MOSCOW — The economic and social crises in Russia have triggered a countrywide crime wave, top law enforcement officials said Tuesday. In Russia's first six months as an independent country, crime was up 30% over the same period last year, before the Soviet Union broke up.
Murder and other violent crimes increased by 23%, while property crimes and burglaries rose almost 50% and accounted for 72% of the 1.3 million crimes reported in the first half of this year.
"The criminal situation is quite ugly," First Deputy Interior Minister Yevgeny Abramov said somberly.
He admitted that the country's police forces have been inadequate at handling "the growing scale and danger of crime due to economic difficulties and worsening social tension."
"We fully accept criticism from the public, which demands law and order and an efficient crime fighting agency," Abramov added. "However, we cannot accept the sweeping accusation that we indulge criminals and fail to fight crime."
The crime wave has been fueled, officials said, by a growing feeling shared by many people that the police have lost control. And as a result, some people who would normally obey the laws interpret the relative anarchy as an invitation to commit crimes.
"People do not believe they will be punished anymore for committing crimes," said Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav Ogorodnikov, the head of the Interior Ministry's department for maintaining social order.
"They know the system has broken down, and they are less afraid of this system now than they used to be," Ogorodnikov said.
Other Russians have decided that since the police can no longer prevent crime, they must protect themselves.
Many of them--especially the country's new entrepreneurs--have bought handguns through the country's growing black market for weapons, even though simply owning such a gun is a crime in Russia. Some business circles have appealed to the Russian Parliament to change the gun laws, but lawmakers said such a decision would make the crime rate grow even faster.
"Just imagine what will happen if all our people are armed," Ogorodnikov said. "We do not support legalizing the sale of handguns to the population. Our colleagues in the United States have advised us that this would be making a huge blunder."
Crime is also on the rise in the Russian military, which is in turmoil after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Red Army.
The Russian prosecutor's department overseeing the implementation of law in the Russian military said Tuesday that the number of crimes in the armed forces has grown by 12.4% in the first half of this year, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. Burglary and assaults were up by 89% and murders by 3%.