Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 118

On June 13 the U.S. tobacco firm Philip Morris announced that it had evacuated two Moscow-based British staff after they received threats from criminal figures. This is the first time that a Western company has publicly acknowledged taking such a step in response to criminal pressure. (Reuter, Russian news agencies, June 13)

The same day, Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov told a government meeting that more than 9,000 criminal gangs are now operating in Russia, employing around 100,000 people. In 1996, 21,000 crimes were identified as having an organized crime component. Particularly disturbing was the rise in crime-related explosions, of which there were 886 in 1996, up from just 18 in 1994. Last year’s blasts killed 141 people and wounded 553. Kulikov told journalists that "On the broadest possible level, organized crime is infiltrating different organs of state power and the forces of law and order, including the police and the judicial system.” (Russian news agencies, June 13)

The number of contract killings in Russia rose from about 120 in 1992 to 600 in 1996, of which only around 10 percent have been solved. An estimated 46 percent of the victims were businessmen and 38 percent criminals. (Novaya gazeta, April 27) The high proportion of successful attacks and the low proportion of crimes that are solved testifies to the professionalism of the assassins. Many of the "killers" (Russians use the English word) are thought to be former soldiers and KGB operatives. Unfortunately, the bodyguards are less efficient than the assassins. There are almost no recorded cases of bodyguards successfully fending off an attack, and in many cases bodyguards have died alongside the target victims.

A second reason for the low proportion of killers brought to justice is the fact that the police organs turn a blind eye to these crimes — either because they have been bought off, as Kulikov suggests, or because they assume that in many cases criminals are killing each other and law-abiding citizens should not be too concerned. (Kuranty, June 11-17) A third factor is fear of retribution from the criminals themselves. Last week Moscow police were reportedly bracing for expected attacks on police officials following a crackdown on the city’s Kurgan gang. (Komsomolskaya pravda, June 11)

Chechnya and Moscow Reach Provisional Agreement on Oil Pipeline.