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Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the enfant terrible of Russian politics, recently came up with a unique suggestion to curb, or at least control, the crime epidemic sweeping his country.

He said President Boris Yeltsin should form a "condominium" with the mafia, giving gangsters unofficial permission to run drug trafficking and prostitution in exchange for leaving legitimate businesses alone.It was a far cry from Zhirinovsky's 1993 campaign pledge to arrest a half million mobsters and hang thousands of them in public, mass executions. It also was an admission, albeit from a fascist and would-be dictator, that organized crime in Russia has become so unstoppable the government would be better off going partners with the criminals.

In a detailed study of the "Great Criminal Takeover" done for the conservative Heritage Foundation, researcher Ariel Cohen says Russia is under attack from more than 5,000 criminal gangs and 150 illegal organizations with international connections.

More Russians die of criminal violence annually than were killed in nine years of war in Afghanistan. The Russian mafia controls 40,000 legitimate businesses and is said to be worth $10 billion.