In the sleepy days of the pre-perestroika Soviet Union, when police walked the streets without a sidearm and automatic weapons were under strict lock and key by the military, would-be criminals had a hard time getting their hands on automatic weapons and the accompanying ammunition.
But from the late-1960s to the mid-1970s, the Tolstopyatov Brothers' Gang terrorized the southern city of Rostov-on-Don with a series of daring robberies, murders and car thefts using small-caliber folding machineguns which eyewitnesses described as being reminiscent to the Israeli-made Uzi.
"#Once_Upon_a_Time_in-Rostov: The Tolstopyatov Brothers' Gang in action."
The guns were so unfamiliar to local police that authorities even assumed that the weapons may have been smuggled in from abroad, something that would have been no small feat to accomplish at the time.
However, after the gang was finally caught in 1973, authorities discovered that the guns were not imports, but rather the hand-made designs of gang leader Vyacheslav Tolstopyatov. The criminal drew up the blueprints, and asked his machinist friends to create the necessary parts. In place of bullets, the guns used 8mm ball bearings, with a 20 round capacity for the homemade machineguns' clips. The weapons could even be fired in automatic mode.
Grand Theft Tank
In 1993, two organized criminal groupings in the city of Nizhny Tagil, home to Russia's tank industry, had a falling out over territory. As a result, one of the groups decided to hijack a brand new T-90 tank returning to base from a test range. The hijackers planned to use the tank against a Chechen crime syndicate trying to establish itself in the city.
TIL: нижнетагильская мафия в 1993 году угнала танк и на нем поехала на стрелку pic.twitter.com/cW1qP7sD6R— acdimon (@ACDimon) January 25, 2018
"TIL: In 1993, the Nizhny Tagil mafia stole a tank and went to 'sort' things out."
Fortunately, the incident was resolved without a firefight. The gangsters decided to return the tank to the factory, and ended up receiving small sentences for vehicle hijacking and hooliganism. The hijacking caused a major scandal, with the region's governor blaming factory bosses, with the governor in turn blamed by President Boris Yeltsin.
The Pen is Mighter Than the Sword
In January 2017, a resident of Vladimir region, about 200 km northeast of Moscow, gathered national media attention after shooting the manager of a store using a crude, homemade pen gun. Police have yet to identify the weapon's maker, but it certainly isn't the first time that criminals have used these devices, seemingly more appropriate for a James Bond flick, to carry out their dirty deeds.
'Samurais' From Moscow's Boondocks
When guns aren't available, Russian criminals have turned to knives or other stabbing weapons, some more curious than others. In 2014, two bandits armed with katanas infiltrated a house in Mytishchi, a city in the Moscow region. The thieves tied up home's owners, and carried out a safe, along with household appliances, their haul worth a total of 2.5 million rubles (about $44,000 US).
Police investigators quickly got on the trail of the home invaders, detaining two Uzbek nationals. During their raid, police found the swords used in the crime, along with the ill-gotten goods. The investigation discovered that the criminals had already faced criminal charges for similar crimes in their home country. The pair were charged with violent robbery, a crime carrying a hefty ten year prison sentence.
In February 1992, seven criminals attempted to escape from St. Petersburg's Kresty Prison using grenades made out of bread. Filled with 40 grams of TNT apiece, the mock grenades, painted green and crafted to look like the real thing, complete with a pin, were created by recidivist thief Yuri Perepelkin, who was being held at the prison on murder charges.
The criminals attempted to make a break for it, threatening prison officials, police and the swat team called in to stop the escape with their bread grenades. However, the swat team proved unintimidated, thus cutting off the would-be fugitives' path to freedom. Trapped, the criminals took two prison guards hostage and locked themselves in the prison, demanding weapons, transport to the airport and an airplane on standby to take them abroad.
Eventually, the order came down from Moscow to storm the prison, and the hostage takers were neutralized. Three were killed. One prison guard was successfully rescued, but a second succumbed to wounds inflicted by Perepelkin during the assault. Three prisoners had their sentences extended. As for Perepelkin, he was sentenced to death, but this sentence was eventually commuted to life in prison.