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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Mail System Delivers No Security




Had Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, set up shop in the middle of Moscow and not in a remote shack in Montana, he would have had an easy task blasting through Russian postal security.


In fact, the words "postal" and "security" hardly go together in Russia, where the term is still in its nascent phase. A postal security system was established only six years ago, after the country's first serious mail-related accident - an exploding package - injured three Moscow postal workers.


Since then, five people have been killed by exploding parcels. Dozens of packages have been found to contain mines, grenades and firearms. But despite this growing evidence that postal security is a potential powder keg in Russia, only a small fraction of mail traveling across the country is screened by X-ray.


The main purpose of the Postal Security Service - a special branch of the mailing service - is to check incoming and outgoing international mail.


The service's main office is located at Moscow's International Post Office on Varshavskoye Shosse. A branch also functions at Sheremetyevo Airport, where outgoing mail is meticulously checked, said Yevgeny Chernenko, who runs the Postal Security Service.


Chernenko said the service works closely with its U.S. counterpart, which checks Russia-bound mail in New York. Its other responsibilities include guarding postal facilities and shipments.


The problem, however, is that an increasing number of dangerous cargos are being mailed inside Russia, where there is no established system to check for weapons and explosives.


Every local post office is supposed to have a list of materials that may not be sent through the mail. These include explosives, flammable liquids, spray containers, narcotics, mercury, acids, radioactive materials and magnets.


However, post officials are not legally allowed to check the contents of parcels, nor can they demand that boxes be sealed in their presence. Indeed, postal workers have to call the police every time they suspect a box or letter might contain an illegal shipment.


In an attempt to screen potentially dangerous shipments originating in Russia's volatile Caucasus region, three years ago the service installed an X-ray scanner in Rostov-on-Don, the transit point for most of the mail coming to and from the Caucasus. Izvestia newspaper reported that in the past three years the Rostov branch of the Postal Security Service has reaped a hefty harvest: 101 detonators, 70 grenades, 11 kilograms of TNT, 22 mines, 25 firearms, 1,500 cartridges, 20 gas pistols and 500 grams of plastic explosives.


Last year, another scanner was installed in Stavropol to fend off risky mail coming from breakaway Chechnya and other regions of the Caucasus, which are considered to be the most crime-infested areas.


But for the time being, the postal service does not have the funds to establish regular screening points throughout Russia - a fact that makes many postal workers very nervous.