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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

It could only happen here

Here is a selection of stories that didn't make a big splash in the Western press. Mafia leaders emigrate Russia's mafia leadership has dwindled in size since the fall of the Soviet Union. The number of mafia leaders, known in Russian as vory v zakone or robbers in law, is now estimated at 200, down from 600 during the late perestroika era. Robbers in law are seen as authority figures in the Russian underworld, controlling criminals across the country and regulating their relations. Their decline has not come about because of crime-fighting measures; many vory v zakone have moved to comfortable surroundings in the West and carry out their Russian activities from abroad. A tradition has developed around the designation of robbers in law, and a long prison record isn't the only qualification. Robbers in law must be respected members of the criminal world, and have proven their ability to make the system work for them. By tradition the kingpins must remain unmarried, not work for a living, and refrain from accumulating wealth. The mafia leaders are entitled to withdraw spending money from an open "account" organized and funded by the underworld. Until a decade ago some robbers in law held so closely to tradition that they cut off their fingers to avoid having to work in labor camps. The warden of a labor camp often welcomes a well-known robber in law because with the mafia leader's cooperation he can better control prisoners and meet his production quotas. The arrival in prison of a robber in law is known well in advance through the lines of communication that unite the criminal world. Imprisoned robbers in law have been known to enjoy special living quarters, chocolate, cognac, drugs and other privileges. (Segodnya) Land is power Directors of collective farms in the Kuban River area of southern Russia are seizing land granted to fledgling private farmers. Ten thousand hectares of land have been taken from private farmers, according to Vladimir Gritsanya of the Kuban Association of Farmers and Farm Laborers, and local government officials are turning a blind eye to the problem. Farmer Aleksei Storozhenko says he has lost 400 hectares. One farmer claims local officials have been ordered to "smother" private farmers and "save" collective farms. (Argumenty i Fakty) Over my dead body Turkmenia has issued a decree stating that all motor vehicles from other states must pay hard currency for the privilege of driving through the country. Prices are as follows: motorcycles, $50; passenger cars, $100; trucks, $200. Vehicles from Russia, Belorus, the former central Asian Soviet republics, Azerbaijan and Iran are excluded from paying the fees.(Segodnya) Heavy metal A unique shop has opened in the town of Dmitriev in the Kursk region: goods can be obtained in exchange for scrap metal. A Japanese color TV with remote control can be had for 76 tons of metal, while a dual-cassette portable stereo costs 11 tons of metal. Shoes can be had for 1 1/2 tons. (Segodnya) A new life in Kazakhstan People from China are flocking to Kazakhstan, lured by the promise of small-scale trade. Many bring their families, and some become citizens through fake marriages. The influx of Chinese has coincided with an exodus of Russians -- 200,000 have left the former Soviet republic since 1991. "Russians, Ukrainians and Germans leave and the Chinese take over our place in the south," says one leader of the Russian community. (Argumenty i Fakty) The bumpy road to Mecca Until perestroika only about 20 or 30 Muslims from the Soviet Union took part in the annual international pilgrimage to Mecca. With the freedoms of the late 1980s the figure reached 10,000 a year. But because of financial constraints their number is expected to fall to only about 300 this May. A charter flight to Saudi Arabia has been organized for the worshippers. (Segodnya)