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Russian native sad but not shocked at recent abduction

SHARE Russian native sad but not shocked at recent abduction

It has been more than seven years since Constantine Rodin set foot on Russian soil. But because he knows his native country so well, what happened to two LDS missionaries Wednesday saddens but doesn't surprise him.

"Kidnapping and extortion are pretty common," said Rodin, who is now a Salt Lake police officer. "The crime rate is the second (highest) in the world, after South Africa."The father of two who sought and was granted political asylum 7 1/2 years ago said he doubts that the kidnapping was motivated by religion.

"It may have been some people who don't like the religious diversity that's coming into Russia right now," he said. "But, (the mafia) that would be my first choice."

In the years after the breakup of the former Soviet Union, Russia became more and more unstable. And while Moscow is considered one of the most expensive cities in the world, the majority of Russians live in extreme poverty.

Crime has flourished in this country, which experts now consider one of the most dangerous and volatile in the world. In 1997 there were twice as many homicides in Moscow as there were in New York.

Rodin said his first choice for a suspect is the Russian mafia.

"If you want to open a business, you have to pay protection fees to the Russian mafia," he said matter-of-factly. "It is very powerful - even in the United States."

In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigations opened an office in Moscow because of a growing concern with crime against Americans, especially business executives. The Ackerman Group, acompany that tracks security conditions around the world for business travelers, considers the country one of the most dangerous. Staffed with many former CIA agents, the group also offers businesses help in negotiating the release of abducted executives.

There are also companies that offer business executives kidnapping coverage. In a New York Times article last April, the Ackerman Group warned business travelers that they run a risk just getting from the airports into cities.

Business executives are warned to dress casually, leave briefcases and cell phones at home and to avoid night clubs, as most are mafia hangouts.

"They know where the money is," Rodin said. "That's why they go after Americans, British and French. They wouldn't kidnap Chinese (citizens) because they don't think they have money (to pay ransoms)."

Rodin is from Moscow but familiar with the Saratov, the city where the missionaries were abducted Wednesday. He said Saratov, which is southeast of Moscow near the Ural Mountains, is - like most Russian cities - very poor.

That poverty leads people to do "anything for money," he said. Theft, robbery and kidnapping are all common ways of making money. The ransom note left by those who took the missionaries reportedly asked for $300,000 - a fortune in a country like Russia.

And Rodin said the economy "revolves around the greenback."

The LDS Church has had missionaries actively working in Russia since 1991.

Rodin said he wouldn't just send money in hopes economic gain was the only motivation behind the kidnapping. Instead, he'd rely on help from FBI agents in Moscow.

"It's very unpredictable," he said. "Anything may happen, anything is possible."