Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 153

The Russian government is liquidating the Interior Ministry structures created during the 1990s to combat organized crime. It will replace them with new ones. Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov announced yesterday (August 9) that these regional units, RUBOP (the Russian acronym for “regional department for the fight against organized crime”) and KFKM (which stands for “federal criminal police committee”), will be replaced by so-called “operational investigation bureaus”–one for each of the country’s seven federal districts. These bureaus, each with a staff of 200-300, will be subordinated to the Interior Ministry heads of the respective federal districts and will coordinate the activities of the districts’ anti-organized crime, anti-economic crime and antinarcotics units. Gryzlov’s announcement concerning the reorganization coincided with his appointment of the last of seven federal district police chiefs, Major General Boris Uyemlyanin, who will head the Interior Ministry branch in the Northwest federal district, which includes St. Petersburg. The seven new federal district police chiefs will oversee the police chiefs in Russia’s eighty-nine regions, mirroring the relationship between the presidential representatives in federal districts and the regional governors (Moscow Times, Vremya Novostei, August 9).

Overall, Gryzlov’s restructuring of the Interior Ministry is clearly aimed at weakening the regional leaders’ control over police forces and thereby further strengthening the Kremlin’s “presidential vertical of power.” The liquidation of RUBOP would appear to be aimed also at undoing the legacy of Gryzlov’s predecessor, Vladimir Rushailo, who established the units, which were first called RUOP and later redesignated as RUBOP, in the 1990s. Gryzlov, in fact, is likely to use the current period of Interior Ministry reorganization to, as a newspaper put it, “cleanse” the ministry of Rushailo-appointed RUBOP heads, who may be either consigned to the reserves or forced into retirement (Kommersant, August 9; see also the Monitor, March 29).

Publicly, however, Gryzlov justified the overhaul of the anti-organized crime units on the grounds that they have failed to do their job. Indeed, the Interior Minister was unusually frank about these failings yesterday during a meeting in St. Petersburg with police officials from around the Northwestern federal district. Among other things, he said that the Tambovsky organized crime group controls up to 100 industrial enterprises in St. Petersburg, including in the fuel-energy sector. Gryzlov said that Russia’s four main Baltic Sea ports–St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Arkhangel and Murmansk–are 80-percent controlled by the Tambovsky and other organized crime groups, and that the Tambovsky group is also involved in light industry and the food industry, timber export, the importation of alcohol and tobacco and selling oil. According to a newspaper account, Gryzlov specifically mentioned the St. Petersburg Fuel Company, which is headed by Vladimir Kumarin-Barsukov, who has been identified by some media as head of the Tambovsky group (Vremya Novostei, August 9). In October 1998, the then president of the St. Petersburg Fuel Company, Dmitry Filipov, was killed in a bomb blast (see the Monitor, November 23, 1998). Gryzlov also rebuked the local police officials for the fact that of the sixteen high-profile murders committed in St. Petersburg in recent years, including the killing of Vice Governor Mikhail Manevich in 1997 and State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova the following year, only six have been solved. “We are losing the war against organized crime,” Gryzlov declared.

On the other hand, Gryzlov did not speak openly about the widely held perception that the Interior Ministry’s anti-organized crime units ended up behaving in ways quite similar to those they were meant to be policing. The website said that it was “common knowledge” that the RUBOP units themselves had rapidly turned into “kryshas”–a term literally meaning “roofs” that is used for mafia-style “protection” services. “Scandals surrounding the activities of the fighters against organized crime periodically burst out into the open,” the website claimed, “but they were invariably stifled, because all large business structures, as well as regional heads, worked with police ‘roofs'” (, Russian agencies, August 8). While Gryzlov’s frankness was refreshing, it is not at all clear that bringing the Interior Ministry’s anti-organized crime units under stricter centralized control, using new structures established in the seven federal districts, will make them either more effective in the fight against the mafia or less prone to becoming part of the problem. Some observers have expressed similar concerns over a new government financial watchdog agency that will have wide powers to demand documents and other financial information from corporations. Plans for the new body were announced this week as part of the new anti-moneylaundering bill President Vladimir Putin signed into law on August 6. While government officials have promised the new financial watchdog will keep financial information concerning private companies confidential, there is a strong likelihood that some of this information will find its way into the hands of competitors or be misused in other ways (Moscow Times, August 8-9).