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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

All Power Is With the Mafia, Say the People

Against a backdrop of falling living standards, rising violent crime and laws and decrees that are widely ignored, most Russians believe the country's political leadership has lost its grip on power. A nationwide survey conducted by the official state polling service VTsIOM found that 29 percent of 2,000 people interviewed believed "no one" held power in their region; 28.3 percent said they thought the mob ruled the country, while only 21.4 percent ascribed the leading role to local government. In a separate poll of 1,000 Muscovites conducted in June by the Institute of Sociology and Parliamentarianism, 21 percent of the respondents said they believed the mafia controlled the country, while only 5 percent thought President Boris Yeltsin was in charge. The government, parliament and local authorities each scored less than 3 percent in the poll. Twenty-two percent thought no one was in charge. But regional officials interviewed this week indicated that the opinion that the country is under the control of shadowy crime gangs who manipulate corrupt officials is even more widespread outside Moscow. Stanislav Aksyonov, a spokesman for Yeltsin's representative in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, said that a survey conducted last year found that a whopping 74 percent of the city's population believed that power was in the hands of criminals. "The mafia has only strengthened its grip on power since then," Aksyonov said. "It has permeated the very institutes of power." Crime bosses had their fingers in everything from protection rackets for local businesses, to issuing of export permits of regional resources and minerals, he said. This dire portrayal was repeated by Yelena Bocharnikova, a spokeswoman for the administration in Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad. "If they conducted a poll like that here, Yeltsin and the government wouldn't have a chance," she said. Most officials said that the public's impression that criminals run the country was exaggerated, but they said the causes of this belief had to do with the authorities' inability to protect people from the criminal elements that thrive on Russia's economic disorder. "People are uncertain, people don't have money," said Viktor Lysov, a spokesman for the Nizhny Novgorod governor's office. "They look for non-government forces to protect them, since the government can no longer protect them." The impression that criminals are running the country has undoubtedly been influenced by the daily reports of bomb attacks, kidnappings and shootings in Russia's large cities -- and the lack of success in catching criminals. "People see criminals go unpunished," said Yekaterinburg's Aksyonov. "They let the genie out of the bottle, now they cannot get it back in." Yeltsin has sought to remedy the situation by granting the authorities wide powers to crack down on organized crime, but many Russians, citing corruption and ineffectiveness within the country's law-enforcement agencie, wonder how effective the measures will be. Moscow police are already calling the measures a success, but outside the capital, the initial reaction is not as certain. Izvestia reported Wednesday that the legal system was in such disrepair that in many regions of the country, courts are inactive or run by officials without proper qualifications. The paper quoted a letter from Justice Minister Yury Kalmykov saying that in 1,068 local courts and 338 higher courts, the judges' benches are vacant. Both police and the judiciary have complained that the fight against crime is hindered by outdated legislation, but legislators doubt that laws are enough. "Laws cannot improve the situation. People don't know their rights, and there is no guarantee that laws will be carried out," said Nina Krevelskaya deputy head of the State Duma's security committee. "For the moment, the national legislature is merely a good school."