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Contract Killings


Wednesday, 30 April 2008

past month has seen three high-profile killings in Moscow

The past month has seen three high-profile killings in Moscow: Central Bank official Andrei Kozlov, crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and most recently, Aleksandr Plokhin, a manager with Vneshtorgbank, Russia's second-largest bank. All three crimes are widely viewed as contract killings reminiscent of the wave of killings that characterized the "Wild West" period in Russia in the 1990s.
Russia under President Vladimir Putin seemed a safer place compared to the 1990s -- when the killing of politicians, businessmen, and bankers seemed to be an almost daily occurrence. But that impression, carefully cultivated by the Kremlin, has now come under sharp scrutiny following the recent wave of apparent contract killings of leading figures in Russian banking and independent journalism.Precise statistics are hard to come by. But some observers argue the recent string of killings does not change the fact that, overall, high-profile contract killings have diminished since peaking with the 1998 slaying of human rights advocate and State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova."Really high-profile contract killings are much rarer now than they were 12 or 15 years ago," says Mikhail Tukmachyov, who presents "Chrezvychainoye proisshestviye" (Emergency Event), a program on crime on Russia's NTV. "But this may have less to do with the authorities' success in tackling criminality than with the fact that authorities in our country have already divided the money between them. Many criminal groups have made up and found ways of coexisting more or less peacefully.""What we are seeing today in Russia is huge corrupt deals within state companies. And if you have the big corrupt deals within state companies, then you have contract murders." -- economic expert Anders Aslund
Still, hired killings of low-profile targets, such as gangsters, appear to continue unabated. At a 2004 conference on crime in Moscow, Valentin Stepankov, then deputy secretary of the Security Council, estimated that in 2003 alone, organized crime gangs were responsible for some 5,000 contract killings across Russia.

As for high-profile victims, many observers say that the killings over the past month of two banking officials as well as of reporter Anna Politkovskaya show that contract killing remains a common means of settling accounts, eliminating competition, or suppressing media criticism of government policies.

Politkovskaya controversially exposed Russian military atrocities and human rights abuses in Chechnya. Many foreign observers are pointing the finger over her killing at the highest levels of the Kremlin.

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