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Imported violence

A sharp rise in gun crime has been recorded in Russian regions. We study the causes behind it

According to media reports and social media posts, an uncontrollable rise in armed crime has begun in Russia. For example, the number of crimes using firearms has increased sixfold in 11 months of 2022 in the Kursk region and fivefold in Moscow. A suggested explanation for this spike is the flow of illegal firearms that soldiers coming back from the war are bringing home. However, not everything is as it seems. In this article, we explain what is really going on with gun-related crime in Russia.

This article originally appeared in To Be Precise project. Novaya-Europe is posting a translation of the original article with the colleagues’ permission.

Are there more gun-related crimes now?

Yes, there has been an increase in such crimes. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, in total, the number of gun-related crimes shot up by a third (+36%) in Russia in 11 months of 2022, while in seven regions of Russia the increase exceeded 100%. The top-3 regions are: the Kursk region (+540%), Moscow (+365%), and the Nenets region (+200%).

However, to interpret this data correctly, the effect of a low base has to be accounted for. For example, the Kursk region saw 31 cases of crimes using firearms or gas weapons and ammunition in 2022. During the same period in 2021, the region had 5 crimes of this kind. The Belgorod region is facing a similar situation: from 16 cases in 2021 up to 47 in 2022.

Thus, when the base is low from the beginning, we have to thread carefully when calculating growth. For example, cases of any crime going from one to three is a triple growth, or an increase by 200%, which sounds way scarier than the same statement put in absolute numbers.

A clear example of this error is the data on the Nenets region of Russia where the number of gun-related crimes increased by 200% — from one case to three cases. We would not refer to this threefold increase as shocking and a reason to talk about rampant crime in the region.

Furthermore, it is important to consider that the Kursk and Belgorod regions border combat zones, so they get regularly shelled. The crimes reported on the border territories could be connected to the war instead of the “domestic” cases of firearms use.

Finally, Russia’s Criminal Code does not have a separate article covering crimes with the use of firearms. Their use can go hand in hand with any crime.

And it does not always mean that there was a shooting, just that a firearm was a part of the crime, one way or another (for example, one could have used a gun to threaten people during a robbery).

This does not explain the situation in Moscow. Why the sudden surge?

A growth of gun-related crimes has occurred in Moscow, too — from 167 cases in 11 months of 2021 to 777 cases in 11 months of 2022 (so, almost a fivefold increase). Moreover, there has not been a similar rise in violent crime in Moscow, although there have been some specific changes that need to continue being monitored (together with studying other indicators to be able to come to accurate conclusions about the cause of this dynamic).

What we know for certain is that 559 out of 777 of these crimes (72%) were committed outside of Russia’s territory. As in, these crimes occurred outside of the country but will be investigated in Moscow. Last year, there were far fewer cases like this — 91 out of 167 (54%).

Thus, there is an increase, but not a terrifying one. When it comes to murders and murder attempts only (excluding murders committed outside of Russia), their number has grown from 165 to 285 in absolute terms. Per 100,000 people, it has gone up from 1.5 to 2.2 (the average number across Russia in 2021 was 5 crimes per 100,000 people). We will be able to draw more accurate conclusions when the December data gets published.

Are there more cases of other crimes occurring outside of Russia?

Yes, there has been an increase when it comes to crimes using explosives and explosive devices. In total, the number of such crimes has grown fourfold in 11 months (255 in 2022 versus 59 in 2021). However, 60% of them (156 out of 255) were, it looks like, committed on the territory of military units located outside of Russia.

A unified crime database is established in Russia: crimes get reported to different agencies, the Defence Ministry among them, and then get collected in one statistical report. When filing a crime report, a region where the crime took place needs to be mentioned. If that is impossible, the corresponding crime will only be taken into account in the overall statistics of all crimes across Russia.

For example, it is not allowed to indicate a region if the crime took place on the territory of a Russian military unit located outside of Russia’s official borders.

Furthermore, according to the available regional data, the growth of crime in the regions bordering combat zones is higher than in those that do not border them. For example, Crimea had 11 such crimes in 2022 compared to one in 2021. The Kursk region saw nine crimes involving explosives in 2022 and zero in 2021. When it comes to regions that are not bordering combat zone territories, the rate of such crimes is lower than in 2021.

So, are there no signs of the violence levels growing in Russia?

For now, there has been no statistical data showcasing that. The number of violent crimes has been at last year’s level or lower (depending on the crime). For example, the number of murders and murder attempts saw almost no changes: in 2021, 4.65 people were killed per 100,000 people, while in 2022 the number was 4.81. There is a 3% increase, but it is too early to talk about a rise in homicides.

Furthermore, there is no region mentioned for 206 murders and murder attempts (just like in cases with explosives). In 2021, there were 29 cases like that. One can speculate this is the Defence Ministry’s data on crimes committed in military units located outside of Russia.

If we deduct these crimes in both periods we are comparing, then there has been basically no growth (4.6 per 100,000 people in 2021 and 4.7 per 100,000 in 2022).

The situation is similar when it comes to other violent crimes. The number of such crimes as deliberate infliction of harm of medium or severe gravity to health (11 and 15 per 100,000 people accordingly) or sexual abuse (5 per 100,000 people) did not increase in 2022.

Still, murder is the least manipulated indicator of crime rates. Murder statistics are considered relatively reliable and accurate both on the nation-wide scale and for comparison between countries. As of now, there has been no significant rise in murders that would demonstrate a growth of violence in Russia.

To sum up, an increase in specific crimes in bordering regions exists, but it is connected more to warfare than a growth in domestic violent crime.

This does not mean that everything is going well. According to research and experts’ forecasts, there will be an increase in violent crime and crime overall, but a little later (we have talked about it here). For now, on the contrary, a decrease is possible — many “potential criminals” are currently fighting in the war. We follow the statistical updates monthly and will continue to report on the situation as it develops.

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