- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

Russian gangsterdom is the real growth industry in Russia today. So successful is it in fact that the gangsters may soon run out of victims. In the good old days of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party's "nomenklatura" owned everything. Judging by all the unsolved Russian killings, it is the Russian "mafiatura" that seems to own pretty much everything worthwhile, including life itself. "The Sopranos" family could take lessons from the Russian "families."

A few weeks ago, the Jamestown Foundation which follows "mafiatura" affairs issued a report titled "From Moscow to Vladivostok, Contract Killings Are Common." Among its detailed findings was this:

"Despite the widely held view — particularly abroad — that [President] Vladimir Putin's accession as head of state has been accompanied by an overall increase in stability and a mellowing of Russia's Wild East-style capitalism, contract killings remain a common occurrence."

Let's be fair. Contract killings didn't begin with Putin. They flourished during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. The Yeltsin government designated 1994 as the "Year of the Fight Against Organized Crime." On Feb. 24, 1994, Mr. Yeltsin told the Russian people that organized crime had their country "by the throat." The Russian mafia still has the country by the throat.

Here's the Jamestown list of various people, public officials and private citizens all well known, gunned down, some of them in broad daylight in crowded streets, by the "mafiatura" and no arrests:

• Novosibirsk Deputy Mayor Igor Belyakov.

• First Deputy Prefect of Moscow's Zelenograd district, Leonid Oblonsky.

• Moscow Deputy Mayor Josef Ordzhonikidze.

• Federal Service branch head, Nizhegorod Oblast, Yevgeny Vetkin.

• Head of St. Petersburg Customs Terminal Vitold Kaiganovich.

• Vladivostok shipping company director, Anatoly Khramov.

• Vladivostok businessman Alexander Makarov.

• An unnamed businessman from Kostroma Oblast in Moscow.

• Gennady Meloyan, factory director in Mytishi, small town outside of Moscow.

• Director of a metals trading firm in Moskovsky Oblast (no name), his daughter and chauffeur.

The list goes on and on, with few arrests and even fewer convictions. If one went back to the Yeltsin era, the record would be equally ghastly. On Nov. 4, 1994, a single assailant with an AK-47 machine-gunned an American hotel executive near the entrance to a busy subway station in downtown Moscow. Earlier that year an Italian-based Russian businessman was gunned down in the lobby of a prominent Moscow hotel and a British consultant was shot and killed in St. Petersburg.

In March 1995, the director-designate of Russia's TV network was murdered. In 1994 — "The Year of the Fight Against Organized Crime," remember? — an investigative Russian journalist was assassinated. He had exposed military corruption in a Russian newspaper and was about to testify before a Duma committee. The then president of Russia's Central Bank was lucky. The windows of his Moscow apartment were shot out earlier that year.

One unsolved murder case stands out. Its occurrence shocked not only Russia but also the West. Galina V. Starovoitova, 52, a popular, liberal Duma representative from St. Petersburg who was a candidate for president in the 1996 election was shot to death on her doorstep on Nov. 20, 1998, in what the U.S. Institute of Peace called "a political assassination." An Interior Ministry detective told a Russian journalist in the aftermath of the murder, "We are going to solve this case in such a way that it buries your democratic movement." The murder has never been solved.

Then Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright established in 1999 the Galina V. Starovoitova Fellowship for prominent Russian scholars and policymakers who seek to advance human rights and conflict resolution.

There are, of course, many, many more political murders, of which few, if any, are ever solved. Nor does anyone expect them to be solved. The Jamestown Report tagline reads: "What Russia Needs is Mayor Giuliani." Not even Redoubtable Rudy could survive a day in this snakepit.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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