Raiding the Biryulyovo Spoils

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This week’s Russia Magazine column, “The Economic Spoils of the Biryulyovo Riot,” on the possible reiderstvo of the Pokrovskii fruit and vegetable warehouse.

Residents of Biryulyovo rioted for many reasons, but chief among them was that local officials and police provide protection to businesses, in this case, fruit and vegetable markets and warehouses that employ swaths of illegal migrants. “Markets and warehouses are always connected with a “krysha” (literally “roof” or police or political protection), and a “roof” is generally a police structure.” Kirill Shulika, the deputy chairman of the nationalist Democratic Choice Party told BBC Russian. “[The police] will not chop the head off the chicken that lays the golden egg.” Similarly, Mikhail Pashkin, the chairman of the police union coordinating committee, wrote on Ekho Moskvy, “Practically all dealings there are completely in cash. There are no inspections for the circulation of “black cash” (i.e. money unreported to tax authorities). The police don’t go there and less in the last few years when General [Aleksandr] Podol’nyi became district captain. All of this is possible first and foremost because, according to rumors, guys in the precinct “protect” (kryshuet’) the [Pokrovskii] warehouse.”

That krysha has now collapsed. The Pokrovskii warehouse was attacked by rioters, serving as a focal point for local rage against migrants and corruption. As a result, the warehouse has become a government target. General Podol’nyi has been sacked, immigration agents raided the warehouse arresting 1200 migrants, Russia’s consumer watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, has had the building shuttered for sanitation violations, and its manager Magomed Churilov and general director and minority owner Aliaskhaba Gadzhiev have been arrested for hiring illegal migrants. At the moment, Pokrovskii stands vacant.

To some, the attack, the closing of the market, and the arrest of its directors smells like a case of reiderstvo, or raiding. Reiderstvo occurs when an owner or operator of a business is arrested, and while he sits in prison, raiders take control of the company or property by forging documents and bribing officials. The raiders then quickly sell the property for a huge profit. According to Alena Ledeneva, what distinguishes reiderstvo under Putin from the 1990s is that the raiders tend to be government or police officials rather than independent businessmen or mobsters.

The closing and arrests associated with the Pokrovskii warehouse have sparked conspiracy theories that Shcherbakov’s murder, the riots, and the attack on the warehouse were organized by raiders. Such a conspiracy is farfetched, even ridiculous. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that raiders won’t take advantage of the situation. The Pokrovskii warehouse, and more specifically the land it sits on, has been coveted prizes for years.