Most Russians were horrified when a professional hit man gunned
down Valentin Tsvetkov, governor of the sprawling, resource-rich
Russian region of Magadan, in broad daylight on a busy street near
the Kremlin two months ago. But few were surprised.
Mr. Tsvetkov was the highest-ranking post-Soviet Russian official
to fall victim to a contract killing, but otherwise, the event was
A spiralling death-by-assassination rate has put politician right
up there with army conscript and test pilot as one of the most
dangerous jobs a Russian can have these days.
Scores of mayors, vice governors, local officials, regional
lawmakers and Duma deputies have been rubbed-out, mob-style, in
recent years and the rate shows no signs of slowing, despite the law-
and-order presidency of Vladimir Putin.
"Although we provide more and more funding for law enforcement
each year, the results are increasingly disappointing," says Gennady
Seleznyov, Speaker of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of
parliament. "Criminals feel invincible, and no wonder. I cannot
remember a single case where the murder of a politician has been
successfully investigated and the culprit sentenced by a court."
The slaying of Magadan's governor was typical in a second way.
Though Tsvetkov was a dynamic and outspoken regional leader, even
his close colleagues scoffed at the suggestion his murder might be
connected to his political convictions or activities.
"I believe this was not a political killing," Sergei Mironov,
Speaker of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament
where Tsvetkov had served several years, told news agencies. "The
governor must have harmed someone's business interests. Magadan
means fish and gold."
Though the crime is unsolved, the Russian media has widely
reported that Tsvetkov personally owned Magadan's largest gold
refinery, and had been trying to take the entire local gold mining
industry under his control.
So far this year about a dozen politicians and officials have
been attacked or murdered in Moscow alone.
In February, the deputy mayor of the Arctic oil center of Surgut,
Sergei Ivanov, was gunned down. In June, first deputy mayor of
Moscow in charge of gambling and foreign investment, Iosif
Ordzhonikidze, survived an elaborate ambush on the same highway used
by Mr. Putin to drive to work. It was the third attempt on Mr.
Ordzhonikidze's life in two years.
In August, liberal Duma deputy Vladimir Golovyov was shot while
walking his dog in a quiet Moscow suburb. Two bodyguards
accompanying him claimed to have seen nothing. Fellow
parliamentarians said the murder was probably connected to Mr.
Golovyov's previous dealings as a privatization official in Siberia.
None of these crimes have been solved; nor are most of the
approximately 5,000 contract killings that occur in Russia each
year. (Murders of all kinds in Russia total about 33,500 annually.)
Experts say the high frequency of attacks on politicians is
"Politicians in Russia are seldom killed because they are
politicians, but because they are people who combine things that
shouldn't be combined," says Georgy Satarov, a former Kremlin
adviser and head of the independent InDem Foundation, a political
research center. …