Staunton, December 10 – It sometimes seems that in today’s Russia, there is a race between the restoration of some of the worst features of Soviet times and some of the worst features of the 1990s. One of the latter – the formation of private armies businesses, governments, or parties might use – is now making a comeback, at least in Yekaterinburg.
In an article on the URA.ru portal, Viktor Dorofeyev says that as a result, “when they will be needed, hundreds of ‘strong fists’ will come out into the streets of the capital of the Urals. How [such forces] will be used is something that their masters,” not the government, “will decide” (ura.ru/articles/1036266526).
In the 1990s, he writes, everyone in Yekaterinburg knew about the Tsentr, Uralmash and Siniye militant groups but most had thought these private armies were safely in the past. But “they are returning,” the journalist says, being recruited and trained in “militant clubs” whose members are ready to use “crude physical force.”
And as the experience of the 1990s showed, Dorofeyev continues, such forces can quickly earn money for their masters by destroying competitors or intimidating sellers or “be transformed into a political” force that will allow this arm of private power to determine what the state can and cannot do.
Getting information about these groups is not easy: the authorities don’t want to admit they are a problem, and those who are part of them don’t like to talk about their semi-legal or even completely illegal arrangements – and the possibility that they will use them against the government.
But there are “three sources” of information about these groups, and Dorofeyev has drawn on all of them: officials in the force structures themselves, former employees of law enforcement organizations, and persons in the business community “who often cooperate with semi-criminal elements.”
The largest of these groups in Yekaterinburg is under the control of businessman German Gardt. Himself a former participant in the private armies of the 1990s, Gardt has organized camps and training centers so that he has at hand as many as 400 militants he can call on to fight his competitors or prevent them or the state from challenging his position.
But there are a variety of other groups of various sizes under the control of various businesses in the city. Most of those in control know each other and have worked out a modus vivendi both among themselves and with the state, although this can and does break down when one decides to challenge the other, Dorofeyev says.
According to the journalist, there are approximately 1200 “well-prepared” people ready to do their masters’ bidding with their fists or weapons. What that bidding may be as the economic crisis deepens is the big question because as the economic pie becomes smaller, the owner of each will use what he has at hand to take a portion from another business or the state.