Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 237

In one of the more audacious assassination attempts in Moscow’s history, Iosif Ordzhonikidze, a deputy prime minister in the Moscow city government, was shot yesterday in broad daylight within sight of the Kremlin. Ordzhonikidze was being driven to work when an assailant wielding an AK-47 equipped with a silencer and using armor-piercing bullets attacked his car. His driver was killed instantly. Ordzhonikidze was hit at least three times, including once in the abdomen. He underwent surgery yesterday. As of early afternoon today, Moscow time, he remained in critical condition, though he had regained consciousness. Police distributed a composite drawing of the killer today, but also reportedly put out orders to examine any corpses discovered around the capital, on the theory that the assassin may himself have been “liquidated” for having botched the job (Russian agencies, December 19; Segodnya, NTV, December 20).

Iosif Ordzhonikidze–a grandson of Grigory Ordzhonikidze, a.k.a. Sergo, one of the original Bolshevik revolutionaries and the Soviet Union’s commissar for heavy industry in the early 1930s–is a former Komsomol leader who has served as the Moscow city government’s vice premier in charge of external economic relations since 1992. He has overseen some of the city’s most valuable projects, including the Manezh Square and Gostiny Dvor shopping malls and a planned multibillion-dollar business center for the capital, and supervises the hotel, casino and lottery businesses in the city. This explains why observers yesterday were united in saying that the assassination attempt was connected to his professional activities. Even his boss, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, said: “Most likely he made a decision, or was about to make one, which did not fit into the plans of one of the criminal structures.” Indeed, Ordzhonikidze was reportedly threatened on more than one occasion, and his deputy, Vyacheslav Borulnik, was the target of an attack in April of this year (Moscow Times, Vremya novostei, December 20).

The large number of high-profile and expensive projects in which Ordzhonikidze has been involved has spawned an almost equal number of theories as to the reason for the assassination attempt. The website, for example, noted that last year Ordzhonikidze headed a commission charged with holding a tender for the contract to replace central Moscow’s Soviet-era Intourist Hotel with a new five-star hotel. A French company won the tender but later pulled out of the project. “It cannot be ruled out,” the website report noted, “that the existing Intourist found influential protectors, who were unhappy with both the terms of the tender and its results. It’s no secret that criminal structures have for a long time been interested in the divvying up of the capital’s hotel market” (, December 19). At the same time, others suggested that the attack on Ordzhonikidze grew out of a conflict within the Luzhkov administration itself. According to Vremya novostei, there are two rival projects to build a Formula 1 race course in the capital. One of them–which is being pushed by Ordzhonikidze and another vice mayor, Valery Shantsev–would build the racecourse in partnership with Britain’s TWR Group. The other–which is being pushed by yet another vice mayor, Vladimir Resin, and Shamil Tarpishchev, Luzhkov’s sports adviser (who was once Boris Yeltsin’s tennis partner)–would carry out the project in conjunction with Germany’s Tilke Gmbh. According the paper, the project is worth US$100-250 million (Vremya novostei, December 20).

Whatever the case, the attack on Ordzhonikidze was just the latest reminder of the degree to which Russian business has become criminalized. At least eight Moscow city government officials have been attacked since 1994, including Valery Shantsev, who was nearly killed by a bomb explosion while campaigning for the deputy mayor’s post in June 1996 (Moscow Times, Moskovsky komsomolets, December 20). As in Russia’s other major cities, including St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, contract killings are commonplace in Moscow. Just this week, for example, the head of a Moscow firm, his deputy and two of their friends were shot to death in southern Moscow. According to investigators, the company head appeared to have been targeted for assassination, possibly because he was deeply in debt, while the other three were murdered simply because they were witnesses (Segodnya, December 19). Earlier this month, the deputy director of a Moscow food market died after an assailant using a pistol with a silencer shot him and one of his employees (NTV, December 2).