BUSINESSMAN Boris Berezovsky almost became a statistic last week
- yet another victim of the gangland-style killings threatening to
become a daily fixture of Russia's increasingly violent criminal
Mr. Berezovsky, head of the giant LogoVAZ car distributor and a
leader of the All-Russia Automobile Alliance (AVVA) was sitting in
his limousine in rush-hour traffic last Tuesday when a car bomb
exploded. Police say the powerful, professionally made device was
triggered by remote control.
The incident appeared to be yet another failed contract murder.
But there are indications that the attack could also have
implications for United States businesses operating in Russia.
Russian sources say the bombing could have been an attempt by
organized crime rings, which have a strong interest in sales of
used - and often stolen - foreign cars, to block AVVA's plans with
the US firm General Motors Corporation (GM) to fund a privately
financed joint venture to manufacture cars in Togliatti.
Organized crime, stemming from long-entrenched bribery and
corruption, has flourished since the Soviet state dissolved. Some
reports say rival gangs vying for position in Russia's fledgling
market economy have carved up the capital into as many as 10
spheres of influence, which are completely under their control. The
police, many of whom are corrupt themselves, are largely powerless
to cope with the problem. Consequently, politicians such as
ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky advocate shooting all
suspected criminals on sight.
Russia's "mafia" now runs many key businesses, not only shady
operations such as prostitution and drug-dealing, but also
legitimate enterprises from the tiniest street kiosk to the most
influential bank. Some Western observers have warned that Russian
gangsters have even gained access to nuclear technology, which they
could use for international blackmail. Police revealed last week
that in March they had detained three men with seven pounds of
highly enriched uranium stolen from a top-secret Russian plant, but
officials said the substance was not enriched to a sufficient
degree to make nuclear weapons.
Violence has become so intrusive that many Muscovites carry guns
to protect themselves. Kidnapping and hostage-taking occur almost
daily. Police say crimes involving firearms or explosives have
risen 45 percent in the first five months of this year compared
with the same period last year, and organized rings are threatening
to become the largest impediment to both Russia's political
stability and the future of President Boris Yeltsin's economic
Last week, Mr. Yeltsin unveiled several new measures to combat
organized crime, which he has called his top priority. On Friday,
he told a Kremlin news conference that he had ordered his security
forces to cleanse the "criminal filth" from the country. …