Reform Inspires Punishment in Today’s Russia

Today Yulia Latynina of Ekho Moskvy published a great op/ed in the Moscow Times on the tragic murder of Central Bank Chairman Andrei Kozlov, and the possible connection to Alexander Slesarev of Sodbiznesbank. Julia_Latynina.jpg

A Place Where They’ll Kill a Central Banker By Yulia Latynina Would it be possible for someone in the United States to kill Alan Greenspan to prevent a review of mortgage rates on his or her private home? Of course not. This would be incompatible with the structure of the state. In Russia, however, it was possible for someone to kill Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov, quite likely in revenge for the closure of problematic banks (read: minor clearing-houses for money laundering). The question is why those involved ultimately chose murder as the best way to solve their problems. I have a pretty good idea why. Recall, if you will, the case of Sodbiznesbank. The bank came unglued not only as a result of money laundering, but also because it was the institution used by the Tagiryanovskaya criminal group to transfer money for the kidnapping and murder of Kamaz director Viktor Faber. What did the prosecutors do to the bankers? They ultimately let them out on bail, on the condition that they not flee the country. After all, it’s not like they were Yukos shareholders. Following this, the bank — which had managed to retain its license — started to lure private depositors with the offer of high interests rates, in much the same way that terrorists often use hostages as human shields. It was Kozlov who stripped the bank of its license. After this, demonstrations by investors the bank had deceived nearly led to a banking crisis that threatened to destabilize the very stable economy. kozlov.jpg Despite his proximity not only to money laundering but also to criminals with blood on their hands, investigators had no particular questions to ask the bank’s owner, Alexander Slesarev. Other people, though, did have questions. Apparently feeling invincible, Slesarev had refused to return money to the bank’s most serious clients, and he was subsequently gunned down, along with his wife and daughter. The Sodbiznesbank story is not just a story about criminal business. It is a story about the complete disintegration of law enforcement bodies, and it is this background that leads financial conflicts to be resolved using weapons. But unlike Hollywood films, those who take up weapons first are not the heroic avengers come to slay the bad guys, but the bad guys themselves come to solve their personal problems. The murders of Kozlov and Slesarev may be connected — it is not often that so much blood is spilled among money-launderers. But whatever the case, we can say with some certainty that Kozlov’s killers were not oligarchs and not financiers, but people among the latest candidates to have their license revoked. The order for the hit was probably issued in a bar where whoever ordered it, complete with a third-class education and 10 years in prison behind him (or 10 years in the armed forces), sat drowning his sorrows in a bottle of vodka. Unfortunately, Kozlov’s killers’ animal instincts — because they probably have no others — told them one thing. There is no real state in Russia. There is only the “power vertical” — a toothless State Duma, cowed television and helpless government. In other words, all we have is a set of instruments fully subordinated to the Kremlin to control reality. But the Kremlin cannot actually control reality: It is saying nothing about Kondopoga, Chechnya or murdered officials. To solve crimes, you have to have law enforcement agencies. But Russia’s agencies have a lot more in common with petty gangs, when they are not doing the state’s bidding in dismembering Yukos, stealing wholesale and retail cellular phones, providing freelance protection services to businesses and even high-profile murders, or being used as instruments for business redistribution. They can put anyone behind bars, but they can’t actually solve crimes. In a country where the Kremlin can do anything, anyone who has a pistol with a silencer can do anything. Kozlov’s killers seem to have understood this. Yulia Latynina is the host of a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.