Moscow becomes a murderous place

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The Independent Online
RUSSIAN police officials yesterday demanded tight controls on the flow of visitors from former Soviet republics, saying visas should be introduced to combat a surge in violent crime that has made gangland killings a regular feature of Moscow life.

Russia's national murder rate shot up 50 per cent in the first half of the year to nearly 15,000. Moscow city police yesterday reported 704 murders in the capital during the first seven months, up from 472 in the same period last year. Statistics also show a 30-per-cent increase in crime against foreigners, among whom was a Polish-born British businessmen stabbed to death in a Moscow hotel 11 days ago.

'Moscow is being beaten from every side. Moscow is like a boy who bows when he is hit. It is time to show our teeth,' said Vasily Kuptsov, deputy chief of the Moscow criminal investigation department. The best way to counter the crime wave was to end the right of free entry into Russia now enjoyed by citizens of former Soviet republics. They should be forced to obtain visas, like nationals of other states. 'We get the impression that Moscow has become a subsidiary of Azerbaijan or Armenia,' Mr Kuptsov said.

Russia's often corrupt bureaucracy can barely cope with visa applications from Western tourists and any attempt to introduce similar requirements for visitors from Ukraine, Georgia and 12 other former republics would most likely spawn more corruption and resentment, particularly among the 25 million ethnic Russians who live outside Russia. Nor would visas halt criminals from Chechnya, a north Caucasus mountain region regarded as the mafia capital of the former Soviet Union but whose citizens Moscow insists are citizens of Russia, despite a declaration of independence.

Viktor Seroshtan, head of a special Interior Ministry section that handles crimes involving foreigners, said 40 per cent of crimes in Moscow are committed by people from the Caucasus, large parts of which have slipped into anarchy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, or Asia.

In the most recent in a wave of gangland killings, three men from the Caucasus were shot dead on Tuesday in a Moscow office-block owned by a Chechen businessman. Five people were murdered last Friday in a shoot- out. One of the alleged killers was caught after being wounded by a grenade that exploded during the incident, police said yesterday. Four other suspects, all from the Caucasus, are being sought by police.

Such murders reinforce widely held Russian prejudices against people from the Caucasus and businessmen, both increasingly viewed as synonymous with organised crime.