I have ambivalent feelings of Moscow's cops. They've fallen a long way since the Soviet era when they were the models of socialist rectitude. They've suffered greatly with the change in government. With crime so rampant and pay so low, it's actually a wonder that there hasn't been a total breakdown in order. By the way, not once did I feel threatened as I walked about Moscow. Very likely the ordinary tourist is safer there than in New York. This is amazing considering the widespread and severe economic hardship in Russia.

Going by uniforms, there seem to be two types of cops. I saw few regular police. They tended to speed about in their cars, were heavily armed, many with AK-47s, and seemed to have countenances permanently graced with snarls. Apparently they don't like to have their pictures taken either. My guide grabbed my camera when I was about to snap a picture and warned me not to do so.

The traffic cops (GAI) have an amazing racket. They stand curbside and stop cars with a flick of their clubs; woe to the motorist who ignores this signal. Acting as judge and jury, they proceed to shake down the hapless motorists on any of a number of pretexts. Once a car I was riding in was stopped. The driver walked back to the cop car and spent the next 20 minutes showing them his papers and talking to them. When he returned, he said that he had been stopped because his car had been emitting too much carbon dioxide and was fined 20,000 rubles. These must have been pretty cynical guys.

Such blatant and casual corruption, in my mind, represents the greatest threat to democracy in Russia.