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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

St. Petersburg Police: Shooting in the Dark

So we've come to this: another day, another killing. The death last week of an innocent bystander, a British lawyer, in St. Petersburg evoked routine interest among local media.


In a city and in a country where a businessman, a journalist or a politician is murdered nearly every day, the news produced hardly a sensation. In the first two months of 1996, there have been 15 attempts on the lives of St. Petersburg businessmen. Seventeen people have been murdered. The statistics frighten, particularly because there seems to be no end to the violence. Nobody really knows what to do.


John Hyden, 40, had been on a short visit to St. Petersburg for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He was quietly sipping his coffee last Monday in a corner of the Vienna, an elegant cafe in the five-star Nevsky Palace Hotel on the city's main street, when two men in long overcoats walked in, discharged their Kalashnikovs into a group of men sitting at the next table, dropped their guns and overcoats, and disappeared.


On Tuesday I was overwhelmed with phone calls from the BBC, anxious for commentary about the unfortunate visitor's death. For them, of course, it was not a routine news item. The Petersburg media reacted much more slowly: The news was reported on television Tuesday evening, and on Wednesday it broke onto the pages of city newspapers.


No doubt Hyden had felt safe at the hotel, which had a reputation as one of the most respectable, reliable and well-guarded spots in the city. Now, tourists will feel leery of both the hotel and the city.


Ironically, the intended target -- Victor Gavrilenkov, a leader of the infamous Tambov criminal group, and brother of Nikolai Gavrilenkov or "Stepanych," another criminal leader murdered a year ago -- survived. Two of his policemen bodyguards and Hyden died on the spot.


An event two days later made me ponder. On Thursday night I went to the Tam Tam music club. From a block away I saw a half-dozen police trucks outside the building.


I came upon the following picture inside: The concert had been interrupted, all the lights were on, kids were seated on the floor guarded by the police. Men in the audience, including the club manager, with their hands on their heads and their faces to the wall, were searched by the OMON troops with machine guns.


It was not the first time Tam Tam, for some reason especially "loved" by the police, was raided in a search for drugs. The cops know that the best this carefully planned, bravely executed operation of 40 policemen armed with machine guns could turn up is a couple of dope smokers and a pusher "heavily armed" with a pocketful of grass. Are you sure you're in the right place, officers?