of secrecy around Russian government affairs that critics say is threatening many of the democratic victories won by glasnost, the Soviet policy of openness.
The cloak is being woven by presidential decrees, governmental regulations, and legislation that have surreptitiously screened off wide areas of official life from public view over the past few months.
The trend is all the more striking after the unprecedented freedoms that marked the Soviet collapse in December 1991, when officials and journalists delighted in shattering the silence that had dominated much of Soviet life for decades.
Their actions sparked hope that Russia was developing into an open society along more Western lines. But recent developments cast doubt on such hopes, clawing previously public information back into the classified zone.
At the heart of this trend is a little-noticed edict, No. 1203, signed by President Yeltsin on Nov. 30 last year. It sets out "a list of information classified as state secrets." Its 87 clauses cover such expected areas as military production and security-service operations. But they also extend to issues that would be considered legitimate public concerns in many countries, such as the design of nuclear-power stations.
The edict also elevates apparently innocuous information to the level of "state secret." For example, the "volume of import and export freight shipped between the Russian Federation and CIS states," the independent nations that emerged from the Soviet Union, is now secret and may not be published.
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