A man brandishing a Molotov cocktail broke into Lenin’s mausoleum and nearly set fire to his preserved body. In Leningrad region, a man attempted to rape a 76-year-old woman who lived next door. In Moscow, a policeman shot a colleague. In Perm, a schoolgirl died after being raped and set on fire by schoolmates. In Yekaterinburg, the police are investigating the murder of a six-year-old boy whose foster mother kept his body in the fridge. In Vyshny Volochyok, a man raped a tomcat. In the Moscow metro, a woman broke a turnstile by repeatedly kicking it. In St. Petersburg, a man threw his neighbour out of the window. In Moscow’s Gorky Park, teenagers beat up a passer-by just for fun. A vegetable warehouse guard suspected of raping a teenager was found hiding an armed personnel carrier in his garden. A 13-year-old teenager killed a friend of his… This is a typical selection of recent Russian news.
With the help of a criminologist, a psychologist and statistics from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, we look into whether violence really is on the rise in Russia and whether the war is to blame for it.
A year ago, Novaya-Europe wrote that war affects the level of violence in society, but that this only manifests itself once the war is over. Russia has been at war for a year and a half, with no end in sight, but the media landscape already seems to say that the rise in violence has begun. Of course, the reason might not necessarily be rampant crime, but also possibly the way the media select which stories to cover. In this case, everything is simple: things are actually going fine, and it is the journalists who are to blame.
“One of the issues now is that people are addicted to news,” says psychologist Fyodor Konkov. “People come to me saying that they can’t stop watching YouTube, that they can’t sleep or eat. This shows a general state of anxiety. And anxiety is among the factors that increase aggression.”
“This is likely true for any country, not just Russia,” Konkov continues.
“When a country is at war, tensions rise, aggression builds up, and then the crime rate will rise.
Any change in the usual state of affairs tends to lead to a surge of emotions, in particular to aggression and its manifestations. However, I would not make such a conclusion now, because we do not have reliable statistics on our hands.”
A criminologist who wished to remain anonymous also told Novaya-Europe that there was a lack of analysable data.
“If you take, say, the year 2019, you will see basically the same news,” he pointed out. ”It may seem that there is now more of such news. But, unfortunately, we do not have systematic calculations. There are official statistics from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General’s Office, but we will not see any increase in crime either in relation to 2022 or 2021.”
Official statistics appear monthly on the website of Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. In June, it published its regular report ‘The State of Crime in Russia’. It spans the first six months of 2023, but one should look at such stats regularly — at least once a month. Preferably before going to bed. Nothing inspires such peace and optimism as the Interior Ministry’s reports on crime in Russia.
The latest message on the ministry’s website claims that two per cent fewer crimes were registered in 2023 so far than in the first six months of the previous year. Damages from crime have allegedly decreased by 42.5%.— nearly halved, that is. “The number of criminal acts against persons decreased by 7.1%. Murders and attempted murders went down by 2.1%, intentional infliction of grievous bodily harm dropped 5.2%, while instances of rape and attempted rape decreased by 9.6%,” the message reads.
If the ministry is to be believed, all crime is down. Robberies have decreased by a quarter, and burglaries — by a whopping third. Did someone predict an increase in the number of carjackings and theft due to lack of spare car parts? The liars! These types of crime are down by a whole 25%. And even crimes committed with the use of weapons and ammunition have become less frequent, if only by a meagre 4.3%. War? What nonsense.
And finally, the most encouraging news from the Ministry of Internal Affairs: “The solving rate of murders and attempted murders has reached a historical maximum of 99%”. See, that’s how you get things done! “The professional and effective work of internal affairs departments in solving crimes, including grave ones, has brought significant results,” boasts the police.
The ministry publishes its reports on the level of crime on its website once a month, and if you read them for the years 2022-2023 in chronological order, you will be delighted. They show that crime in a country at war is steadily declining, while the clearance rate is skyrocketing. This is enough to readily laud the ministry on a special page ‘Thank you, policeman’ (yes, they have this page on their website). But from time to time the website publishes reports with a detailed breakdown of statistics, tables and diagrams.
Last October, these glorious stats were rather spoiled with the following data: compared with 2021, the number of crimes “with the use of weapons, ammunition, and explosives” increased by 29.7% countrywide. For two regions, the figures are simply monstrous. In the Kursk region, which borders the occupied regions of Ukraine, the number of crimes committed with weapons in 2022 increased by 675% — eightfold. The Belgorod region experienced a threefold increase.
Rostov-on-Don during Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny. Photo: Novaya Gazeta Europe
“It is clear that in the occupied territories, given how they exist now, the circulation of weapons is ‘normal’,” the criminologist says. “And it is pretty obvious that there will be a large flow of illegal weapons into the regions bordering them. Although there could be another explanation. We don’t know how the police handled data after the occupied areas were annexed to Russia on paper. It may be that crimes committed in the Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’ were processed by investigative bodies reporting to Kursk or Belgorod. That is, an incident on the occupied territory of Zaporizhzhia region was investigated on the spot, but since local police bodies had not yet been formed there, it was investigated by people reporting to Kursk or Belgorod.”
But this does not mean that weapons will not eventually start flowing deep into Russia.
This has been the case in all previous conflicts on the Russian border or within the country. These kinds of conflicts always result in the immediate flow of weapons inland.
Data for 2022 shows that the region with the third-largest increase in armed crime was Moscow — a city far from the border to Ukraine. There, the armed crime rate tripled — just like in the border region of Belgorod. Pskov came in fourth — another city that is quite far from the war zone. In St. Petersburg, armed crime has doubled. And this can no longer be explained away by police bureaucracy. It looks like in December 2022, the flow of weapons reached Moscow and St. Petersburg and continued further: the number of such crimes has doubled in Saratov, Kaliningrad, and even in the northern Nenets Autonomous District.
Apparently, the ministry decided not to publish these harrowing statistics in its 2023 report, since this whole category is absent from it.
Murders and attempted murders
If you look at the tables in the ministry’s latest report carefully, the picture is not as rosy as painted in the short message on the website. The number of grievous and extremely grievous crimes increased by 11% in the first six months of 2023. Murders and attempted murders are up by 10%. In this category, the statistics seem to be the most reliable, because a dead body can not go anywhere. The situation with attempted murders is more troublesome. For instance, the Ministry of Internal Affairs will no doubt adorn its next report with two “prevented attempts” — on media star Ksenia Sobchak and propagandist Margarita Simonyan.
“A corpse is a statistical unit of account,” the criminologist explains. “Attempted murder is a much more complicated category: oftentimes law enforcement officials are the only ones to know what falls under it.”
Violent crime has decreased by 6.5%. Rape is down by 4.8%. Particularly heartwarming is the rate of the infliction of grievous bodily harm, which dropped by 14.2%. This is the category under which domestic violence usually falls — and domestic violence in Russia is not considered a crime.
“There is no such crime as domestic violence in Russia,” Fyodor Konkov points out. “And people don’t report it. If someone wants to study this category, they will have problems with data collection.”
Denying domestic violence is the official position of the Russian state.
Therefore, victims may no longer report such cases to the police, because they know what they will be told. Meanwhile, there are people who are inclined to take out their anger on friends and relatives. They care about their reputation, so outside the house they will seem wonderful, kind, and ready to help. Then they come home and beat their wife or child. Though, of course, this is not the only category prone to violence against the weakest, the most dependent, and often defenceless.
The criminologist believes that in times of war there exist reasons for a real decrease in the crime rate. According to data for 2021, most crimes are committed by men aged 30 to 45, with young men aged 18 to 29 in second place. This is exactly the age of conscription.
“You take several hundred thousand people of the most dangerous demographic group and artificially remove them from society,” the criminologist explains. “In many Russian cities, there are now significantly fewer men. For various reasons: some are in the army, others have left the country. Who is there to commit crimes then?”
Crimes involving minors
Teenagers often appear in accident reports both as perpetrators and victims. Perhaps since the fathers are at war, the kids have taken up the crime business? Fyodor Konkov admits that this can happen.
“When violence becomes something that is encouraged in the country, when calls to kill those who do not march in line are almost welcomed, kindergarten children may start playing such games,” he explains. “And the game can easily spin out of control — suffice it to recall Zimbardo’s famous Stanford prison experiment, which had to be stopped early precisely because the participants got carried away. In Russia, the game has long since spun out of control.”
However, the criminologist believes that this is not the way this “replacement” works.
“If a certain social group was committing crimes for profit, for example, stealing cars, and then it was removed from society, then the replacement occurs quite quickly,” he says. “But fortunately, this is not the case with murder and sexual violence. These are crimes that are committed situationally, and so there is no replacement.”
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, juvenile crime has indeed decreased by 17%, with a 11.9% rise among students. Crimes committed by women are up by 4%.
However, the criminologist believes it is likely that the war has not yet affected the level of violence in society. That development is still to come.
“There is a long history of observation that says that spikes in criminal violence are associated with wars, but they occur at the end of wars, not during them,” he explains. “Although here too I can refer to the lack of reliable data on what happens during wars.”
Nothing new here
In the town of Elektrostal not far from Moscow, a young man with a green mohawk asked a group of men for a cigarette. They promptly wrestled him to the ground and cut off the mohawk along with the skin. That is, they scalped him. How dare he walk about like that, what about traditional values?! Fans of crime blogs revelled in photos showing the blood-covered victim.
Fyodor Konkov believes the war has nothing to do with it.
We must look at the new Russian laws, which effectively approve of violence against those who are different.
Do you have a mohawk? A rainbow t-shirt? An earring? But what about traditional values? This means, Konkov explains, that the war unleashed by Russia is not the cause of violence but rather its consequence.
“War is one of the by-products of what has been happening in Russia in recent years,” he says. “It’s just one link in the chain. It started much earlier than February 2022. Putin is a fairly competent politician, he keeps his eye on the ball. He would not have started this war if he did not know that the people would support it.”
GIven this, the statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs do not seem as far-fetched anymore — on the contrary, they look quite natural. Nothing is happening in Russia that is so unusual as to affect the crime rate. It’s business as usual — everything is going according to plan.
“Think of the Holodomor, the Gulag, all the other ‘heroic feats’ of the communists in Russia and the former Soviet Union,” Konkov says. “For years, millions were dying across the country. I do not want to downplay the horror of what is happening now in Ukraine. But in Russia, people may not feel that there is anything special about it. They have been living in this for a hundred years. They themselves don’t understand where it came from. The state never acknowledged its sins, and all the past and future nightmares have long since become the norm in the minds of most Russians.”
People have long forgotten where the line between good and evil lies: they are afraid to look in that direction at all.
There are categories of crime for which the Ministry of Internal Affairs publishes data showing a very large increase. Extremism breaks all records with a hike of 37.4%. It also turns out that there has been a terrible increase — a whopping 27.5% — in crimes “involving information and communication technologies”. Persecuting users for online posts and imprisoning bloggers is notably easier than arresting some hulk beating up a woman.
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