Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Guards, armed and for hire

Valentin Kosyakov opens the door, Camel cigarette in hand, wearing a Lacoste shirt and with a 9 millimeter Makarov handgun dangling from a holster on his hip.

Kosyakov's bespectacled, suit-clad brother, Andrei, sits near him at a boardroom table, another Makarov handgun strapped to his side.

Meeting the Kosyakovs at their headquarters in an old Communist party building on Moscow's south side means getting past three bored young men in khaki combat gear and waiting for half an hour. Although the military gear suggests that the Kosyakovs could be officers in some war-torn republic, they are merely businessmen, albeit flourishing ones, in the new Russia.

The Kosyakovs are chairmen of Alex, a security service that protects politicians, businessmen and their families, ambassadors, rock stars, restaurants, embassies and commercial enterprises. Valentin Kosyakov started Alex in 1989 after spending six years as an economic-crime investigator for the Interior Ministry.

"At the end of that time I was going crazy about the way our militia was working and decided to create our own security service", he said. The company's first job was guarding a medical factory, Valentin Kosyakov said. Alex then gained some fame during the August coup, when its employees helped guard the White House.

Alex now has 2, 500 employees; 700 are based in Moscow, 100 in St. Petersburg, and the rest are spread among 25 branches in Russia. A third brother, Dmitry, represents the company in London.

Until more Western-style laws are created -- and enforced -- many Russian business problems are being solved through the rule of the jungle. Russia's current form of capitalism has been dubbed dikikapitalism, or wild capitalism; the "business" atmosphere is closer to the Wild West or Chicago in the 1920s than to today's West -- or even East -- European market systems.

"Security is important", Valentin Kosyakov said. "Crime has increased and it will continue to increase because the social and economic situation of this country will only get worse".

In the last five months, general crime has increased 35. 2 percent, murder is up 24 percent, theft is up 61 percent, and organized crime is up 35 percent, Andrei Dunayev, a deputy interior minister, said at a recent press conference. But as crime rises, so does the amount of business received by private security companies, like Alex.

While there is no centralized office recording the number of registered security companies in Moscow or Russia -- because registration is done at a regional level only -- Alex is probably one of only three private security companies in Moscow, said Anatoly Gurzin, director of public security at the Interior Ministry.

Despite the novelty of this sort of business in Russia, one official said recently that the number of private detectives in the country is expected to grow exponentially.

Alex workers are aged 25 to 35, on average; most have military backgrounds. According to Valentin Kosyakov, the guards earn 6, 000 to 8, 500 rubles a month. But it would be surprising in the current economic climate if they were unable to supplement their official salaries.

Kosyakov says his clients are seeking protection against everything from chance street crime to kidnapping.

"Two weeks ago one client was attacked by six people", he said, as an example. "Our guards caught two members of the gang. Then there are always problems at the nightclubs".

Guns are an integral part of Alex. Valentin Kosyakov says he always wears his gun, even if he mainly does office work. "We're in the business of protecting people", he said. "It would be pretty tunny if we weren't able to protect ourselves".

Under Russian law, civilians cannot own guns unless they make a written request to Gurzin's department for a license. and this license is something that the Kosyakovs -- who proudly point to a Remington rifle nestled nonchalantly on their window sill -- have not obtained, Gurzin said.

He added that the only institutions that can legally provide their employees with guns are the militia, the Security Ministry, banks involved in transferring funds and Vochar, an independent organization that provides security to state-run factories.

But under a law passed in April, private investigators may apply for gun licenses. Valentin Kosyakov said he had applied for licenses and expected to receive them in the fall.