ESSAY: Criminal World Pays High Price for Its Cruelty

In the farming settlement of Vodnika, not far from the Volga city of Saratov in southeastern Russia, a tractor driver turned up a disfigured corpse as he was plowing the fields. He informed the police, who began to leaf through the list of missing persons.

One of them was a certain Yashin, 30, who had disappeared six months earlier. His wife was called in to identify the body and could barely stand when they showed her what was under the canvas.

"That's his jacket," she said, though she could not identify the rest of the remains.

Yashin worked as a bartender in a pub that enjoyed much authority in semi-criminal circles in this region. And he was involved in a feud with his former classmate Yury Redkobayev.

No one remembers how they became enemies. Maybe Redkobayev said something to Yashin in the bar or the other way around. People said their conflicting business interests could not be resolved. They also said both men had criminal inclinations and fought for supremacy.

Redkobayev's mother remembers how her son once came home clutching his bleeding forearm. Yury's wife, a nurse, quickly bandaged his wound with the help of his mother and asked who had shot him. His mother asked him why he hadn't called the police. "That's our business, Mama," Yury replied. "Why bring the police into it?"

The wound went all the way through his forearm. It hadn't even begun to close when, late one night, they heard a car screech to a halt outside their five-story apartment building and a ring at the door that sounded like a round of machine-gun fire.

"Don't open the door," Yury shouted at his wife as he darted from window to window. Someone started swearing loudly and beating at the door with something heavy. Redkobayev turned off all the lights in the apartment. After about 10 minutes the car drove off with the uninvited guests.

"That's Yashin with his people," Yury said as he watched them from the window.

The next day, Redkobayev had a steel door installed. By nightfall, he had disappeared. At the time, he did not have steady work, though he had money from somewhere -- he supported the entire family. After he disappeared, he did not return home for almost a year. No one had any news of him. During that time, his father fell seriously ill and died. They thought Yury would appear for the funeral. But he did not come. He sensed that someone would be watching his apartment.

The papers and local television stations were constantly announcing the deaths of entrepreneurs. The names of these businessmen were known to everyone in Saratov.

Redkobayev's mother suffered from the thought that her son was on the run and living badly.

She could not have guessed that he was living in a decent apartment in the city, albeit illegally, and being driven around in a Zhiguli by his personal chauffeur like a big boss.

The hired chauffeur was about five years older than Yury, and Redkobayev called him his "uncle." He drove Yury around to various offices "for negotiations," as he later explained to investigators.

The negotiations apparently went well, because Redkobayev changed to a new Volvo. The driver did not know the subject of these meetings, but held his boss in respect and watched as he came to be surrounded by more and more massive bodyguards.

These "musclemen" were known and feared throughout the region. The police did not touch them and hoped that they would kill each other off by themselves. Businessmen would either pay them off or hire them as security guards. They traveled only in their own cars, which they were known to drive up onto the sidewalks during traffic jams, forcing frightened pedestrians against buildings. They dined in the most expensive restaurants and payed with fat wads of money.

But guys like this are only pawns in a big criminal game. Their "godfathers" drive around in tinted-glass cars, gamble away fantastic sums in casinos and vacation in the Bahamas. They fight or make peace with one another over territory and spheres of influence, and the musclemen are small change in these disputes.

Therefore, they are the first to die in clan wars.

Redkobayev was able to make a career for himself in this hierarchy and became an assistant to an important figure in the Saratov criminal world.

Disputes among criminal circles are rarely settled peacefully. It is not only a question of ambition. If you make an attempt at reconciliation, it means you are a coward. Therefore, whether he wanted to or not, Redkobayev was obliged to bring his enmity with Yashin to a victorious conclusion so as not to lose face. The year living without his family only served to increase his sense of grievance.

The operation was planned in advance. When Redkobayev learned that Yashin had a guest over at his house, he understood the time had come.

Two cars kept watch not far from the house. Finally, Yashin stepped out of the entrance and accompanied his guest to the bus stop. Redkobayev could not have hoped for more: An act of revenge requires an audience.

Four burly men with metal rods emerged from the cars. There were shouts and scuffles as they dragged Yashin to the car where Redkobayev was waiting. They did not touch Yashin's friend. He was left like the other onlookers to spread the news that Yashin's powers had come to an end.

The driver, nicknamed Lyod, or Ice, later told investigators that they took their time beating Yashin. Redkobayev wanted to enjoy his rival's slow death. The reprisal was to serve not just as a victory, but also as an example of Redkobayev's mindless cruelty, which is particularly valued in criminal circles. Soon after the slaying, the demand for his talents for exacting revenge increased.

Redkobayev was arrested about a month after the farmer plowed up Yashin's remains. He was quick to confess to the crime when he realized that detectives had learned many details of his life.

I was shown several volumes of similar cases at the Saratov Region Court. They were all characterized by an unlimited capacity for cruelty.

I tried to find anything that might explain this ruthlessness. But none of those implicated had experienced any traumatic events such as military service in Afghanistan or Chechnya. Court psychiatrists found that they were mentally fit to stand trial.

The more I read the trial records, the more I became convinced of the professional nature of these bloody orgies. They kill with the professionalism of an executioner. This cruelty is a necessary condition for their existence. These people have chosen the way they wish to live by taking up weapons. One day they are executioners, the next day victims. But they never think judgement day will come.

For many, though, it already has.

Igor Gamayunov is a staff writer for Literaturnaya Gazeta. He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.