Olga Korolyova is a diminutive 5′ 4″ tall. She has shiny blond hair. If you get too close when she’s at work, she’ll immobilize you with two blows.

“I like to defend the weak,” the bodyguard said at a recent training class. As another participant lunged at her with a plastic knife, Korolyova cracked the assailant’s arm and slammed her to the floor. Retreating, knife in hand, Korolyova triumphantly fired a fake gun at her attacker.

The 27-year-old’s clients are businesswomen and rich wives, though she won’t name names. She used to be a hockey player — now she’s an expert at hand-to-hand fighting and extreme driving.

“People arrive at the idea that it’s not bad to have a woman in a team of men,” she said. “A woman thinks differently, feels differently, acts differently. She’s softer. She smiles.”

For those who hire bodyguards in Russia, the market is becoming ever more diversified. Now they can turn to schools with standardized qualifications, and employ someone like Korolyova, one of perhaps 10 female bodyguards in the country.

More people might well feel like they need to hire bodyguards. With the recent slayings of Andrei Kozlov, first deputy chairman of the Central Bank, journalist Anna Politkovskaya and other figures, bodyguarding seems as relevant as it did during the chaotic 1990s.

At least seven businesspeople, including Kozlov, have been killed since September 2006, said Dmitry Fonarev, a member of former President Mikhail Gorbachev’s security team who runs the National Association of Bodyguards of Russia.

The body count among private security guards is also high. “There wasn’t a week when a bodyguard or a member of personal security wasn’t killed in Russia” last year, said Vyacheslav Zanevsky, head of a Moscow bodyguard school.

“A war is going on the whole time — a war is going on everywhere,” he said.

There are about 15,000 bodyguards in Russia permitted to carry firearms, Fonarev estimated, with 5,000 in Moscow and the Moscow region. There are 1,500 in St. Petersburg, and 2,000 in the Volga River cities of Samara and Tolyatti. Their combined population is less than half that of St. Petersburg, but the region is a major industrial center.

At the schools churning out bodyguards — there are perhaps 20 in Moscow — attention is focused on the needs of affluent clients. There are women like Korolyova, who can slip past face control into a club with a female charge, or can inconspicuously accompany her shopping.

And at Zanevsky’s school, founded in 2001, there’s an etiquette teacher who lectures on smart attire and how to behave in wealthy society.

“People are paying attention to how [a bodyguard] talks, dresses,” Zanevsky said. “It’s important that he carries himself, cynically speaking, like a very high-class purchase — one that you can show to friends, with whom you’re not embarrassed to walk down Novy Arbat.”

Having a polite, more sophisticated bodyguard is key also because there’s a trend for bodyguards to be more than heavies, and something like a personal director, Zanevsky said. They can decide how and when a liege travels to a particular meeting, for example, or whether it’s inadvisable altogether.

“He doesn’t chat with his client like a bodyguard,” Zanevsky said.

“He has to be an artist. There are some situations where you have to find solutions to problems, and it’s not clear.”

Schools like Zanevsky’s have only existed since the Soviet collapse, he said. A basic two-week course including lessons on escorting cars and extreme medicine costs 29,000 rubles.

When hiring a bodyguard, experts advise finding one through personal recommendations, and not by trawling phone directories. Also, they say, be aware that the profession of bodyguarding has almost no legal status in Russia, and so if something goes wrong, questions about insurance and compensation can get very messy.

“There is a void in the law locally,” said Alex Vlassoff, a French security consultant based in Moscow. Security firms “write a contract to protect a person’s tie, their briefcase” — and in that way the person is protected.

A bodyguard without firearms should cost about $1,500 a month, and with firearms around $2,500 a month, Fonarev said. His group rents out armored BMW 750s for 1,400 euros a day.

There are approximately 4,600 security companies in Moscow, Fonarev said. It’s a fractious community: Fonarev and Zanevsky used to work together, but split after a dispute.

A prominent Western bank official who has been in Moscow almost a decade, and asked not to be identified, said he had not yet observed a surge in demand for bodyguards from foreign businesses as a result of the recent killings. “A number of companies on the Western side don’t even use bodyguards,” he said.

The murders of Kozlov and Politkovskaya were “only something that startled the community.”

Korolyova, the bodyguard, also said that so far, there had been very few occasions when she had been required to deploy her carefully cultivated combat skills on the job.

“Most often, thank God, only in life — on the streets,” she said. “I’m a peace-loving person.”

Via The Moscow Times