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Russia: The Killing of Krutov

The June 29 murder of Svetloyarsk Raion administration head Nikolay Krutov was a blip on that day’s news. It was not unprecedented [ru]. But unraveling why the crime was committed (and what it means) is anything but straightforward.

Aslambek Vagapov walked into Krutov’s office on a Friday last month and fired five deadly shots at the chief of the large, sparsely populated region just south of Volgograd. The 63-year-old ethnic Chechen then proceeded to the local Investigative Committee and confessed.

Krutov was a 46-year-old former army helicopter pilot who switched over to the MVD in the mid-1990s. He was a police chief in Svetloyarsk in the mid-2000s. In 2008, he was elected administration head of Raigorod, and head of Svetloyarsk Raion the following year.

Vagapov told investigators Nikolay Krutov systematically extorted a large sum of money from him over three years. The Investigative Committee is handling [ru] the murder as the result of “unfriendly relations” and a dispute over the registration of Vagapov’s purchase of farm cooperative property.

Screenshot of the official memorial webpage for the slain Svetloyarsk Raion administration head, Nikolay Krutov (24 July 2012).

Vagapov’s son Muslim, the family’s de facto spokesman, claims Krutov demanded three million rubles (over 90,000 U.S. dollars) when his father bought out shareholders of the Svetloyarskiy Agricultural Production Cooperative. This spring, Krutov allegedly offered to intervene for 16 million rubles, when paperwork documenting Vagapov’s ownership stalled in the Federal Registration Committee.

Vagapov’s employees defend him [ru], describing how he came to the area with nothing 35 years ago. They claim that Krutov was sucking him dry.

Асламбека довели. Его в районе все знают. Он спокойный, уравновешенный человек, у него девятнадцать детей. Его вынудили взяться за оружие.

They drove Aslambek to it. Everyone in the raion knows him. He’s a calm, level-headed person, he has 19 children. They forced him to take up a gun.

Krutov’s colleagues support him just as vigorously. One deputy called the extortion accusation absurd since land registration was not within his purview as a local administration head.

But maybe Krutov was corrupt

One Volgograd news and discussion site, Inter-Volgograd.ru, is most aggressive, though not alone, in considering the possibility Krutov was corrupt. It claims [ru] he was building an 8-million-ruble home, and had a village house and an apartment in the city. Several unidentified entrepreneurs said kickbacks to Krutov typically cost half the value of any deal. It also appears Krutov was, on behalf of the raion, collecting up former cooperative land that might be very valuable in the future. In other words, he and Vagapov might have been playing the same game.

Vagapov not exactly model citizen either

Several sites concentrate on Vagapov’s prior [ru] legal problems, including the alleged theft of municipal property, his possession of an automatic weapon, grenade launcher, and several grenades, and his involvement in illegal migration. Some writers are obliquely critical of Vagapov’s family of 19 children by four wives [ru], while others argue that he is not exactly “level-headed.” He was allegedly dismissed from conscript service after hitting his commander in the head with an axe, while others have noted that Vagapov was a victim of abuse [dedovshchina] while in the army.

A few media reports claim Vagapov admitted that he planned to kill other local officials besides Krutov, though he has only been charged with the one murder. It is also odd he would surrender immediately, if he intended to kill someone else.

Russians see a Chechen living by his own laws

Blogger gorojanin86 writes [ru]:

Убил главу местный предприниматель Асламбек Вагапов. За что? Это вопрос. Известно, что глава пытался заставить предпринимателя работать не так, как он хочет, а по закону. Вагапов даже телевидение привлекал для борьбы с главой района Крутовым, не помогло. Правда была на стороне Николая Владимировича Крутова. За правду он и погуиб.

Local entrepreneur Aslambek Vagapov killed the chief. For what? That’s the question. It’s known the chief tried to make the entrepreneur work not as he wanted, but according to the law. Vagapov even tried to draw television into his struggle with raion chief Krutov, but couldn’t. Truth was on the side of Nikolay Vladimirovich Krutov. And he was killed for truth.

LiveJournal user oldaleks thinks Vagapov is a Chechen mafia boss [ru] and land speculator, not a poor farmer or victim of Russian chauvinism. He claims many different nationalities lived peaceably in Svetloyarsk until Caucasians arrived bringing murder and rackets with them. (Though he does not mention or seem to be aware that Vagapov has lived in the community since the 1970s.)

Writing in Astrakhan.ru’s forum, user Europe suggests [ru] that Vagapov should have expected extortion on Russian land because the same thing would happen to a Russian who bought up property in Chechnya. He also intimates that Chechens cannot live according to their own law when it comes to wives, weapons, and violence, and then claim a murder is self-defense.

But user sirozha-molodets responds:

Чеченцев очень много, – мигрируют в больших количествах, именно работяги, а не уроды, которые рас3.14жживают федеральные средства на местах.Именно они (чеченцы) и тащат на себе сельское хозяйство области, – восстанавливают фермы, коммуникации, создают рабочие места, вытасскивая русских Ванюшек из пьянства и наркоты.

[Н]еудивительно, что глава, увидев, как поднялись приезжие, начал сосать с них деньги…

There are many Chechens, they migrate in large numbers, it’s a fact that they are hard workers, and not monsters who dilute federal resources in the localities. It’s a fact that they (Chechens) pull the oblast's agriculture, they are restoring farms, roads, creating jobs, [and] dragging Russian Vanyushkas out of drunkenness and drugs.

[I]t’s not surprising the chief, seeing how the newcomers raised themselves up, began to suck money out of them…

Most observers discount ethnic friction

Some media sources mention national hatred as a possible cause for conflict between Krutov and Vagapov. A former comrade described Krutov’s hatred for Chechens after serving in Chechnya in 1999. He claims Krutov wanted to clear the raion of “outsiders,” but Novaya Gazeta’s Irek Murtazin responds that it is the simplest thing to attribute [ru] this tragedy to “Caucasians run amuck.” A leader of the Chechen community in Volgograd also dismisses ethnic friction, saying Vagapov simply exploded [ru] when his patience for Krutov’s corruption ran out.

No surprise at violent reaction to corruption

Murtazin is not surprised that someone would reach for a gun [ru] when the police and courts are of no help.

Независимо от того, какая версия мотива преступления Вагапова будет изложена в приговоре убийце, стрельба в кабинете главы администрации Светлоярского района — это явный сигнал. За оружие берутся там, где нет надежды на судебно-правоохранительную систему, полностью деградировавшую и не вызывающую доверия. Когда самосуд кажется единственной защитой и справедливым наказанием. В общем, снова всплывает «Ворошиловский стрелок».

Independent of what version of a motive for Vagapov’s crime will be set forth in the killer’s sentence, the shooting in the Svetloyarskiy Raion administration head’s office is a clear signal. People take up arms where there’s no hope for a judicial-law enforcement system which is completely degraded and doesn’t inspire confidence. When vigilantism seems the only defense and just punishment. In general, the “Voroshilov Rifleman” [en] will rise again.

An Inter-Volgograd.ru editorial also concludes that some Russian netizens see Vagapov’s action as an inevitable response [ru] to corruption.

Уверены, что следствие разберется в сути этой трагедии. Настораживает другое: среди участников практически всех интернет-форумов находятся люди, которые одобряют поступок Вагапова, и считают, что самосуд – единственная мера воздействия на зарвавшихся представителей власти. А правоохранительные органы, которые борются с коррупцией законными методами, не в силах обуздать чиновников-беспредельщиков…

It’s certain that the investigation will sort out the essence of this tragedy. Another thing puts us on guard: among the participants in practically all Internet forums there are people who approve of Vagapov’s crime, and believe that vigilantism is a natural response to authorities who go too far. And law enforcement organs that fight corruption by legal means don’t have the strength to stop official-criminals…

We may never know why

A senior Investigative Committee official believes it remains only to establish Vagapov’s motive [ru], but investigators do not really need a motive if they have a confession and some physical evidence. A motive, after all, would just mean more investigations into what really happened in Svetloyarsk.

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