With there having recently been the high-profile assasinations of Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, and Andrei Kozlov and the mysterious death of Ivan Safronov who fell from a window, more than a few people are worried about whether Russia will return to the bad old days of the past when murder seemed almost commonplace. Whilst certainly a serious concern, in discussing these recent deaths it would be sensible to remember just how bad the situation was in Russia just seven years ago.
A list of high-profile personnel murdered in the first part of 2000 alone reads as follows:
January 10, 2000: Ilya Vaysman, 36, director of the St. Petersburg Baltika brewing company, was shot in the head and heart from a fifth-floor ledge a few feet from the kitchen window of his apartment. Suspected motive: a dispute over the disposition of expected investments. (Baltika’s general director of marketing, Aslanbek Chochiyev, was shot to death as he was getting out of his Mercedes on July 1, 1999.)
February 2, 2000: Valeriy Potapov, 36, the general director of the Baltisykaya Zarya timber company, was shot twice in the back of the neck near his house. Suspected motive: Property dispute.
March 11, 2000: Dimitri Varvarin, 40, general director of the Russian-American Orimi company, was shot in the back of the neck at point-blank range as he left his car. Orimi was created in 1990 with the American firms NSTE and International Forest Technology, and controls recently “privatized” businesses in timber, furniture, and fuels, and is one of the biggest sellers of tea in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. Varvarin personally owned a large block of shares in shipbuilding and timber businesses in Russia, and had taken part in the “privatization” of dozens of enterprises in St. Petersburg, Leningrad Oblast, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. Suspected motive: a real estate battle.
March 22, 2000: Sergei Krizhan, 44, general director of the Russian Construction and Trading Group joint-stock company, was shot to death while driving in his Jeep, along with his son, 20, an economics and finance student at St. Petersburg University. Krizhan owned and founded about 10 St. Petersburg firms specializing in export and import activity, consumer goods trade and production, repair and construction work, and realty operations. Three of the firms were directly related to Orimi.
April 4, 2000: Gennady Ivanov, 45, director of the Kvarton firm, was killed on his way to work by a round of automatic weapon fire aimed at his Volvo. Eyewitnesses saw the killer slip into the archway of an apartment block where a car was waiting for him. Kvarton, with 4,000 employees, was created in St. Petersburg in 1994 and sells sewing threads, furniture fabric, and hosiery. It holds large blocks of shares in textile enterprises in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Pskov.
April 10, 2000: Igor Bamburin, 47, head of Shatl and founder and cofounder of several equipment and automobile firms, was shot in the head four times as he arrived at the home of his daughter, a Technical University student. Despite reports that five or six people witnessed the shooting, no arrest was made. Bamburin was previously an officer of the Regional Administration for Combating Organized Crime.
April 26, 2000: Georgy Pozdnyakov, 44, co-owner of the “Hollywood Nights” nightclub, was shot three times in the head and chest at the St. Petersburg Railways University sports complex. Suspected motive: criminal conflict connected with the repartition of property. (Pozdnyakov belonged to the entourage of St. Petersburg oil magnate Pavel Kapysh, killed July 26, 1998 on Vasilyevskiy Island.)
May 22, 2000: Dimitri Ogorodnikov, 36, chief of the Samara Internal Affairs Administration Department for Combating Organized Crime, was shot in the head five times in his automobile in the center of the city of Tolyatti. He was a 10-year veteran of the Special Rapid Reaction Detachment of the Regional Administration for Combating Organized Crime.
June 14, 2000: Alexander Sinayev, 47, the owner of the Leneksbank commercial bank, was found shot twice in an Audi in Krasnodar in what the Territory’s Public Prosecutor’s Office called a contract killing. “Leneksbank was one of the first bankrupts in the Kuban,” TASS reported, “but Sinayev was able to pay back the deposits of over 15,000 depositors. He promised to settle up with all deceived depositors.”
June 16, 2000: Alexei Kachkov, 40, who owned several flower shops on Leninskiy Prospect in Moscow, was shot six times at point-blank range in northeastern Moscow.
July 10, 2000: Oleg Belonenko, 51, managing director of the huge Uralmash machine tool company, was shot twice in the head, days before he was to meet with President Putin, an example of how contract killings have reached high up into the business world. Belonenko’s driver was also killed.
July 26, 2000: Sergei Novikov, 37, head of the only independent radio station in the Smolensk region, was shot dead outside his apartment block, 300 miles outside of Moscow, reportedly the 120th journalist killed in Russia since December 1991.
July 31, 2000: Sergei Isayev, 49, the rector of the Russian Academy of Theatrical Art, was murdered in a contract killing in the settlement of Valentinovka, near the town of Korolev. “Never before in Russia have contract killings of leaders of cultural establishments and higher educational establishments taken place,” said Russian Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoy in an Itar-TASS interview following the murder.
None of the above listed murders was solved.
A crucial difference between the recent murders and those of 2000 were that the latter were almost all business related, whereas the recent cases appear to be purely political. This is of serious concern, and one thing is for sure: Russia was a rough place before, and it’s a rough place now. And don’t hold out much hope for an eventual prosecution.