Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 100

In February of this year, President Vladimir Putin painted a rather grim picture of the crime situation in Russia and criticized the country’s law enforcement agencies for failing to cope with it. A series of unrelated attacks and murders in Moscow yesterday (May 21) illustrate that the situation has not improved. Last night, Andrei Petukhov, the general director of the insurance company SOGAZ, a subsidiary of the state-controlled Gazprom natural gas monopoly, was murdered along with his driver at a suburban Moscow dacha compound. Police sources said that the crime appears to have been carried out by at least two people using Makarov pistols with silencers.

Various theories have already been put forward concerning the possible motive for the apparent contract killing. According to one, the murder of Petukhov, who was appointed head of SOGAZ just last month, may have been connected to his stated plan to purge the company of holdovers from the old management team. Some anonymous sources also said it was possible that, after assuming the helm, Petukhov had uncovered operations that were “not fully legal.” Other sources, however, said the murder could have been connected to his previous job at Inkombank, where he worked from 1996-1998 and which became insolvent following the August 1998 financial crisis, or his subsequent job at the state-owned Rosgosstrakh, Russia’s largest insurance company, where his work included bankruptcy proceedings against a number of large regional enterprises. Whatever the case, some observers said they were shocked by Petrukhov’s murder, given that the insurance business had not been plagued by the kind of violence seen in other sectors of the market, such as oil and aluminum (Kommersant, Vedomosti,, May 22).

Meanwhile, the general director of the Russian representation office of the German cigarette maker Reemtsma was attacked and stabbed in the center of Moscow yesterday morning by three unidentified assailants. The victim, a Danish citizen, was taken to the hospital and was last reported to be in satisfactory condition. Around the same time, Sergei Vakulin, head of the capital’s Pechatniki municipal district, was knocked unconscious by two unidentified assailants, who stole the keys to his office, home and personal safe. There was a third incident in central Moscow yesterday morning. A passerby discovered the bodies of two apparent murder victims, a man and a woman, in a pedestrian underpass next door to the Interior Ministry building. The website noted that these three incidents, while unrelated, all took place “in the center of the capital” in both open and guarded areas, yet the assailants were able to attack and flee unmolested (, May 21). Also in the early hours of May 21, an unnamed 38-year-old businessman was shot in the stomach, leg and arm by an assailant who was waiting for him in the entranceway to his Moscow apartment building. The victim was taken to the hospital in serious condition (Kommersant, May 21).

Over on the other side of Russia, meanwhile, an attempt was made on the life of a high-ranking official. General-Major Vitaly Gamov, head of the South Sakhalin section of the Federal Border Guard Service’s Pacific Regional Department, was severely burned along with his wife when someone tossed a Molotov cocktail into their apartment in the early hours of Tuesday (May 21). Their 13-year-old son was unharmed. Gamov and his wife were flown to a burn unit in the city of Sapporo, on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, later in the day. Sakhalin prosecutor Yury Denisov said the attack was most likely carried out by “criminal structures” in revenge for the border guards’ ongoing campaign to thwart the contraband sale of sea-products such as crab (,, May 21).

In February, Putin told a collegium of the Prosecutor General’s Office that murder, kidnapping and mugging had become “common facts” of Russian life, that organized crime continued to control “a significant portion” of Russia’s economy and that “hundreds of thousands of criminals” were “strolling” across the country, including more than 7,000 murderers who have not been brought to justice. The Russian president mentioned another hair-raising fact–that 30,000 Russians disappear without a trace annually and law enforcement is unable to determine their fate (see the Monitor, February 11).

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov yesterday ordered the creation of an operation-investigative group for decriminalizing the situation in St. Petersburg. According to Aleksei Savin, deputy head of the ministry’s main criminal investigation department, the new group will be tasked with countering the activities of criminal groups operating in St. Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad Oblast (Kommersant, May 21).