Rosenberg's Russia: On the election trail

BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg

Russians go to the polls on 4 March to elect a president to replace Dmitry Medvedev. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is widely predicted to win the race, and with it a third term in office.

In his latest report ahead of the poll, the BBC's Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg visits the scene of one of Russia's most horrific mass murders to look at the enduring problem of organised crime as the presidential election looms.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT IN PUTIN'S RUSSIA

In the village of Kushchevskaya there is a street called Zelenaya ulitsa (English: Green Street): two neat rows of brick houses, with yards and small gardens.

With birdsong in the air, this street in southern Russia's Krasnodar Territory is a picture of peace and tranquillity - until you notice House Number 6.

On the ground outside the house there is a line of candles: a clue to the horrors which unfolded inside.

Candles burn outside the house in Krasnodar, southern Russia, where 12 people were massacred. Image from November 2010 Twelve people were brutally murdered in House Number 6

On 4 November 2010, 12 people were murdered in House Number 6. Some were stabbed, others shot and strangled. Among the dead were four children.

It was a crime which shocked the whole country. Detectives were despatched from Moscow and several arrests made.

The man accused of organising the killings is businessman and former village councillor Sergei Tsapok.

He has been identified as the head of a criminal gang which terrorised Kushchevskaya for more than a decade. For years, local police did nothing to stop him.

Gang power

Olga Bogacheva lives on Green Street, just across from where the killings took place. The Tsapok gang has murdered four members of her family.

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Olga Bogacheva

After my family was murdered, Tsapok gave the local police chief a gift - a brand new Mercedes”

End Quote Olga Bogacheva Bereaved villager

Her niece and her niece's son were killed in House Number 6.

Back in 2003, Ms Bogacheva's own son - and her husband, a business rival of Tsapok - were shot dead.

At the time local investigators claimed they had no idea who the killer was.

Only now, nine years on, has a member of the Tsapok gang been convicted of their murders.

"The gang had total power," Ms Bogacheva tells me.

"Prosecutors, police, local officials - they all did what Tsapok told them to.

"People were too frightened to complain. After my family was murdered, Tsapok gave the local police chief a gift - a brand new Mercedes.

"Just imagine: the head of police driving round in Tsapok's Merc. And everyone knew whose car it was. So there was no point running off to the police to complain about Tsapok's gang."

One woman who did stand up to the group was Galina Kroshka, the rector of a local university.

In 2005, she wrote to a national newspaper, to the regional governor and regional prosecutors complaining that Tsapok's henchmen were raping students.

"None of the gang was detained," recalls her daughter, Yevgeniya.

"Instead, local police said to my mother, 'Why did you go airing our dirty laundry in public? This matter should have been dealt with locally.'

"Then my mother began receiving threats. Two months later she was arrested on trumped-up charges of fraud. She was held in pre-trial detention for three years and suffered two strokes."

'Putin not to blame'

Following the massacre in Kushchevskaya, there were reports of intimidation, harassment and brutality from other towns and villages across Russia.

President Dmitry Medvedev pointed to "negligence on the part of police and other government agencies".

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If police or prosecutors noticed someone getting slightly richer they would go after this person”

End Quote Eduard Karpenkov Local farmer

"In some cases," President Medvedev added, "they even had direct ties with criminal groups."

And yet few Russians seem to blame the man who has been running their country for more than a decade, as president and prime minister: Vladimir Putin.

Even though Mr Putin came to power 12 years ago by promising Russians security.

When I ask people on the streets of Kushchevskaya who they will be voting for in the presidential election, most are for Mr Putin.

"Putin has made the country strong," Valera says.

"What went on in our village wasn't his fault. Local officials always hide the truth from those sitting in Moscow."

"If there are criminals all around," says Anna, "you can't blame the government. Our government tries to make our lives better."

Suspected gangster Sergei Tsapok in custody Sergei Tsapok has still not been tried

From Kushchevskaya I drive to the nearby village of Leningradskaya to meet farmer Eduard Karpenkov.

"The Tsapoks controlled Kushchevskaya," he recalls, "but in our village we didn't have any criminal gangs.

"It was the police who controlled all business. They didn't go around stabbing and killing but if police or prosecutors noticed someone getting slightly richer they would go after this person, pronounce him a criminal, throw him into a cellar and then demand that they give up their assets. This is what they call 'police lawlessness'."

But Mr Karpenkov had a run-in with the Tsapok gang, too. He claims that Sergei Tsapok tried to take over his land. When he resisted, he says the gang got police to open a criminal case against him.

With Mr Tsapok under arrest, that case has now been closed. But Mr Karpenkov remains nervous.

He says that most of the members of Mr Tsapok's criminal group are still at liberty and in the past few months there have been attacks on local farmers.

"There hasn't been any real clean out of the police," Eduard complains. "In fact the two policemen who helped the gang falsify the case against me got promotion!

"As for Tsapok, if he is not put on trial within the next couple of years, I'm afraid tshe whole thing might be forgotten. They might simply pronounce him 'mad' and unfit to stand trial."

Few here believe that organised crime has been defeated.

"The criminals may have gone quiet," Mr Karpenkov says, "but they're sitting and waiting."

Steve's earlier reports: MOSCOW COMMUTERS AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

WHY HONESTY IS SUCH A LONELY WORD

THE TOWN OF TANKS, STEEL AND SMOG

THE LONG JOURNEY TO SEE RUSSIA'S FIRST ELECTION WEBCAM

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