Who do you think taught the Latin Americans how to steal?
Wednesday, January 13, 1999
Market Mobsters Show Art of Running Russia
By Irina Glushchenko
Have you ever been to Moscow’s “Kashhky Dvor” market where building materials
are sold? It is the largest market in the city, and there you can find anything
from nails to a cast-iron cockerel intended to crown the spire of a new Russian
house. The traders that sell the smaller stuff are spread out in rows of
covered stalls, while the bigger goods are sold in small sheds and pavilions.
These are mostly full of display models, however, and if you want to buy
a particular item you may have to traipse your way across the whole market
to one of dozens of containers where the stocks are kept.
You’re best going there in a car to do your shopping but if you don’t have
transport, you have to use the cars that wait by the market with cardboard
signs in the windows that say “Deliveries.” So that’s where my husband and
I had to go first to arrange something, even before we bought all the bits
and pieces we needed for our home improvements.
“It’s not my turn,” said the first driver we approached, motioning us to
another vehicle. “Leningradsky Prospekt?” we asked the second man, and had
to list the goods that were to be transported. He thought for a minute and
then named his price of 450 rubles. No way, we won’t pay more than 200. “So
go and look for 200,” he said with a smile.
There are no drivers who are not part of his group – outsiders looking to
make a few dollars like this just aren’t allowed near the place, so we decided
to try the opposite end of the market where we went through the same discussion
with a young, pleasant-looking lad who seemed to be directing loading operations.
He directed us to another driver who seemed willing to haggle a bit. “400
rubies,” he said. “I have to pay my dues, after all.” We eventually agreed
Now we could get on with our shopping, moving from container to container
and leading the porters to our vehicle where everything was loaded or put
on the roof rack. All around us there was hustle and bustle, kebabs sizzled
at food stands, and men with dark glasses and mobile phones moved purposely
between piles of cans of paint, stacks of timber and rows of porcelain toilets.
Life was in full swing.
We finished loading and set off. I remembered the phrase, “I have to pay
my dues, after all,” and although our driver sat impassively behind the wheel
I decided to ask him who he pays. “The mob, of course, the Solntsevo gang.”
“You mean the ones whose boss was just on trial in Switzerland?”
“The very same.” We drove on. I told him I was a little unnerved to hear
that we had just left a bandits’ lair, but the driver saw things in a different
light. “Things are well run there, there’s order, lots of new jobs to go
around. The whole of the southern district earns its livelihood from this
market traders, baggage porters, drivers, snack vendors.”
It transpired that he was one of 35 drivers allowed to work the patch, all
paying $450 a month, which leaves him with up to $3,000 if business is good.
And so long as he pays up at the end of the month, he can choose to work
when he likes.
He began to warm to the conversation. “My buddies fixed me up here after
a business I was in went badly wrong,” he said, pulling out a photograph
of a smashed up, overturned while Volga that he and four friends were travelling
in to Minsk when their business partners ran them off a bridge. Only he survived
He seemed happy with his new job. “Where else can you be your own boss and
earn that sort of money with very little effort? I’ll drop you off now and
that’ll be it for the day, except to go to the bank.”
There is of course an official market management, but they just deal with
the purely technical aspects of running the place, the driver then explained.
All the unofficial proceeds from the drivers, container owners and anyone
else doing business there filter their way up through various people to the
main man at the market, the smoiryashchy, “he who watches over things.” So,
who does he owe?
“He owes everybody.’ ” It sounds like a hard job.” He frowned. “People generally
don’t last long in this position, but there are always new people willing
to do it.” “Why?”
“You don’t know what it means to have a lot of money. I found out the hard
way that I’d rather do without it.” ” So is the stuff sold at the market
“Oh yes. They control that very strictly If you have a complaint about something
you bought and the trader will not replace it then that person is in a whole
lot of trouble. But first they force him to pay up, you know, for breach
of dealer-client trust.”
“And then?” He said nothing. I changed the subject.
“Your friend back there was talking to a policeman.” “It’s Tuesday. On Tuesdays
the cops do the rounds – that’s another hundred bucks, if you please – and
Thursdays it’s the tax inspectorate’s turn. They don’t touch us, because
the mob tells us we have pay up. Basically, the mob is the only people anyone
can do business with in this country,” he said, assuring me that’s the way
it works everywhere, not just at the market.
None of this really came as a big surprise to me, and I have long since
understood that there’s no point moaning and complaining about it. But the
trouble is once there was not just a gap between “honest people” and “bandits”
– these were two entirely different worlds. Now the division is blurred and
it’s hard to separate one group from the other. Things that were once the
subject of criminal features on television and in the newspapers have become
a part of daily life, and bandit jargon is steadily creeping into the language
of political scientists and even theater critics. And sometimes corruption
does seem to be the only rational method in Russia of making decisions.
“So can’t anything be done about all this?” I asked the driver. “Where have
you come from, the moon?” he replied, shaking his head. “Everything takes
its own course – it’s no use you protesting against failing rain, you just
have to know how to use an umbrella,” he concluded as we reached our house.
He unloaded everything and look his 300 rubles, that was his working day,
except for a quick trip to the bank, like he said.
The world as he had painted it to us “, as sleek and streamlined, but we
felt sad nonetheless. Oddly enough, though, it was smotryashchy I felt the
most sorry for.
Irina Glushchenko is a theatre critic and freelance journalist. She
contributed this story to The Moscow Times.
March 5, 1999, Johnson’s Russia List
Corruption in Russia
By Alexander Samoiloff
Dear List Members I can give you only my humble personal Russian provincial
middle class opinion on the issue of corruption in Russia. Of cause, it’s
a human nature to wish more, than one has today. Corruption is an eternal
social evil, which is impossible to exterminate completely. But in different
countries there are different levels of corruption, as it highly depends
of economic situation and government’s policies. Now in Russia we have the
unique opportunity to compare two systems: the Soviet regime and the Democratic
1. In the Soviet system we had an underground corruption, and only
few officials secretly took bribes through middlemen. In case of leakage
of the information to public, they were severely persecuted, like jailed
(often 7-10 years), and even shot. That was a very risky business. So, in
general, all levels of the Soviet officials, from a Communist Party Secretary
to a petty public worker, much cared about their reputation and had a genetic
fear of punishment. There was a wide propaganda of the INEVITABILITY OF
PUNISHMENT FOR CRIME. It’s true that in the Soviet Union there was flourishing
a system of Blat (Left handed support: You-Promote Me – I Promote You), which
was considered as a minor evil.
2. During reforms the corruption has penetrated all levels of Russian
society, and now is the established system, and even the way of life. There
are few basic reasons for that:
IMPUNITY FOR CRIME- It starts from a regular press reports about theft and
bribery in the top echelons of power. And results are the same: no legal
action, and what is the most important, in case of a criminal charge – no
results (conviction reports). I mean they may report about charging a criminal
file, and later silently close it. Of cause, there are reports about “persecution
for corruption”, but it is rather a war between political and economic groups,
than the true action to hit the corruption. In sound like a group of guys
uptown have lost their feeling of the true Boss, and do not want to share
any more the booty. Or other team wants to take their place.
SITUATION OF AN AVERAGE AND LOWER LEVEL OFFICIALS. It seems that Russian
government has created a big layer ( as I remember about 18 million buroctrats)
of a low paid and uncontrolled officials, and gave them free hand to raise
a living at large. Let me give you just few live examples for better
understanding of this statement: Traffic cops: Every Russian knows that if
traffic cop stops you on the road, he must be greased. This idea has highly
penetrated Russian mentality, and they take it as the way of life.
One day a popular Russian TV program GORODOK played the trick. A man dressed
into Russian traffic police uniform stopped Russian immigrants in Israel
and requested the bribe. The former Russians paid without any hesitation.
To the question WHY, YOU ARE IN ISRAEL?, they explained that may be it is
a joint Russian-Israeli joint venture and etc. This in an example of a human
behavior. From the other side, the Russian traffic cops, at best, are paid
about US$200 per month. This is evidently not enough to support a family,
and they have to seek for an opportunities to raise funds besides their regular
earnings. And the similar problems are faced by many other Russian officials.
Some honest people simply have no choice.
Many officials co-founded their business companies and promote them by using
their position. One day I had a chance to attend a weekly working meetings
of EU and Russian immigration officers. Russian officers were much impressed
of the salaries and benefits enjoyed by their western counterparts. Later
few Russian officers told me that in the western system they would prefer
to work only honestly. Their salaries now are about US$150 per month.
In Russia now we have a saying: “If you steal a big amount and share it with….
– be sure to feel safe. If you steal a little, beware of the persecution.”
For example: In 1998 the regional audit commission found that the leaders
of the Khabarovsk Pensioners Fund (federal) have spent about 38 million Rbls
on their own needs, and local pensioners received only 1 million Rbls. The
result of this loud provincial case is that the Chief of the Fund was fast
promoted to a higher position in Moscow (bailed out), and the criminal case
went there, and successfully died.
Or now Khabarovsk public watches the scandal of the Chairman of Khabarovsk
Krai Court Mr. Valery Vdovinkov (the Top local Eagle Eagle), who has spent
about 2,9 million Rbls of state funds for presents to the top level Lawyers
in Moscow, and also has written off individual loans for support of his
accountant’s kids (80,000Rbls) . We suspect that finally the Judge will be
bailed out to Moscow and the case will successfully die.
At the same time old Babushkas, who struggle for survival with their 300
Rbls pension and sell illegal tobacco on the streets (to the sum of 60 Rubles)
are fast charged the criminal files and persecuted. I think, that Evgeny
Prymakov (if his intent to clean up the Russia is true) is now facing the
problem to break up the estabilshed mentality of the IMPUNITY FOR CRIME.
November 9, 1998, Reuters News Network
Russia’s economic crisis fosters endemic corruption
By Adam Tanner
STAVROPOL, Russia, – Breaking the law comes naturally and almost inevitably
amid Russia’s economic chaos says Stavropol’s bluntly honest Mayor Mikhail
Kuzmin, and he gives his mother and wife as an example.
‘My parents have a nice dacha and in the autumn my mother, a pensioner,
sells extra pears as they have a very large harvest,’ he said in an interview.
‘Does she pay taxes? No. Can we call her a thief under our current government
situation? No. But, in theory, yes, she is a thief.’ Kuzmin also mentioned
his wife’s extra earnings cleaning in their apartment complex to illustrate
that under Russia’s often tangled rules and burdensome taxes skirting the
law comes easily. Sometimes it leads down a slippery slope of corruption
Last week, economist Grigory Yavlinksy, head of the liberal Yabloko political
party, said government leaders were prone to corruption. Other political
leaders from Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov on down rallied to criticise
him and demand that Yavlinsky prove his claim.
In the southern Russian city of Stavropol in the North Caucasus, politicians
and law enforcement officials agree that corruption is endemic in today’s
Russia, which has seen its economy sharply worsen since August. ‘No one
should object if you say there is a lot of corruption in the government,’
said Alexei Selyukov, the region’s prosecutor and 35-year veteran of the
department. ‘We have to recognise that corruption is widespread, and it’s
because of the economic situation.
‘It is especially hard to root out because there are no records of the
transaction written anywhere.’
Officials know that state goods disappear. People are drinking far more alcohol
than factories officially make, and bureaucrats can deduce that there are
more cigarettes in the market than excise taxes received. ‘Everyone is stealing
all the time,’ said Pyotr Akinin, chair of the economic department at Stavropol
State University. ‘If a person is not sick, old or mentally ill, he wants
to feed his family and will violate the law to survive.’
Akinin believes corruption and wrongdoing is so pervasive
that he calls Russia today a kleptocracy, or government of thieves. ‘All
the politicians understand they are unlikely to be re-elected so they must
seize what they can now,’ he said. Asked if Russia was a kleptocracy, Mayor
Kuzmin — the city’s highest official — said: ‘There is some truth in that.’
Viktor Cherepanov, the deputy chief regional representative for President
Boris Yeltsin, gave the example of the Stavropol government’s 1997 purchase
of foreign medicine at what he said were prices far higher than world levels.
‘If prices go so high, corruption is an inescapable conclusion,’ he said.
‘I think politicians should have money behind them to start with. Take Kennedy,
Reagan, they were millionaires and didn’t come to power to make money,’
he said. ‘But many here come to power simply to get rich.’
Public prosecutor Selyukov said the medicine purchase matter is under
investigation, but said the shipment’s value may have been under-estimated
to pay lower import duties, thus confusing what really happened in the deal.
The Russian middleman has gone to Cyprus and could not be questioned, he
added. In an interview, Governor Alexander Chernogorov vowed a full
In general, experts say diversion of government or private company resources
is commonplace. For example, one Russian magazine executive was dismissed
this year for keeping some of his advertising budget, industry insiders say.
BONANZA IN OIL AND VODKA
Kuzmin said officials at government enterprises such as electricity stations
sometimes divert power supplies to earn money on the side. Trade in oil,
vodka, cigarettes and wheat are other common areas of collaboration between
criminal bands and government officials corrupted to turn a blind eye. ‘In
principle it is the government that gave life to these businesses because
of their own weakness and uselessness,’ said Kuzmin.
Stavropol’s border with the breakaway region of Chechnya creates other
possibilities for shipping goods into Russia without customs or legal control,
and thus another wave of corruption, experts say. Yet few of these cases
go to trial. ‘Can someone follow through this matter? It’s practically
impossible,’ Kuzmin said.
Ruslan, a tall Chechen wearing a long black leather jacket, recently returned
to Stavropol after a week-long business trip to Siberia. He carried just
one a small bag, which he shared with a colleague. ‘I’m a businessman,’
he said. ‘We buy things in one place and sell them in another. We don’t
He did not give details.
While many of Russia’s corrupt deals deliberately confuse with their complexity,
some recent cases in the Stavropol region are straightforward. In one, a
district deputy head was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for
taking a 4,000 rouble ($250) bribe for issuing a permit, Selyukov said. ‘When
you are handing out permits for selling something like bananas, location
makes a big difference,’ he said. ‘If you’re next to the stadium you’ll
make a lot more money than on some obscure corner.’
WAGE DELAYS INCREASE PROBLEMS
Stavropol’s law enforcement bodies are not themselves exempt from corruption,
and wage delays averaging about two months only increase the temptation of
fast cash. In June, one of Selyukov’s investigators was arrested for taking
money to discontinue his efforts, he said. Clouding the issue further is
the use of corruption charges as a political weapon, as in 1992-93 when Alexander
Rutskoi, then the vice president who opposed Yeltsin, charged the president’s
team with wrongdoing, only to face counter charges.
Today Governor Chernogorov raises questions about both his predecessor’s
administration and the federal government. ‘Today if you steal a sack of
grain they give you five years for theft. Where they’ve stolen tens of thousands
of tonnes no one is held responsible,’ he told Reuters.
‘The federal government buys bread for $152 a tonne from abroad and from
Stavropol they want to pay $60,’ he said. ‘How could that be?’
On an individual level, Russian officials sometimes sympathise with some
bending or breaking of the rules because so much is already wrong in post-
Soviet society. ‘How can you arrest a farmer for stealing corn if he hasn’t
been paid for six months?’ Prosecutor Selyukov asked. ‘Bribery is an extremely
complicated problem, there are so many nuances.’
As Yeltsin’s representative Cherepanov put it: ‘Nothing is black or white.
We are grey.’
The Independent 18 November 1998
Russian spies running protection rackets
By Phil Reeves in Moscow
Russia’s secret service, successor to the KGB, is being used to carry out
assassinations, seize hostages and extort money from big business, agents
have claimed. In an extraordinary public appearance, Federal Security Bureau
(FSB) officers said the agency was being used “to settle accounts with
undesirable persons, to carry out private political and criminal orders for
a fee, and sometimes simply as an instrument to earn money”. The men, several
wearing reflective sunglasses and one clad in a black balaclava, unveiled
their allegations at a press conference in Moscow, plunging the agency into
one of its more serious, and mysterious, post-Soviet scandals.
“Our aim is to draw public attention to the deviations in the work of the
Federal Security Bureau that are exceedingly dangerous for society and which
have become features of its activities,” they said in a statement. “We do
not want the shadow of the criminal actions of a number of officials to be
cast on the service and its honest officers.” The statement was signed by
two colonels, two majors and a senior lieutenant.
Security officers publicly attacking their bosses is unheard-of in post-Soviet
Russia, and immediately dominated television news headlines, casting a shadow
over the meeting in Moscow between President Boris Yeltsin and the German
Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder. In recent years, reports have regularly linked
organised crime and the FSB, which has suffered from low morale, poor pay
and a brain drain, following the break-up of the far larger KGB. Thousands
of ex-KGB agents have taken paid jobs in the shady world of Russian business
and banking. Some media reports have linked FSB elements with contract killings,
bombings and hostage-taking. But this is the first time that officers, apparently
from the heart of the security system, have so openly spelt out allegations
of top level corruption.
They acknowledged that they risked reprisals. “We were told, ‘we will first
boot you out of the service and then stifle you like pups’,” said Lt-Col
Alexander Litvinenko. The most dramatic revelation has been the men’s claim
that a senior FSB officer ordered the colonel to kill Boris Berezovsky, one
of Russia’s top business and media magnates, who played a leading role in
releasing two British hostages in September. Lt-Col Litvinenko, Mr Berezovsky’s
former bodyguard, claimed he did not carry out the order, which he received
last December, because he regarded it as illegal. The colonel said as a result
he was assaulted, received death threats and was threatened with prosecution.
In May, media reports accused him and his colleagues of being involved in
murders, assaults, torture and extortion.
Lt-Col Litvinenko claimed one FSB officer also accused him of “preventing
patriots from the motherland from killing a Jew who robbed half his country”.
Mr Berezovsky has Jewish roots, an issue that has acquired significance because
of the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Russia. Another officer, Major Andrei
Ponkin, yesterday claimed that in late 1977 the FSB leadership planned to
kidnap the brother of a prominent Moscow businessman, Umar Dzhebrailov, Hussein,
then take him to a country house. “In case of resistance … we were ordered
to kill the policemen who guarded him and then kill him, as one of the options,”
he said. The order was never carried out.
The agents argue that these were not isolated incidents. “The order to
assassinate … Berezovsky, unfortunately, is not an exceptional event in
the present life of the FSB,” said their statement. The director of the Federal
Security Bureau, Vladimir Putin, has confirmed that Russia’s chief military
prosecutor’s office is investigating the Berezovsky case. But he has also
threatened to sue accusers if their claims prove groundless. The officers
have stressed the director is not their target and the agency’s problems
began under his predecessor, General Nikolai Kovalyov.
Johnson’s Russia List, December 2, 1998
Russia plans to track bureaucrats’ assets
Reuters News Wire
Russia’s lower house of parliament on Wednesday approved a measure requiring
citizens to declare their assets before starting government service in a
move aimed at fighting corruption.
Corruption is widespread throughout the Russian government and despite occasional
pledges by the president or police, law enforcement has made little progress
in recent years in punishing corrupt officials. Under the new regulations
approved by the Russian State Duma on its third and final reading, people
entering government service will be obliged to declare assets and liabilities.
The media can publish top officials’ details, but lower bureaucrats’ files
will remain private. Bureaucrats found lying about their declarations can
lose their jobs.
President Boris Yeltsin in 1997 introduced a system requiring public income
declarations from top officials, but observers say many still hide the true
level of their wealth. ‘The problem of corruption in the government apparatus
remains acute,’ Yeltsin said in a written document that accompanied his
February 1998 state of the nation address. The Duma legislation now goes
to the Federation Council upper house of parliament for approval.
Because of Russia’s immature financial system, it remains difficult for tax
authorities to trace transactions or to calculate an individual’s assets.To
buy an apartment, for example, the purchaser usually arrives with a suitcase
of cash, leaving no paper trail.
Russian government employees remain poorly paid, with the president officially
earning about $550 a month. Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov said in a newspaper
interview last month that low salaries make officials easy to tempt with
Washington Post December 6, 1997
Crime, but No Punishment
By Amy Knight
Two weeks ago, in the entrance to her St. Petersburg apartment building,
a woman was gunned down. The hail of bullets had all the earmarks of a political
assassination. But despite what Russian officials say is a massive manhunt,
it is unlikely that those responsible for the slaying of parliamentarian
and democratic reformer Galina Starovoitova–and the wounding of her press
aide in the same attack–will be apprehended soon, given who is in charge
of the case.
The Federal Security Service (FSB), one of the KGB’s successor agencies,
has a dismal record of finding the perpetrators behind what has become an
epidemic of politically motivated murders in Russia. Since 1994, five other
parliamentarians have been killed, along with investigative journalist Dmitry
Kholodov, prominent television commentator Vladislav Listiev and St. Petersburg
Vice-Mayor Mikhail Manevich. Each of these crimes remains unsolved, suggesting
that the FSB–the country’s main security organ–is allowing a climate of
lawlessness in which violence is becoming a central instrument in the country’s
Indeed, the death of Starovoitova, 52, on Nov. 20 is not just a tragic loss
for the forces of democracy in Russia. It is yet another reminder of how
little progress Russia has made toward achieving a civil society since the
Soviet days, when the KGB spent much of its time persecuting those like
Starovoitova, who defended her convictions without regard to the vested interests
she offended. Her fierce independence helps explain why her funeral drew
thousands of people, many of whom openly despaired at the country’s inability
to put an end to rampant criminality.
To be sure, the security police today do not round up dissidents for speaking
out against the government and do not arrest writers for printing subversive
literature, as they did in the past. But in allowing violent crime and corruption
to become a way of life, they have taken the country far off the democratic
path upon which it embarked in 1991. It is difficult to speak of democracy
or civil rights when politicians and their aides, journalists and businessmen
face a possible sentence of execution by hired thugs.
The FSB’s failure to solve political murders does not stem from an insufficient
arsenal of forensic technology or a lack of experienced investigators. The
problem is that the FSB is run by employees of the former KGB, which trampled
with impunity on individual rights, colluded with Communist Party officials
in corruption and even used criminals to carry out contract killings of
troublesome dissidents. Old habits die hard, so it is not surprising that
since 1991 Russia’s security agencies have been beset with corruption scandals
and charges of mafia connections. Former FSB director Nikolai Kovalev, who
was fired last July, has even been implicated in an alleged FSB attempt to
murder businessman Boris Berezovsky, one of Russia’s leading financial
The new FSB chief, Vladimir Putin, has vowed to rid his agency of corrupt
officers and to stem the tide of violent crime. But this refrain falls flat
in the face of the FSB’s crime-fighting record. In St. Petersburg last week,
Putin and his team of investigators were talking tough. They made it clear
that the seriousness of the Starovoitova killing–defined under the criminal
code as “encroachment on the life of a public figure”–calls for draconian
measures. The probe into her killing has resulted in more than 300 arrests
and widespread police raids in the St. Petersburg region.
But the FSB may just be blustering. Although some observers suspect that
Starovoitova’s murder is connected with her support for anti-corruption
candidates in St. Petersburg’s municipal elections, being held today, others
say the FSB should look for the killers in its own backyard. The expertise
with which her murder was carried out strongly suggests connections with
the security services. According to the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, the
killers used external surveillance and wiretapping to determine Starovoitova’s
movements, and their sophisticated weapons were of the type that only security
Even if current or former FSB personnel were not directly involved, the agency
has little motivation to bring the culprits to justice. Most FSB officials,
after all, spent their formative years in the KGB. Putin, for example, began
working for the KGB in the 1970s. Contrary to official claims that he was
a KGB foreign intelligence officer, reliable sources in Moscow insist that
Putin worked on the domestic side, possibly even for the KGB’s notorious
Fifth Chief Directorate, which targeted dissidents.
Putin, who is originally from St. Petersburg, appointed as his new first
deputy Viktor Cherkesov, formerly head of the St. Petersburg FSB and a onetime
notorious KGB investigator of human rights activists. Instead of attempting
to curb St. Petersburg’s rampant crime, Cherkesov devoted his time as security
chief in the city to the case of former navy officer Alexander Nikitin, who
was arrested in 1996 on charges of treason and leaking state secrets to a
Norwegian environmental group. Nikitin, whose prosecution drew widespread
protests from the international community as well as from Duma deputies like
Starovoitova, aroused the FSB’s ire when he drew attention to nuclear waste
dumping by Russian submarines.
Given their past, it is hard to imagine that these FSB officials are anxious
to find the killers of such an outspoken defender of democratic freedoms
as Starovoitova. More likely is that, in the name of law and order, they
will use the murder as an excuse to violate individual rights by expanding
the FSB’s already substantial powers of covert surveillance, search and seizure,
and other investigative methods. In taking this approach, the FSB can count
on the support of the state Duma, the Communist-dominated lower house of
the Russian parliament, for a police crackdown. As a response to the Starovoitova
murder, last Wednesday Duma deputies approved a draft resolution asking Moscow
city authorities to reinstall the statue of “Iron Felix” Dzerzhinsky, the
ruthless chief of Russia’s first political police, in front of the security
service headquarters, where it had stood until it was toppled by angry crowds
in August 1991 as a protest against police repression.
Even if the parliament were inclined to reform the FSB, it is powerless to
do so. Under current law, the FSB and other security agencies are answerable
only to the Russian president. Although he has fired several security chiefs,
Boris Yeltsin has never attempted to curb corruption or institute meaningful
changes in the operations of these agencies. His sole strategy has been to
use the security services as a means to defeat political opponents and ensure
his own power. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who has taken over many of
the ailing president’s responsibilities, is unlikely to do things differently.
A former chief of the KGB’s foreign intelligence apparatus, Primakov retains
close ties with the security police establishment. His main response to the
Starovoitova murder was to approve a new package of tough anti-crime measures,
some of which could open the door to police excesses.
With all its attention focused on the Russian economic crisis, the West,
and the Clinton administration in particular, may be underestimating how
serious a threat the deterioration of law and order is to Russia’s future.
It is hardly useful, for example, for the United States to offer the Russians
expert advice on fighting organized crime when Russia’s crime fighting agencies
are corrupt and neither Yeltsin nor Primakov will do anything about it.
Speaking at Stanford University in November, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe
Talbott, President Clinton’s point man on Russian policy, observed that
democratization in Russia “has proved surprisingly durable.” But we cannot
assume that democracy has taken root in Russia simply because there is a
parliament and freedom of the press. What good are elections if elected
representatives are assassinated with impunity? And how effective is a free
press if journalists who take on such issues as corruption are mowed down
by machine guns?
In the end, it makes little difference that dissidents and those who challenge
the prevailing political powers are no longer jailed by the KGB for speaking
their minds. The KGB’s successors can silence their voices just as effectively
by encouraging extremist violence against them and covering up their murders.
Amy Knight is a research associate at the Institute for European, Russian
and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University. Her forthcoming book,
“Who Killed Kirov? The Kremlin’s Greatest Mystery,” will be published by
Hill and Wang.
March 5, 1999 Interfax
ACTING PROSECUTOR: CORRUPTION IN RUSSIA UNPRECEDENTED
MOSCOW – The growth in the number of officials ready to trade their posts
is becoming unprecedented, Russia’s acting Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika
told the State Duma on Friday. Large- scale corruption among officials has
become a destructive force in Russia, he said.
In the past three years prosecutors have exposed 56,000 crimes against government
services, among them 17,000 bribery cases. Over 6,000 bribe-takers and
bribe-givers have been tried. Chaika said that several high ranking officials
– including former finance minister Vladimir Petrov, former chief of the
State Committee for Statistics Yuri Yurkov, and top executives from Dagestan,
Krasnoyarsk territory, Kursk, Tula and Voronezh regions and St. Petersburg
– are being investigated or standing trial in corruption cases.
He said a decree on the foundations of a government anti-corruption policy
should soon be drafted and submitted for approval to the president. Chaika
was dissatisfied with the lack of cooperation between and of concerted actions
by the legal department of the presidential administration and the Justice
Ministry. “Certain criticism can also be given to the Federal Assembly,”
he said. “The absence of a clearly formulated government policy has a negative
effect on combatting corruption.”
Describing crime in Russia, he said that almost 2.6 million crimes were
registered last year, or almost 8% more than in 1997. There was a particularly
high growth in the number of felonies. “The rate of premeditated murders
in Russia is 5 times higher than in France, and about 7 times higher than
in Germany and Finland,” Chaika said.