Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 29

In an address today to the collegium of the Prosecutor General’s Office, President Vladimir Putin said that the crime situation in Russia remains “serious.” Some 3 million crimes were registered in Russia last year, he said, and the proportion of serious and especially serious crimes had risen. “Murders, the kidnapping of people, [and] muggings are becoming common facts of our lives,” Putin said, adding that organized crime “as before, controls a significant portion of the country’s economy.” He paid special attention to the country’s entrepreneurs: They are caught between criminals, on the one hand, and “illegal actions by the authorities, and above all the law enforcement organs,” on the other. Putin went on to say that “hundreds of thousands of criminals” are “strolling” across the country, including more than 7,000 murderers who have not been brought to justice. In addition, more than 30,000 Russians disappear without a trace annually, the head of state said, and law enforcement is unable to find out what happened to them. He claimed that these figures are ten times higher than the losses from the “counterterrorist” operation in the North Caucasus (NTV.ru, February 11).

Putin’s rather grim assessment of the crime situation in Russia is of a piece with the alarming murder statistics that the Interior Ministry released late last year. It reported then that the number of murders committed during the first eight months of 2001–more than 22,000–made Russia’s murder rate the world’s second highest, behind South Africa’s (see the Monitor, October 3, 2001). The worsening crime situation in Russia at large is mirrored in the country’s capital: According to the Moscow prosecutor’s office, the crime rate in the capital grew by 15 percent last year and the proportion of solved crimes fell by 11 percent. As a newspaper noted today, contract killings in the Russian capital, as elsewhere across the country, occur almost every day (Moskovsky Komsomolets, February 11; see the Monitor, August 10, December 3, 2001). Putin’s comments coincided with news of a particularly gruesome crime: The bodies of three women, three men and a child who had apparently been hacked to death by an ax were discovered at a home in a village outside Moscow. No motive for the crime has yet been put forward (RBK, February 11). At the same time, Putin told the country’s prosecutors he was against ending Russia’s moratorium on the death penalty.

All in all, the Russian president was highly critical of the performance of the country’s prosecutors and, by extension, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov. Along with criticizing them for failing to halt crime, Putin also charged that more than 1,300 people were “illegally arrested” last year on the orders of investigators from the prosecutors’ offices (NTV.ru, February 11).