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  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: September 2009

6 - Russia's epidemic of crime


Spring 1998:

Walking down the neat paths of Moscow's grimly fashionable Vagankovskoe cemetery, a visitor will find in the rows of freshly-dug graves a distinguished company of Russia's new business and criminal elite. There Ivan Kivelidi, lately chairman of the Russian Business Roundtable, and Vladislav Listev, ex-general director of ORT Television, rest in peace not far from Otari Kvantrishvili, one of the most flamboyant of Moscow's dons until he was gunned down outside his favorite steambath in 1994. Watching over them all is Vagankovskoe's most famous resident, the bard Vladimir Vysotskii, who died in 1980. Vysotskii would have mined rich material for his ballads from today's scene – not least from the fact that Vagankovskoe itself has become a market commodity. So great is demand lately that getting buried there requires some of the heftiest bribes in Moscow.

A tidal wave of crime

From one of the world's most tightly-policed and well-ordered societies only twenty years ago – at least, so it seemed to the outside world and to most Russians themselves – Russia has become one of the most criminal and corrupt. Recorded crimes have more than tripled since the mid-1970s. And those numbers are well short of the true mark, since even the police acknowledge that at least half of all crimes go unreported. In some categories the share of reported crimes may be as a low as 10%.