Monday, February 4, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian Crime Statistics Conceal as Much as They Reveal

Paul Goble

Baku, February 4 – Recently released Russian crime statistics “resemble an iceberg,” according to a retired militia general. “The visible part is not large,” he says, but the “hidden one is enormous,” an especially disturbing conclusion given a statement by the deputy interior minister that Russian crime is becoming more organized.
In an article in the latest Ogonek, Vladimir Ovchinskiy, a retired major general in the militia, said that although the number of reported crimes had fallen 7.1 percent between 2006 and 2007, the number in the latter year was 20.7 percent higher than in 2001 ( )
But, he continued, research conducted by the Procurator General’s office found that the actual number of crimes being committed in the Russian Federation is “six times greater than the number being reported.” That ratio means that there have been more than 20 million crimes committed every year since the turn of the century.
That in turn makes it extremely difficult to draw the kind of overall conclusions about crime favored by politicians and journalists. And Ovchinskiy devotes the rest of his article to describing both places where there has been improvement and others where the situation is almost certainly far worse than current officials suggest.
At the regional level, there have been some genuine improvements, he said. And he pointed to Tatarstan where during the past year prosecutors were able to convict members of what he described as “one of the most bloody bands” in Kazan, largely because officials there have introduced an effective witness protection plan.
The militia also had somewhat better luck in bringing to justice those who engage in money laundering, identifying 24 percent more crimes in this area in 2007 than the year before. But in this area, the retired militia commander said, the actual number of crimes exceeds the reported number not by six times but by a factor of 20.
One would expect there to be only a small gap between the reported number of murders and the actual one, Ovchinskiy said. And consequently, one would be encouraged by the report that the number of murders and attempted murders in 2007 had fallen by 19.1 percent from the year before and was down by 33 percent from2001.
But, he continued, there are some serious shortcomings with these data. On the one hand, between 2001 and 2006, the number of unidentified corpses has increased by 250 percent from 13,000 to 33,000, and the number of people who disappeared without a trace rose by almost 50 percent from 34,200 to 50,000.
Had these corpses been identified or the bodies of those who had disappeared been traceable, the number of murder cases almost certainly would have gone up not down.
And on the other, doctors routinely classify the deaths of people from “marginal groups of the population” as being of uncertain cause rather than insisting on the kind of investigation they or the relatives of the victims would if the dead were better connected, yet another factor that depresses the number of reported murders.
However that may be, Ovchinskiy insisted that “the most negative indicator” contained in the official statistics this year was a significant decline in the percentage of crimes being solved by the militia. In 2007, 1,807,000 of the reported crimes remained unsolved, twice the number of such cases in 2001.
That figure means that since 2001, the number of reported but unresolved crimes is about nine million (over the entire period and not just within one calendar year), including three million serious and especially serious crimes – a pattern that unless it changes will likely lead some to conclude that they can get away with murder.
In other comments, Ovchinskiy said that over the last seven years, more than 60 senior officials in 35 subjects of the federal had been charged with various forms of corruption. And he said that after the March elections, the Kremlin will have to crack down on that if it hopes to realize even one of its major projects.
Supplementing Ovchinskiy’s grim conclusions were the comments of Russia’s deputy interior minister Yevgeniy Shkolov about the changing nature of crime in that country and the challenges that shift is posing for law enforcement personnel there (
Although he offered some of the same statistics that Ovchinskiy said understate the number of crimes, Shkolov was not shy in talking about just how difficult the jobs of Russian police and prosecutors now are.
“One must consider,” he told Rossiiskaya gazeta, “that today it is not individual law breakers who form the criminal situation in our country but rather organized groups and criminal communities.” And consequently, the militia has to work in a new way, no easy task for officers used to tracking down individual criminals.
The militia has had some success, he continued, having “liquidated” 67 organized groups and criminal communities in the last year and opening more than 300 cases against their members and leaders. But in many parts of the country, such groups are increasing faster than the authorities can close them down.
“The most dangerous groups today,” he said, “are formed by people who come from the North Caucasus region – Chechens, Daghestanis and Ingush, from the Transcaucasus – Azerbaijanis, Armenians and Georgians, and from Central Asia – Uzbeks and Tajiks.”
Such groups, the deputy minister added, are involved in blackmail, narcotics and arms trafficking, kidnapping and the trade in human persons, theft, and violence.
And “in recent times,” Shkolov said, criminal groups consisting of immigrants from Nigeria, China, and Vietnam and numbering from 30 to150members each “have begun to appear,” yet another indication that crime in Russia is now much worse than President Putin and people around him regularly claim.

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