Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy


• • • • •

The ISCIP Analyst


Behind the Breaking News


Publication Series

• • • • •


Lecture Series


• • • • •

Search The ISCIP Analyst (formerly the NIS Observed):

Volume IX, Number 2 (November-December 1998)

Send us a note to subscribe to Perspective.

Russia's Military: Corruption in the Higher Ranks
With Appendix listing 52 corrupt flag officers
Hoover Institution and Boston University

The official government news agency ITAR-TASS earlier this year quoted Defense Minister Igor D. Sergeev as having told senior military personnel that about 18,000 of their officers had been charged with criminal activity during 1997. He warned that organized crime sought to penetrate armed forces construction projects, access to weapons, and to use the military as a medium for the growing drug trade. Last year, an official announcement had mentioned that 26 generals and 100 colonels were under investigation for corrupt activities.(2)

Colonel General Yuri G. Demin, chief military prosecutor, recently gave an interview on the same subject. He stated that during the first half of 1998, crime had increased by 12 percent in the army and navy, with drug-related cases up 70 percent. These figures suggest a dramatic growth in corruption throughout the Russian military establishment. Demin also mentioned the former chief of the General Staff, Army General Mikhail P. Kolesnikov, and a former commander of Russian forces in the Transcaucasus, General Fedor M. Reut, as being under investigation.(3)

One of the difficulties in reversing these trends is that the government in Moscow includes about ten different law enforcement structures which lack coordination as well as professional expertise. The other problem is funding. Of the estimated 23 trillion rubles required to implement an effective anti-crime program, only four trillion had been appropriated during the preceding three years.(4) Yet another obstacle is represented by the State Duma which provided amnesties to 13 of the 14 generals who had been convicted of various crimes between 1996 and July 1998. The justification? They had fought in Afghanistan or Chechnya or one of the lesser "hot spots" on Russia's periphery. (5)

An expert study defines the dimension of organized crime in Russia's armed forces as follows: "smuggling crimes of all types (particularly drug and arms trafficking), the massive diversion of equipment and materials, illegal business ventures, and coercion and criminal violence... financial crimes and schemes involving a spectrum of banks and financial organizations, real and dummy corporations, joint ventures with foreign partners, and overseas money laundering schemes...."(6) Not all of these elements will be discussed in this brief essay.

Another source pointed out that some of the above corrupt practices had been prevalent also in the former Soviet armed forces prior to their partial disintegration in May 1992, when a strictly Russian military organization was established. These included "patronage and its closely associated partner, protectionism, and secrecy, privileges, and blat'. (7) Obviously, such an environment has been conducive to development of crime on a massive scale in today's armed forces.

Finally, one should mention that Transparency International, a non-governmental pressure group in Berlin, earlier this year rated Russia as 6th (out of 54 listed countries) in terms of the most corrupt countries in the world, with Nigeria at the top. (8)

Already in mid-1996, then Prosecutor General Yuri S. Skuratov revealed that over the preceding two years law enforcement agencies had launched 267 criminal cases involving military corruption: 36 officers had been convicted of taking bribes during 1995; some 30 more were under investigation; and "several dozen" others had been forced to leave the armed forces.(9)

The Rokhlin Case
The individual who widely publicized corruption among his fellow flag officers was Lieutenant General Lev Ya. Rokhlin, retired after commanding the 8th Guards Army Corps and then elected a deputy to the State Duma, where he delivered an important address on 5 July 1996. This statement revealed that a Russian firm named Lyukon had contracted with the defense ministry to build 600 apartments for retired officers. Despite the fact that the ground was never broken for that project, a second contract was signed later to construct 10 times as many or 6,000 more apartments at a different location. Co-founder of the company was a son of Army General Konstantin I. Kobets, then chief military inspector, who had interceded with Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev to "compensate" Lyukon with aircraft engines and other equipment. This was done.(10)

Rokhlin also mentioned other examples of high-level corruption, as follows:

  • Some $23 million from the sale of ammunition to Bulgaria, received by Colonel General Vasili V. Vorobev (then budget chief at the defense ministry), had disappeared. No steps were taken against Vorobev as of that time.
  • Colonel General Dmitri K. Kharchenko (whose daughter married Defense Minister Grachev's son) converted $5 million into rubles, depositing them with the Military Insurance Company at 5 percent interest (bank rates then were between 120 percent and 180 percent) and subsequently transferring only R830 million instead of R13 billion to the defense ministry.
  • Colonel General Vyacheslav V. Zherebtsov, mobilization chief, established a battalion of "slave" soldiers whose purpose involved making money from building dachas for other generals, four of these for himself. (Between 1992 and 1996, about 300 generals built dachas near Moscow, using embezzled materials and enlisted men as labor.) (11)
  • Colonel General Vladimir T. Churanov, chief of rear services (supply), conducted operations through private commercial firms, with enormous abuses in allocating apartments and in army surplus property sales.
  • Military hardware and weapons were sold illegally from the former Western, Central, Northern, and Southern Groups of Forces; Mongolia; and the Baltic States--comprising enough to wage a large-scale war. As a result, not enough equipment remained for a local war like the one in Chechnya.

Rokhlin's speech provoked an article by a field grade officer who revealed that luxury Mercedes-Benz SEL-500 limousines were purchased with money from sales of surplus weapons in the Western Group of Forces (East Germany). Their commander, Colonel General Matvei P. Burlakov, had been personally involved. (12) Promoted to deputy defense minister, he was dismissed in January 1995 by President Yel'tsin and retired.

On 13 February 1997, Rokhlin also accused former Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev of clandestinely supplying Armenia with more than $1 billion worth of weapons, including 84 T-72 tanks, 52 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, heavy field artillery, and possibly SCUD-2 missiles, without authorization from Yel'tsin or the government.

Despite counter-accusations alleging that Rokhlin himself had been guilty of corruption during the war in Chechnya (of all places!), the general continued to make charges over Ekho Moskvy radio station on 20 May 1997 as well as through the printed media which had picked up the story. During the following year a poll among active duty army officers ranked Rokhlin highest among six politicians, giving him 39 percent to Yel'tsin's nine percent. (13)

On the night of 3 July 1998, Rokhlin was murdered at his home near Moscow. Tamara Pavlovna, his wife, was arrested and charged with the crime. Their daughter Yelena had been told by the mother that she confessed on orders of three masked intruders (who also killed the watchdog), because they had threatened to kill the rest of the family if she disobeyed.(14) As of this writing, the case was still under investigation.

Rokhlin also had been organizing opposition to the Yel'tsin regime among officers serving in the armed forces.(15) The apparent contract murder could have been the work of a joint government-mob conspiracy, consummation of which obviously benefited both. Other such assassinations included the one in October 1994 of a young investigative journalist, Dmitri Kholodov, whose exposé (16) of corruption in the military resulted in his death from an explosion of a briefcase, allegedly containing documentary evidence which he had been seeking. In March 1995, a well-known television commentator, Vladislav N. List'ev, was also murdered. Neither killing has been solved.

Theft of Weapons
As a result of the USSR's disintegration during the latter part of 1991, many of the newly independent states came into possession of guns, ammunition, and explosives either left behind by withdrawing Russian military units or stolen from them prior to their departure. Much of this war matériel ended up in the hands of crime groups or their paramilitary formations. The White Book of Russian Special Services is quoted (17) as reporting that some 200,000 automatic weapons had fallen into the hands of these criminal organizations.

Another major source for weapons includes armament plants in Tula, Kovrov, Izhevsk, and other Russian cities which supply the black market. The most popular places from which to steal guns and ammunition are military garrisons as well as supply dumps. Many of the latter are guarded by elderly invalids or pensioners.(18) Some 31,000 weapons were reported to have disappeared from these kinds of installations over a nine-month period. Prior to that a freighter was stopped at the port of Evpatoriya on the Black Sea with 59 tons of ammunition for AK-47 assault rifles.(19)

More recent cases included 16 torpedoes capable of carrying nuclear warheads that had been stolen and then mostly abandoned, although later discovered by a shipyard worker. Each weighed 12 tons and had been transported through town without being noticed. Only three were sold for about $3,000 each, after having been moved from a Northern Fleet mine and torpedo base in the Arkhangelsk region.(20) Theft of weapons escalated during the first half of 1998, with about 100 incidents registered. (21)

The highest profile case to date involved a private company called Bonex which is being investigated by the general prosecutor's office. A certain Sergei Spassky, then director of that concern, visited San'a in May 1996. His company had failed to deliver three Sukhoi-17 fighter aircraft to Yemen and would not return the almost $4 million down payment. Spassky received asylum in the Russian embassy. He claimed to be acting on behalf of the official state company selling arms, Rosvooruzhenie. Bonex previously had delivered Scud-B missiles to North Korea. It also supplied a foreign intermediary firm with Igla portable anti-aircraft systems as well as R-27 and R-73 missiles. (22) Had these weapons systems also been stolen, in collusion with high-ranking military officers?

It has been stated that the prevalence of corruption within Russia's armed forces is directly related to the penetration of the central government by criminal structures. The State Duma, however, refuses to adopt anti-corruption legislation. Organized crime is sometimes called the "fifth estate" in Russia, perhaps soon to become more powerful than the other four: the executive, parliament, judiciary, and mass media. (23)

Unfortunately, the future does not suggest that the foregoing problems will be solved. To the contrary, the state property agency has announced commencement of a sale that will include "military aircraft, naval ships, fuel in storage, non-ferrous metals, and part of the real estate belonging to the Defense Ministry." It is anticipated that the government will bring in R400 million during the last several months of 1998. (24)

As Russia careens toward chaos, the jackals with shoulder boards will continue to steal from what is left in the above inventories.

1 An expanded version of this article is being prepared at the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Affairs, University of Pittsburgh. For a comprehensive treatment of the general subject, see Phil Williams, "Russian Organized Crime--How Serious a Threat?," Transnational Organized Crime, vol. 2, no. 2/3 (Summer/Autumn 1996), pp. 1-26. The author expresses his gratitude to Dr. Harriet Fast Scott for verifying names and positions of flag officers listed in the appendix, which appears below.

2 Quoted by Robin Lodge, "Russian Mafia Gangs Infiltrate Army," The (London) Times, 11 March 1998; Moscow radio, 27 March 1997/FBIS-SOV-97-086.

3 "Russia: 14 Generals Investigated," Interfax, 1000 GMT, 30 July 1998; FBIS-UMA-98-218. See also Aleksandr Kondrashov interview with Demin in Argumenty i fakty, no. 13, March 1998, p. 13.

4 Interview with Duma deputy and security committee member, Vladimir N. Lopatin, "Besedka KP," Komsomol'skaya pravda, 17 January 1998, p. 2.

5 Moscow Radio, 30 July 1998; "Crime in the armed forces up 5 percent in first six months of this year," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 31 July 1998.

6 Graham H. Turbiville, Jr., "Organized Crime and the Russian Armed Forces," Transnational Organized Crime, vol. I, no. 4 (Winter 1995), pp. 63-64.

7Brenda J. Vallance, "Corruption and Reform in the Soviet Military," Journal of Slavic Military Studies, vol. 7, no. 4, December 1994, p. 704.

8 Sergei Guk, "Rossiya segodnya: posle Ugandy no vysshe Nigerii," Izvestiya, no. 97, 29 May 1998, pp. 1-2.

9 "More on Military Corruption," OMRI Daily Digest, vol. I, no. 131, 9 July 1996, pp. 1-2.

10 Lev Rokhlin, "Batal'ony prosiat novogo ministra," Rossiiskaya gazeta, Dom i otechestvo supplement, 6 July 1996, p. ii.

11 Cited by John M. Kramer, "The Politics of Corruption," Current History, vol. 97, no. 621, October 1998, p. 331.

12 Colonel Andrei Orlov, "Voennaya mafiya," Sovetskaya Rossiya, 11 July 1996, p. 5.

13 Andrei Korbut, "Lev Rokhlin byl samym populyarnym politikom v armii," Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, no. 25, 10-16 July 1998, p. 3.

14 Interview with Viktor I. Ilyukhin, who succeeded Rokhlin as chairman of the Movement to Support the Army, Defense Industry, and Military Science, in Sovetskaya Rossiya, 23 July 1998, p. 3; FBIS-SOV-98-216.

15 Vadim Solov'ev, "Pervaya organizovannaya voennaya oppozitsiya...," Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, no. 25, 10-16 July 1998, pp. 1 and 3. On other contract murders, see Aleksandr Pogonchenkov and Oleg Fochkin, "Rekviem Bratve," Moskovsky komsomolets, 13 January 1998, p. 4.

16 Dmitri Kholodov, "I sluzhba tam pokazhetsya medom," Moskovsky komsomolets, 30 June 1994, p. 1.

17 Cited by Oleg Orekhov and Nikolai Plotnikov, "Nelegalne arsenaly v postsovetskom prostranstve," Nezavisimaya gazeta, 27 October 1995, pp. 1-2.

18 Nikolai Nikolaev, "Segodnya" newscast over NTV, 19 November 1997; FBIS-UMA-97-324.

19Svetlana Glushko, "Oruzhie voruiut i soldaty, i ofitsery, i kommersanty," Rossiiskie vesti, 9 October 1996, p. 3; Nikolai Semena, "59 tonn patronov 7 mesiatsev 'zagoraiut' v Evpatorii," Izvestiya, 25 August 1994, p. 2.

20 Mikhail Osokin, "Segodnya" newscast over NTV, 15 July 1998; FBIS-TAC-98-197.

21 Interfax, "Oruzhie raskhishchaetsya," Nezavisimoe voennoe bozrenie, no. 32, 28 August-3 September 1998, p. 1.

22 Igor Yurev, "The Gunmongers," Moscow News, no. 36, 17-23 September 1998, p. 4.

23 Alena V. Ledeneva, "Organized Crime in Russia Today," Jamestown Foundation Prism, vol. IV, no. 8, part II, 17 April 1998.

24 ITAR-TASS, "Voennoe imushchestvo prodadut na 400 mln. rublei," Krasnaya zvezda, no. 169, 30 July 1998, p. 1. See also government directive no. 623 on this sale of surplus military property, signed by then Prime Minister Sergei V. Kirienko on 24 June 1998 and published in ibid, p. 5.

Copyright ISCIP 1998
Unless otherwise indicated, all articles appearing in this journal have been commissioned especially
for Perspective.

 About Us Staff Contact Home Boston University