Too Many Exceptions to Be a Rule
Published: December 29, 2006 (Issue # 1234)
The authorities in the Chita Region are investigating the murder of Federal Security Service, or FSB, Captain Alexander Ovsyannikov. Truth is, there is nothing to investigate: Men involved in illegal logging beat Ovsyannikov to death after he arrived at their site in his own car and demanded they produce the necessary documents for their timber.
After they had killed him, the lumberjacks took his body to the village of Zhimbiry and burned it in a haystack. They then went home. Two days later, they were detained and Ovsyannikov’s pistol and car were found in their possession.
What is unclear about these otherwise run-of-the-mill events is why Ovsyannikov would drive to the site alone, and in his own car?
This is not how you go about catching criminals. In these situations you get a warrant and arrive in a group of security personnel in official vehicles.
If Ovsyannikov arrived alone in his own car, but carrying his badge, then he was most likely on private business: He was either running a protection racket at the logging site or was trying to cut in on somebody else’s. Something must have gone wrong in his conversation with the drunken lumberjacks.
If this is the case, it is also, unfortunately, a pretty run-of-the-mill occurrence.
On the morning of Sept. 1, 2004, police officer Sultan Gurazhev stopped a tanker truck on a country road near the North Ossetian village of Khurikau. According to prosecutors, Gurazhev stopped the truck to check the driver’s documents. In the vehicle, as we now know, were terrorists on their way to Beslan. They purportedly disarmed Gurazhev and shoved him back into his car, forcing him to drive ahead of the truck to provide safe passage.
But why did Gurazhev approach the truck in the first place? Did he think there were terrorists inside? Was he planning to collar them single-handedly? Did he suppose they were transporting illegal oil?
It is not standard practice for a single officer to stop a tanker truck. The only thing he could do in such an instance was to ask for a bribe. Many of the villagers saw Gurazhev and the truck drive directly past Khurikau. Gurazhev’s family was not alarmed to see him escorting the truck. There is only one possible explanation: They thought he was doing something ordinary, providing an escort for a truck transporting something.
Two months after the murder of Paul Klebnikov, the editor of Forbes magazine’s Russian edition, Moscow Police Chief Vladimir Pronin reported a breakthrough in the case. According to Pronin, two Chechens — Aslan Sagayev and Kazbek Elmurzayev — were involved in the murder. The two were arrested later, after they took Dagestani policeman turned businessman Akhmed-Pasha Aliyev hostage. Aliyev had apparently run up a huge debt to the pair. Police operatives listening in on the hostage takers’ telephone conversations concluded that Aliyev was in danger and rescued him.
Everything would have been fine were it not for the freed man’s testimony. According to Aliyev, he was abducted not by Chechens, but by three FSB officers, Roman Slivkin, Oleg Sachkov and Dmitry Frolov. The three sold some land to Aliyev, and then abducted him when he failed to pay off his debt. They then sold Aliyev to the Chechens, with whom they were already acquainted.
Slivkin even ended up in court, but the charges were dismissed in November. Apparently the abduction and sale of a human being is not a crime.
Ovsyannikov, Gurazhev and Slivkin all got some unlucky breaks, running up against drunken criminals, Beslan terrorists and a former police officer who didn’t like being taken hostage, respectively.
All of these cases appear to be exceptions to the rule. But when the exceptions get to be this common, you have to start wondering what the rule is in the first place.
Yulia Latynina is host of a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.