While they hardly get noticed anymore, the number of contract killings in Russia in the first five months of this year was twice that for the same period in 1998. Russian Interior Ministry officials reported yesterday that 567 businessmen were killed by hitmen between January and May of this year, while 232 were carried out over the same period last year. A total of 599 contract killing were carried out in 1998. According to police officials, contract killings are most common in the energy, metals and banking sectors. They are meticulously planned and carried out, often having as many as ten links between the contractor and the killer. Police officials report that the killings can cost as much as US$100,000, though the various middlemen receive far more than the killers themselves (Russian agencies, June 24; Moscow Times, June 25). In an example of the growing problem, the Moscow police reported today that it had broken up a criminal group which had been carrying out contract killings, kidnappings and the theft of foreign-made cars. The group, which operated Moscow and the surrounding Moscow Oblast, was led by a 40-year-old career criminal of Tatar nationality, but made up of young people of various nationalities, including Russians, Ukrainian, Armenians and Jews. Upon the arrest of the group’s members, the police seized four foreign-made machine pistols, ammunition and nine hand grenades (Itar-Tass, June 25).
The increasing sophistication of the assassins’ methods was demonstrated in another incident this week. At around midday on June 22, three people were seriously injured in a shooting attack outside the central Moscow offices of Russkoe zoloto, a company which owns boutiques and fashion houses and is also involved in jewelry, real estate and travel businesses. The shots were fired from a Kalashnikov automatic, which had been set up in a Zhiguli automobile but was fired by remote control by someone located in bushes nearby, police reported. Among those wounded were a private security guard for the Russkoe zoloto facility, whose facade was shot up. Several local police officer were coincidentally at the scene when the crime took place, and understandably could not figure out who was doing the shooting.
The founder and head of Russkoe zoloto, Aleksandr Tarantsev, claimed that the June 22 incident was connected to an anniversary being marked that day–the 1941 Nazi attack on the Soviet Union–and was carried out by “fascists.” Tarantsev, according to some media, has been connected to battles for spheres of influence over various Russian outdoor markets and nightclubs. He was arrested for fraud in the Soviet Union in 1979 and 1982. In 1997, he was indicted in Florida for allegedly lying on his U.S. visa application. Tarantsev was later released from U.S. custody (Kommersant, June 23).
POLITICAL OBSERVERS CONTINUE TO PUSH RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION SCENARIO.