Moscow Mob declares war on politicians: As an MP is shot dead in the street, violence enters the mainstream of Russian politics, writes Andrew Higgins from Moscow

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The Independent Online
THE first member of the Russian parliament to fall victim to the Mob died on Jubilee Street - a foot from his own front doorstep and barely 15 feet from the barrel of a Czech rifle that blew apart his chest.

The single bullet, fired from a basement ventilation window moments after 35-year-old Andrei Ayzderdzis stepped from a chauffeur- driven Saab, hit him on the right side.

Mr Ayzderdzis died in about the time it took Olga Yermilova, a neighbour on the ground floor of their nine-storey block in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, to rush from her kitchen to where Russia's mafia, content previously to gun down businessmen and rival gangsters, declared war on Russia's political class too.

With tempers frayed ahead of May Day - marred last year by a bloody riot and designated again this year as a day of protest - Tuesday evening's murder has brought the poison of violence back into mainstream Russian politics.

The immediate motive for the killing, say colleagues in the New Regional Policy, a centrist parliamentary faction, is revenge for a list of 266 names Mr Ayzderdzis published recently in a local newspaper, Who's Who. They appeared under the headline: 'Leaders of the Criminal World.' Among these names, they say, is the 'thief- in- law' - the Russian equivalent of godfather - who paid for the bullet.

But there is also talk of Mr Ayzderdzis' duties outside the State Duma: his chairmanships of MDK, a private bank, and the International Business Corporation. At least 10 bankers were killed last year, as were upwards of 100 entrepreneurs.

Politicians and the police generally shrug off contract killings, effectvely blaming the victims themselves for keeping bad company. Not this time.

President Boris Yeltsin yesterday vowed action: 'I have given orders for urgent measures to be taken for the discovery of the killers. They will be found and brought to meet their well-deserved retribution.' The State Duma, seething with rage and rumour, called a closed-door session and later members boarded buses to Khimki to visit the scene of the murder. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, nationalist rabble- rouser, gleefully demanded the resignation of the entire government.

'History shows that great historic events begin with shots. Thus the First World War began with a shot at Sarajevo and yesterday's shot began a new crisis in Russia . . . the system is rotten. They should go.' The Duma then passed a non- binding resolution by 239-11 demanding the sacking of Viktor Yerin, the Interior Minister - not a likely prospect as he was Mr Yeltsin's most stalwart supporter during last autumn's political turmoil.

The Communist Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, spoke of 'political terror' and warned that the Kremlin might try to seize emergency powers. Yegor Gaidar, the reformist standard bearer in parliament, also complained of political manipulation, but from the opposition. 'This shows the dangerous state of crime in our country but I am categorically against attempts to use it to destabilise the situation.'

That Mr Ayzderzis's killer was a professional there can be no doubt: he fired once, dumped his bulky weapon amid the dirt, hissing pipes and empty vodka bottles in the basement, and fled through a window at the back.

Mob-related killings have become such an everyday event that only the more sensational attract attention, such as the murder at the start of the month of Otari Kvantrishvili, wrestling coach, philanthropist, a fixture of elite Moscow parties and, everyone agrees, big- time gangster. He was shot by a sniper as he left his favouite bath house.

A sign of how brazen Russia's underworld has become is that neither Mr Kvantrishvili nor Mr Ayzderdzis was shot after nightfall. Neighbours of the murdered MP recall the time exactly: just before they sat down for the start of the American TV soap opera, Santa Barbara, at 8:25.

'It sounded more like an explosion than a shot. I though at first the children were playing with fireworks,' said Mrs Yermilova, the neighbour first outside after the shooting.

The only hint that Mr Ayzderdzis had perhaps done better than most in Khimki is a glassed-in balcony and a new steel door finished in mock-pine plastic. Red carnations and jaunty yellow daisies now lie heaped between the lines outlining his body. 'Lives around here are counted in kopeks, just kopeks,' said Mrs Yermilova.