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Back to mad ’90s? Russian cafe raided, taken over by 'armed gang'

Back to mad ’90s? Russian cafe raided, taken over by 'armed gang'
A downtown Moscow cafe that serves Georgian cuisine has been stormed and repossessed by a group of about 50 armed men, the cafe's owners said – an echo of the turbulent crime-ridden 1990s that Russians thought were behind them.

At around 6am on August 9, a franchise outlet of ‘Khachapuri’ (from a Georgian bread dish of the same name) on Shlyuzovaya Street near Moscow’s centrally-located Paveletskaya Metro station, was violently re-possessed.

The cafe’s security staff was beaten up and its general staff thrown out, while windows and a fence were broken and equipment confiscated by a group of men armed with pistols and automatic weapons, according to the restaurant’s press-service.

One of the cafe employees sustained a concussion in the attack, Khachapuri co-owner Tatyana Melnikova told RT. In her opinion, there were young men who looked like “football fans” and people from Russia’s Caucasian republic of Dagestan among the group that raided the café. The happenings were monitored by “some people” from vehicles equipped with “special communications,” but without number plates, she added.

About half an hour later, “all these militants,” Melnikova stated, got on a bus and fled the scene, while security guards from the neighboring transport firm - which reportedly belongs to the same landlord as the cafe building – occupied Khachapuri. 

The director of the restaurant called police, who arrived at the scene at around 8am, recorded the damages done by the raiders and sealed the cafe, its co-owner stated. The garage security staff, however, has since then monitored the franchise, making sure that the restaurant owners do not get in, she claimed.

They are sitting on our furniture, drinking tea from our glasses and grinning,” Melnikova observed.

The shocking incident in downtown Moscow was not entirely unexpected as the argument over the rental price between the cafe owners and the landlord - former top level Russian official Vitaly Artyukhov – has been going on for months. Melnikova alleges that the landlord used water or electricity cutoffs as a scare tactic.

Imagine what it is like when there is no water and heating at a cafe for two or three hours while it is -30 C outside, and pipes burst as water freezes,” she stated.

The raiders have reportedly taken hostage the restaurant’s talisman – a ram named Tolik. (Photo from Facebook/tolik.baran)

The cafe owners say that they were ready to pay a higher rental price – as the landlord had demanded - but only if a new rental agreement was signed providing guarantees that they would not be “terrorized” with endless bills which gave no explanation of how exactly the final sum appeared, energy being cut off and other complications that hampered the normal work of Khachapuri, Melnikova explained.

The negotiations ended in a deadlock, though. The restaurant expected the landlord’s representatives to apply to court, but instead, they “raided” the place, Khachapuri owner stated. She admitted that there might have been some violations by the cafe and stated that they would pay fines if the court rules them necessary.

The actual building used to be a garage, which in 2012 was acquired by the two franchisees, Melnikova and Ekaterina Drozdov, and re-done in the style of the Khachapuri chain. The lease was meant to last until 2019, with one of the sections stipulating that rental fees would climb by a little every year, according to a law on tariffs. But there had been frequent disagreements over the issue.

The landlord, Artyukhov, is Russia’s former deputy finance minister (1991-1992 and 1995-1996), as well as former head of Russia’s tax agency (1996-1997) and a former minister for natural resources (2001-2004). He now occupies the post of director of the Central Science Research Institute for Shipbuilding.

While Russia has not been a stranger to armed raids and gang warfare of late, its modern society prefers to think that this way of life is a thing of the past – something left behind (or at least taken off the streets and broad daylight) in the 1990s, when the country was in turmoil after the breakup of the Soviet Union. But the fact remains that much is left to be desired in terms of the concept of true civil society.