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Corruption Watch: August 22, 2002

22 August 2002, Volume 2, Number 29
By Roman Kupchinsky

Judging by the international community's assessment of efforts so far, the battle against the narcotics trade in Afghanistan has made little or no headway.

In the spring, Hamid Karzai's interim government announced a poppy-eradication program under which farmers would be compensated $500 per acre for destroyed poppy. However, according to a recent report from UN experts in Kabul, a poppy farmer can earn an estimated $6,400 per acre of gross income by planting poppy. This figure was from past years; according to the "Tehran Times" of 20 August, the current income is closer to $14,000.

The majority of Afghan opium is transformed into heroin and marketed in Western Europe. The British government, in particular, has pressured Afghan authorities to clamp down, since most heroin in Britain is from Afghanistan. President Mohammad Khatami of Iran, during his recent visit to Kabul, also appealed for tighter controls on opium production. (Iran has an estimated 2 million opium and heroin addicts.)

A bleak progress report was issued by UN experts in Kabul, who were charged with evaluating measures that followed the formation of the Karzai government. The 20 August edition of "The Boston Globe" reported that, "The UN poppy forecast came in a section of a joint report by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN World Food Program assessing Afghan crops and food supplies."

"The Afghan Interim Administration banned opium production in January, but by then most opium fields were already sown," the UN states, according to the paper. "The subsequent Poppy Eradication Program largely failed to achieve its objectives."

According to the "Tehran Times" website ( of 20 August: "The lucrative poppy crop is commanding 350 to 400 dollars per kilogram [2.2 pounds] this year. Opium farmers stood to make 14,000 dollars per hectare of poppies. Farmers in Afghanistan's east have been cultivating poppies as a substitute for wheat, resulting in low wheat harvests in these districts. 'In eastern provinces, wheat has been substituted by poppy plantations,' said Hector Maletta, a spokesman for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. 'The price of opium is very high this year. Before 1996, 1 kilogram of opium was 60 dollars.'"

Statistical data by the Banja Luka public security center shows that a car was stolen every day in July, Bosnia-Herzegovinian BHTV1 reported on 13 August. The majority were high-end cars with foreign registration plates -- Mercedes, Audi, and Volkswagen cars appear most prized by thieves. The Banja Luka public security center says thieves from Slovenia and western Herzegovina are operating in organized gangs, the broadcaster reported. Police say stolen cars end up in other countries within two to three hours. RK

Forty-eight kilograms of Semtex explosive was seized by Czech police in the Cerny Most district of Prague when they arrested middlemen trying to sell the explosive, Czech Radio reported on 2 August. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported that the arrests were made on 1 August, adding that it was the second-largest Semtex seizure since 1989. The suspects allegedly belong to an organized gang that detectives have been following for some time. According to Police Presidium spokeswoman Blanka Kosinova, detectives were searching the five suspects' homes. Police also seized 97 fuses during the operation. In April, police arrested two men and a woman on the highway between the Czech capital and Brno and charged them with intent to sell stolen Semtex. They had 33 kilograms (73 pounds) of Semtex and 267 electric detonators in their possession. RK

Latvia's ruling coalition is having problems finding anyone to head the Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB), the main institution charged with fighting corruption in the country, according to "Transitions Online" ( on 20 August. "The KNAB was created in spring 2002 and was supposed to start operating on 1 August," the website commented. "However, the first round of applications was called off when the government said the applicants lacked sufficient foreign language abilities. Two candidates in the second open round -- who had already been named as finalists -- were disqualified for possible conflicts of interest with their current positions." Critics say the Latvian government's inability to find a suitable head for the KNAB bespeaks a weak motivation to tackle corruption. RK

Two conscripts in a Siberian military unit in Omsk were detained on suspicion of stealing 2 kilograms of TNT, Russian NTV reported on 19 August. Preliminary findings suggest they were planning to sell the explosives at the end of their term of service, according to the report. The servicemen are Daghestani nationals and were allegedly heard telling other conscripts that there was demand for explosives in Daghestan. RK

Igor Tkach, an officer in the Chelyabinsk branch of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), has opened a criminal case against FBI special agent Michael Schuler, Interfax reported on 15 August, citing the FSB press service in Moscow. At the heart of the case is a series of events that began in November 2000, when two reputed hackers from Chelyabinsk -- Vasilii Gorshkov, 26, and Aleksei Ivanov, 21 -- arrived in Seattle. They came at the invitation of a U.S.-based Internet company, Invita, which turned out to be a firm set up by the FBI to ensnare the two Russians, according to Interfax. The U.S. Justice Department alleges that the hackers had gained unauthorized access to computers to steal credit-card information and other personal financial information, and then tried to extort money with threats to expose sensitive data to the public or damage the victims' computers. The hackers also are suspected of defrauding California-based online payment company PayPal through a scheme in which stolen credit cards were used to generate cash and to pay for computer parts purchased from vendors in the United States, Interfax reported. The two were eventually arrested. The Chelyabinsk FSB directorate charges Schuler, who investigated the case, with illegally accessing Russian Internet servers to gather evidence against the suspects.

According to "The Moscow Times" and "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 16 August, the FSB public-relations center regards the case as "a matter of principle." An FSB spokesperson added, "If FBI agents used hackers' methods against hackers, they might also use them on other occasions." The FBI claimed it has no knowledge of the FSB suit. RK

Turkish police seized 56 kilograms of heroin in a truck bound for Hungary Turkish TRT television reported on 4 August. The heroin was seized that day at the Kapikule border crossing. Acting on suspicion, police stopped and searched the truck, which was loaded with onions bound for Hungary. They found the heroin hidden in a secret compartment. The driver has been detained and an investigation is under way. RK

Ukrainian authorities conducted a number of raids on drug growers and dealers in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 16 August. The majority of the haul was poppy straw. RK

Russian border troops seized 52 kilograms of heroin at the Tajik-Afghan border, bringing this year's total to 1.3 tons, according to news agency ITAR-TASS reported on 19 August. A border guard detail of one of the subunits belonging to the Moskovskii border-guard detachment came across three armed border violators who had crossed over to the Tajik shore of the Panj River from Afghanistan. When the border guards tried to detain the intruders, the latter opened fire. During the exchange of fire that ensued, the intruders managed to escape. At the scene of the incident, the border guards found two sacks with 26 1-kilogram packets of heroin, a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a spare ammunition belt. RK

Authorities confiscated 40 kilograms of opium from a Kyrgyzstan resident in the village of Rostovka in the Omsk Region, Russian news agency RIA-Novosti reported on 18 August. RK

Bulgarian police embarked on a large-scale operation aimed at drug dealers, the Bulgarian news agency BTA website reported on 18 August. By the date of the report, police had raided 797 sites that act as hubs for drug dealers and pushers, along with bars and cafes where drugs are known to be available. Seventy-two of the venues were in the capital, Sofia. During the operation, police seized large amounts of drugs, the agency reported, in addition to arms with obliterated serial numbers, silencers, ammunition, and other illegal objects. RK


By Roman Kupchinsky

On 17 October 1994, a bomb hidden in a suitcase exploded in the offices of the Russian newspaper "Moskovskii komsomolets," killing 27-year-old investigative reporter Dmitrii Kholodkov and wounding a colleague. The suitcase was brought to the office by Kholodkov himself, who retrieved it from a locker at a Moscow train station after being told that it contained documents exposing corruption in the Russian military. The newspaper's editor, Pavel Gusev, told the media that Kholodkov was involved in an investigation of corruption in the former Western Group of Forces (WGF) in Germany. Kholodkov, according to Gusev, had also reported on the war in Chechnya, of which he was very critical.

Gusev and other journalists blamed Kholodkov's killing on the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the leadership of the Russian armed forces. In particular, they fingered Colonel General Matvei Burlakov, a former commander of the WGF, and former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev. ITAR-TASS reported on 19 October 1994 that Grachev categorically denied any army involvement in the Kholodkov case because, he stated, nobody paid any attention to the latter's charges of corruption in the military.

Is there a "uniformed mafia" in Russia, and if so what are the facts and implications?

Initial signs of increasing criminality in the armed forces arose during the later period of the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan. Official Soviet spokesmen linked the nine-year conflict in Afghanistan to a growing problem of drug trafficking in the military ("Jane's Defence Weekly," 24 December 1988). Drug use began rising in the military districts along the southern border of the Soviet Union amid concern over "addicts with rifles." By 1989, military crime was rising by 14.5 percent annually and weapons theft was increasing by 50 percent ("Krasnaya zvezda," 11 April 1990).

The Soviet Army had always relied on KGB military counterintelligence special sections ("osobye otdely") as a policing body, but they were more concerned with preventing enemy infiltration into units than they were with crime. By 1990, the volume of crime within the ranks was overwhelming those charged with preventing it, including the Military Prosecutor's Office.

By the late 1980s, one of the main centers for the illegal sale of weapons was the WGF, in addition to Soviet forces in Eastern Europe and in the Baltics. In early 1994, some 81 tons of ammunition from WGF depots disappeared, according to the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 26 January 1994. This drew emphatic denials by the WGF commander at the time, Burlakov, the paper wrote. As the Soviet empire was crumbling, private companies entered into arrangements with the WGF. Thus, by the time the Soviet Army left East Germany, about 140 foreign firms and joint ventures were doing business with the command. Many of these deals involved kickbacks to higher officers, money laundering schemes, and the like ("Federatsiya," 23 June 1994).

At the time, the WGF was under Burlakov's command. As the charges of corruption against Burlakov mounted, President Boris Yeltsin was forced to relieve him of his duties in 1994 ("Komsomolskaya pravda," 3 November 1994).

Inside Russia, arms sales by military officers were on the rise. A number of prominent cases involving senior officers made headlines in 1993 and 1994, such as those linked to the commander and deputy commander of the 10th Air Defense Army. In 1994, a lieutenant colonel in the Rocket and Artillery Service sold AK-74 automatic weapons, RPG grenade launchers, and pistols to the Russian Kontinent Company Ltd. ("Moskovskie Novosti," 26 August 1994).

The Chechen war provided another opportunity for corrupt officers and enlisted men in the Russian Army to continue and expand the illegal trafficking of arms. As two Russian presidential advisers, Emil Pain and Arkadii Popov, stated in a report to Russian President Yeltsin in February 1995, Chechen President Dzhokar Dudaev "bought arms from smart traders in military uniforms" ("OMRI Daily Digest," 8 February 1995). In May 1995, 106th Guards Airborne Division paratroopers were arrested attempting to sell plastic explosive, grenade launchers, and ammunition to Chechen fighters (Associated Press, 21 May 1995).

By 1999, some observers believed the situation was adversely affecting Russia's national security. Reuters reported on 7 October 1999 that Yurii Dyomin, the military prosecutor, told an audience of police, security, and military officials, "Economic crime in the armed forces and other military branches of the Russian endangering national security." Dyomin went on to say that bribery was rife in the army, with cases increasing by 82 percent from 1993 to 1999. He noted that he was basing this figure on cases that had been uncovered.

Many Russian as well as Western analysts place the blame for the widespread crime and corruption in the Russian Army on a number of factors facing the armed forces:

1) A grossly inadequate military budget;

2) The continued collapse of the military-industrial complex;

3) Declining living standards and social security in the armed forces (see "The State of Russia's Armed Forces And Military Reform," by Walter Parchomenko, Parameters, Winter 1999-2000).

According to the "Yezhenedelnii Zhurnal" of 18 June 2002: "The Defense Ministry has been creating almost perfect conditions for ubiquitous embezzlement. Even though one-fifth of state spending goes to the military, the public has no opportunity to monitor defense spending. Even Duma deputies, apart from Defense Committee members, do not know the purposes for which the Defense Ministry appropriates money. Meanwhile, the defense minister and chief of the General Staff continue making great efforts to classify all information related to the armed forces as secret."

Writing in the "Russia Journal" of 7-13 June, Aleksandr Golts placed the blame for corruption in the Russian Army on the Defense Ministry's insistence on maintaining a conscript army. Golts wrote that, despite the fact that President Vladimir Putin has tripled the defense budget, "the considerable funds going to the army are simply disappearing into a black hole." He went on to say: "Only the military prosecutors have any form of control over the military's financial activities. But both [Defense Minister Sergei] Ivanov and [chief of the General Staff Anatolii] Kvashin zealously try to maintain a shroud of secrecy over all information about the armed forces."

A Russian conscript currently earns just one ruble (about 3 cents) a day, "The Christian Science Monitor" reported on 30 November 2001. A volunteer "kontraktnik" soldier -- of which the 1.2-million-strong Russian Army has 150,000 -- costs 5,000 rubles ($167) per month, plus an 800-ruble ($27) daily bonus for serving in combat operations. Yet experts such as Golts say the Russian Army has been disappointed with the quality and discipline of its present kontraktniki, whom it deploys mainly in Chechnya. Many of these contractual soldiers have been implicated in selling weapons to the Chechens they are being paid to fight.

Solutions to the problem of corruption in the Russian Army are not simple. And while Putin has spoken in favor of creating an professional army, he continues to meet strong resistance from an aging military establishment. One former Russian officer, Dmitrii Trenin, suggested that the government should tap the energies and talents of mid-level Russian officers, majors, and lieutenant colonels, according to "The Christian Science Monitor." He asserted that they are critical for the success of long-term military reform in Russia.

Many observers agree, however, that corruption in the Russian armed forces is part of the overall problem of criminalization of Russian society per se and that no single measure will eradicate it.