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Kompromat Korner August 11, 2006
Kompromat Korner
By Yasha Levine Browse author Email

A Dedovshina Mystery a la Agatha Christie?

Everyone remembers Andrey Sychev, the young Russian army private who got his legs and genitalia gangrened during a vicious hazing beating, then amputated as a New Year's present. Of course you remember. The combination of the words "genitals" and "cut off" or "amputated" increases paper sales and headline clicks no matter what poor sap gets weenie-knifed.

The energy with which the press covered this hazing crime required a villain, and pronto. So almost immediately, the army prosecutor charged Major General Viktor Sidorov -- the highest-ranking officer at Chelyabinsk Tank Academy where the hazing happened -- for knowingly concealing the mass hazing that took place in his garrison and needlessly postponing the treatment that could've kept Pvt. Sychev's jewels in place.

According to Rossyiskaya Gazeta, over 12 servicemen were also being investigated. Eight months later, no one has been convicted.

Even back in May, when Sychev was still being treated in the hospital, the charges against Gen. Sidorov started to look shaky. When TV crews were finally allowed to film the recruit in his hospital room, he remained eerily tight-lipped when asked who did this to him. He looked straight at the camera and said nothing. But his doctor and other specialists weren't as camera shy. They said something about the the effect that his amputations were related to a previous medical condition and not just the hazing itself.

Now, reports that the main witness in the case against Major General Sidorov disappeared without a trace. The story goes like this: after a number of postponements, the trial against Sidorov finally began. All the necessary ingredients for a successful trial were there. The victim, the accused, the witness, prosecutors, defenders and the judge were all present. The only thing missing? Electricity.

Yep, the courthouse was undergoing remont and someone must have tripped the fusebox. When the lights finally turned back on, someone was missing. Sergey Gorlov, the only remaining witness in the trail, was nowhere to be found. He wasn't at home, not at friends' houses, not with his army unit. The only person still willing to talk openly about the pressure that high command put on servicemen to conceal the beating vanished. Without him, the prosecution has no case. All the other witnesses folded under pressure.

Weird, ain't it?

Behind Russia's Dry Spell

"A few weeks, a month tops, and then the imported booze would start flowing again." That's what everyone assumed on July 1st, when the new excise law regulating imported booze came into effect and liquor shelves emptied overnight. Little did they know that the situation was much more fucked up...

That's because the new law didn't just call for a new excise tax sticker to be put on all wine and alcohol bottles. It was much bolder than that. It called for the most sophisticated government regulatory system than Russia has ever seen. one that would be able to track the history of every single bottle of booze in the country at any given moment. It also forced importers to buy the scanners and computers needed to upload information to a central system, bottle by bottle, for instant tracking.

The idea must have had Russian bureaucrats drooling; July 1st would be remembered as the day of Russia's first truly centralized database came online!

One thing they didn't expect is that the moment of their triumph would be labeled "Black Saturday." The day the good booze died. On that day, stores, restaurants and bars had to return their entire stock of imported alcohol to the wholesalers from which they bought them. Even now, more than a month after the new law took effect, the good shit is still nowhere to be seen.

Initially, we at Kompromat Korner thought conspiracy. There was just no way all that alcohol disappeared unintentionally. Russian alcohol manufacturers were the only guys in town that could supply the product, and they're making a killing. Someone must've been taking a cut of that action... But no. When the dust settled, it turned out to be much less interesting.

The law's intent was good enough. It was supposed to combat corruption and clamp down on excise avoidance. But just ask Chernomyrdin what happens when you try to make something better in Russia. This time, two familiar problems got in the way: incompetence and greed.

According to Bolshoi Gorod, the law was fast-tracked thru the Duma in order to keep up with the national ban on Moldovan and Georgian wine. To make matters worse, the contract to develop EGAYS (the database's acronym) was awarded to an FSB IT organization called Atlas. According to its website, Atlas had its hand in pretty much every electronic government system in the country since the 1950's.

Surprisingly, they managed to set it up. A month after the law came into effect, EGAYS is up and running, not smoothly, but still running. The problem is at the consumer level: it's almost impossible to obtain the hardware needed to plug into the EGAYS system. The problem is not so much that the Atlas-designed barcode scanners cost 50,000 euros as the fact that Atlas only employs two people for the entire Moscow region. Yep. Two people are qualified to install, certify and service the equipment for a city of 12 million registered hard drinkers. You do the math.

Vedmosti calculated that developing the database cost Atlas about $127 million. In return, it would make about $239 million annually from a fee built into the new excise law. Nearly a 100% return on investment isn't bad for a first year in business, doubly so for a government entity. But since it's got no fear of losing the contract, Atlas doesn't see any reason to share the wealth, or even work competently. So what if Russia's entire alcohol import industry hangs on by the skin of its delirium-tremens teeth.

According to industry insiders, the situation should resolve itself by the end of September. By then, they should have the bugs out of the tracking software and hardware and it'll be installed by all importers that haven't gone bankrupt. But here's the real kicker: when the imported booze does come back online, it may be 30% more expensive than before, since it'll be much harder to avoid the taxes.

Still, it could've been worse. The first draft of the new excise law called for the wholesale destruction of all alcohol tagged with the old excise stamps. 100-year-old cognacs, fine whiskies and vintage wines would have been bulldozed at a charge of 20 rubles per bottle to the paid to the Russian government.

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Yasha Levine is an editor at The eXile. You can contact him at

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