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Western Press Review: Moscow Cemetery Bomb Blast Heard Round World

  • Don Hill

Prague, 11 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A gang-warfare bomb blast Sunday in a Russian cemetery attracted Western press commentary, as did President Yeltsin's post-operative condition.

ATLANTA CONSTITUTION: Explosion the latest outburst in fight for control of liquor and cigarette profits

Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel write today: "There was blood in the treetops of a Moscow cemetery (yesterday) after unknown assassins detonated a remote-control bomb as 100 leading members of the crime-ridden Afghan War Invalids Fund gathered to memorialize their leader murdered two years ago. At least 13 people were killed and another 16 were wounded in the most savage outbreak of Moscow mob violence on record. NTV Independent Television called it an unprecedented terrorist act. The explosion was the latest outburst in a three-year struggle for control of billions of rubles in tax-free liquor and cigarette profits earned by the invalids' fund through government exemptions. The blast was triggered during a graveside memorial service for Lt. Col. Mikhail Likhodey, chairman of the Afghan War Invalid Fund, whose killing two years ago has been blamed on rivalry for control of the fund's bank accounts.

The Constitution writers say: "This latest and bloodiest of dozens of unsolved Moscow mob murders came on the Day of the Militia, a nationwide holiday dedicated to Russia's beleaguered police."

They write: "The factional dispute in the Invalids' Fund is rooted in old accusations that Likhodey was killed two years ago in revenge for his role in uncovering the theft (of an amount equivalent to) $200 million dollars in hard currency from the fund treasury."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Police have not solved the case

Nanette van der Laan writes from Moscow: "Just like numerous other supposedly charitable organizations, the Afghan (War Invalids' Foundation) was given tax-exempt status to help generate funds so that it could survive the transition to a free market economy."

She says: "The foundation, which was set up in 1991, became involved in multimillion-dollar business deals as soon it was given its tax exmption status two years later," and adds: "(As is the case with) most gangland attacks which have rocked Moscow, police have not been able to solve the case."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Afghan veterans are a favorite target of mob predators

Richard Boudreaux writes: "The attack, which also killed the slain leader's successor, was the latest in a three-year-old struggle between rival Afghan veteran factions over millions of dollars in government benefits for war invalids -- a feud allegedly involving mobsters behind at least one side. It came a week after the apparent contract slaying of an American hotelier outside a Moscow train station, and it embarrassed the police on national Militia Day -- the annual celebration of their work." Boudreaux says: "Afghan veterans are a favorite target of Russian mob predators out for a share of tax privileges. Veterans wondered aloud (yesterday) whether mobsters were simply used as hit men in the factional feud -- or whether they acted on their own to exert mob control."

He writes: "Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin called the bombing a 'terrorist act' and canceled a televised concert in honor of Militia Day. He threw down a public challenge to Interior Minister Anatoly S. Kulikov to bring the bomber to justice. According to figures released before the bombing, 1,238 people had been killed this year in Moscow, a city of 8.8 million people -- down from last year's record post-Soviet record of 1,700. But contract killings are up to 219 in Moscow -- three more than in all of 1995. Police say they are fighting 466 criminal gangs in the capital."

WASHINGTON POST: It was the single most deadly act of violence in recent memory

David Hoffman writes today: "Although contract killings and Mafia feuds have become commonplace here in recent years, the attack was the single most deadly act of violence in the city in recent memory."

Hoffman reports that Internal Affairs Minister Anatoly Kulikov promised to mobilize all the nation's protective services to bring the perpetrators to justice. The writer adds: "Such crimes are rarely solved, however. There have been no arrests in the assassination of an American businessman in a Moscow subway entrance last week, nor have the Russian police apprehended those who carried out a host of other murders of prominent individuals in recent years, including an investigative reporter, a television personality, a priest and several bankers."

He writes: "The fund is one of several ostensibly social and charitable organizations that have received the right to import goods such as cigarettes and liquor tax-free in recent years. The funds have made enormous profits from selling the goods in Russia, and the proceeds have sparked feuds among rival criminal groups and clans."

NEW YORK TIMES: Yeltsin sought to reassert his authority

On the subject of Yeltsin health, the paper Friday carried a brief report that included this analysis: "President Boris Yeltsin made a show on Thursday of bouncing back from his quintuple bypass heart operation. Issuing a proclamation and engaging in a tug-of-war with his doctors over his post-operative care." The report said: "Although he has not yet appeared in public, he sought to reassert his authority by issuing a statement renaming this day -- long celebrated as Revolution Day -- a 'Day of National Accord and Reconciliation.' He said this would commemorate victims of revolution, civil war, and political repression."

ATLANTA CONSTITUTION: It's a tricky time to be a foreigner at the president's bedside

In an article Sunday, writers Kunstel and Albright say: "The anchorman of Russia's premier Saturday night news magazine, known for his deep voice and tough talk, introduced a rare foreign guest with an even rarer admission: 'Doing an interview with Dr. DeBakey is like doing an interview with God.' Sergei Dorenko didn't completely abandon his probing newshound style in the ensuing interview, but it was clear he is among the Russians with a soft spot for Dr. Michael DeBakey, the pioneering American cardiologist who left Sunday after consulting at President Boris Yeltsin's quintuple bypass surgery last week.

"DeBakey popped onto the scene at a time when Russians increasingly resent American influence in their lives -- from the violent grade-D movies that fill television screens to the rich investors many fear are reaping Russia's prime resources at discount rates. And it is a time of rising national pride, with Russians boasting anew that their long-lived culture, brilliant scientists and studious kids don't have much to gain from the West. It is a tricky time to be a foreigner at the president's bedside."