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Russia / August 6, 2008
By Yasha Levine

On August 30, on the same day that President Medvedev announced his support of small business, an insane story appeared on Russia’s evening TV news about a corporate takeover raid in the city of Tula, just south of Moscow. Russian television was ablaze with amazing footage of a gangland battle scene straight outta the 90s—as if the 90s never ended.

A battle for ownership of a local cable TV station called Altair led to an armed daylight attack on the company’s offices. The raiders brought in two busloads of armed goons—some decked out in full OMON battle gear and toting AKs, handguns, and tear gas; others dressed in jumpsuits and carrying bats, 2X4s, wire cutters, and pellet guns—and the two goon platoons launched a full-on assault on the building. First, the goons battered in the steel bars protecting Altair’s windows and doors and tried to rip them off. When that didn’t work, the goons tried to cut them with a power saw. But then the attackers got impatient and decided to smoke out the people inside; someone lobbed a tear gas grenade or smoke bomb into one of the broken windows. That didn’t work either. It was a Wednesday, the middle of the workday, and the Altair office was full of people. But that didn’t stop the goons from opening fire, spraying the windows with everything they had—AKs, shotguns, Makarov pistols. That, too, failed to get them to surrender. A few of the workers inside were injured and one even had his eye shot out, but they remained barricaded inside. While all this was going on, the local police stood by and did not intervene.

According to material collected on and other sources, this corporate battle goes back to 2003, when Aleksandr Vorobyov, the owner of Altair (the largest cable company in the region), mysteriously vanished without a trace. Vorobyov’s parents tried to gain control of their son’s business as the legal heirs, and while the case was still being decided, a local court appointed a Tula Duma deputy named Aleksandr Yadykin to oversee Altair’s business operations. And for Yadykin, serving as the acting trustee be bery bery good for him. Altair brought in about 2 million rubles ($85,000) in profit per month; of that profit, Yadykin, as the trustee, did the responsible thing and cut Vorobyov’s parents a monthly sum of $200.

But that’s just a minor detail. In the bigger picture, it is believed that Yadykin is representing the interests of of “FM Media,” another Tula media company that had its sights on acquiring Altair’s operations. But the legal takeover wasn’t going as smoothly as they hoped. In May, Tula’s court declared the still-missing Vorobyov legally deceased, allowing his company to finally pass over to his family as an inheritance. But just after as his parents took control, another player appeared on the side of FM Media. An unknown woman claiming to be the mother of Vorobyov’s daughters also wanted a piece of the company. A judge ignored DNA evidence showing she was lying and ordered that Altair operations be given back to Yadykin, the deputy. That’s where the attack comes in.

Yadykin showed up with a representative from the court, as well as his legal team, to take back control of Altair. But it seems he was expecting resistance and brought some backup. Although he denies any connection to the armed attackers, the goons showed up exactly at the same time that he did. Out of the 50 or so participants in the raid, only two were arrested. How this case is handled just might demonstrate how much power Medvedev’s directives have on Russian politics. So far, it’s not looking too.

Contact Yasha Levine at

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