Crime And Criminals Blog - Crimes, criminals, scams and frauds.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Organized Crime - Russian Mafia

The "Mafiya ",Russian Mafia aka "Red Mafia", is a name given a broad to groups of organized criminals of various ethnicity which appeared from the Soviet Union after its disintegration. Apart from ethnic Russians, the term comprises the Chechen, the Georgian, the Ukrainian, the Armenian, the Azeri mafiosi, as well as so called "mafia" groups from other former USSR republics. Within this article, the terms "mafia" and "mafya" will both be used.


Amid the political uncertainty that has engulfed the former Soviet Union since the end of the Cold War nearly two decades ago, rampant, unchecked organized crime has laid waste to noteworthy democratic reforms and contributed to an economic and moral meltdown within the 15 newly independent republics. Intelligence reports emanating out of Russia peg the numerical size of the Russian Mafia (“mafya”) at 100,000 members owing allegiance to 8,000 stratified crime groups who control 70-80% of all private business and 40% of the nation’s wealth.

Between 1992 and 1994 the Russian Mafia targeted the commercial centers of power, seizing control of the nation’s fragile banking system. At first the criminal gangs were content to merely “park” their large cash holdings in legitimate institutions, but soon they realized that the next step was the easiest of all: direct ownership of the bank itself.

Banking executives, reform-minded business leaders, even investigative journalists, were systematically assassinated or kidnapped. In 1993 alone, members of the eight criminal gangs that control the Moscow underworld murdered 10 local bankers. Calling themselves “Thieves in Law” (vori v zakone), Russian gangsters have murdered ninety-five bankers in the last five years.

The demoralized and underpaid city police are ill equipped to curb the rising tide of violence or halt the nightly shootings. In 1993, Moscow police records show that there were more than 5,000 murders and 20,000 incidents of violent crime. Since then, conditions have only worsened. On average, 10,000 people die each year from gun violence—600 are contract killings.

Threats to International Business

Foreign companies pay up to 20% of their profits to the Mafia as the on-going price of doing business in Russia. Ignoring shakedown threats merely invites tragedy.

Most American and other western firms find it necessary to hire private security guards to protect their executives from extortion threats and roving assassins.

Ineffective law enforcement has spurred the rapid growth and expansion of the private security industry. In the past seven years, 25,000 Russian security firms were established, employing between 600,000-800,000 workers. The Mafia controls at least one-sixth of them. Two-thirds avoid paying state taxes all together.

The ominous implications for western companies exploring joint ventures and partnerships with emerging companies in the former Soviet Union are self-evident.

The Russian Mafia appears to be organized in similar ways to the legendary Italian mafia. It is believed, however, to be a very loose organization with internal feuds and murders being commonplace. A particularly brutal practice rumored to be utilized by the Russian Mafia is the killing of not only of the individual who has "snitched" or turned against the Organizatsiya, but also the individual's family. The Russian mafia, the Bratva, is notorious for underground operations and clean transactions. The Russian mafia, unlike that of the Italian, is known for its secrecy and unflamboyant manner.

Despite seeming to arise during the Fall of the Soviet Union, organized crime had existed throughout the imperial and communist eras as a form of open rebellion against the systems in the form of the "Thief's World". During this time they were fiercely honor-based and often attacked and killed traitors among their ranks. Nevertheless, during World War II, many enlisted in the Russian Army resulting in the Suka Wars, or Bitch Wars, which killed many of the thieves who were branded as government allies as well as the original thief underworld during Stalin's reign. The criminals, seeking a new survival strategy, began to ally with the elite in the Soviet Union as a means of survival, creating a powerful Russian black market.

Despite the Kremlin's attempts to reform, the criminals continued to grow in power. Nevertheless, the real breakthrough for criminal organizations occurred during the economic disaster of the 1990s that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Desperate for money, many former government workers turned to crime and the Mafia became a natural extension of this trend. According to official estimates, some 100,000 Russians are hard-core mobsters, with a large, but unknown number engaging in these criminal practices on and off.

Many of the bosses and main members of the Russian mafia are believed to be ex-Soviet Army and ex-KGB officers who lost their posts in the reduction of forces that began in 1993 after the end of the Cold War. It is also believed that many of the groups' enforcers are ex-Russian Spetsnaz special forces, an organisation renowned for its brutality. Russian mobsters recruit sportsmen, too - boxers, martial artists, weightlifters, [as funding for sports had decreased sharply] and other olympic athletes. In some cases, the Russian mafya has recruited olympic sharpshooters to carry out hits.

Since the mid-90s the Russians have been trying to expand into America, most often via the trafficking of drugs and illegal weapons. This has led to some brutal wars with the organizations already present, including the Italian Mafia and the Yakuza. The group is believed to have links to Colombian drug smugglers and many smaller gangs as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union. Some also believe they are at the heart of gangs smuggling illegal workers west to the European Union and often Britain, though no proof has been offered for this at the time. The home of the Russian Mafia in America is in the Brighton Beach (dubbed by Russians "Little Odessa") neighborhood in New York.

Over the last few years, the FBI and Russian security services have cracked down on the Mafia, though the impact of this has yet to be measured. The FBI especially has not put the resources into investigations targeting the Russian Mafia. Many mafioso have become rich in America and have begun to imitate the Italian Mafia in lifestyle. This has led to the apparent softening of the mafia, though in reality they may well be as dangerous as ever.

National and Racial Composition

The Russian mafia is not limited to ethnic Russians, but to many nationalities from the former Soviet Union, most of which are now collectively known as the Commonwealth of Independent States. There are many stereotypes of the Russian mafia, including that it is dominated by Jews and Chechens.

Chechens indeed make up a disproportionate (in relation to the size of their population) amount of Russian mafia members inside of Russia (mostly in large cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg) and Ukraine, and (arguably) Belarus. However, their presence is severely limited in other countries where the Russian mafia operates, notably the United States and Israel. Thus, while noticeable within the mafia's organization in Russia, Chechens play a small role in the Russian Mafia's overseas membership.

Russian Jews are also present in the Mafia structure, however the subject is complicated by several factors. First, more Jews are present in the Russian mafia's overseas operations than inside Russia because Russian Jews were more likely to successfully receive permission to emigrate the USSR via political refugee status. Second, despite Israel's Law of Return's explicit restriction of all immigrants (regardless of religion) with criminal implications from receiving citizenship, many Jewish Russian mobsters use evasive measures to still receive Israeli citizenship. Additionally, non-Jewish Russian mobsters often fraudulently claim Jewish ancestry in order to gain easier movement in and out of Israel (where the Russian Mafia has established a large operating base). Conversely, some Jews in the mafia either actively hide or do not acknowledge their Jewish background for various reasons. Finally, many ethnic Russians have partial Jewish ancestry, which they may or may not acknowledge. Because of these factors, it is difficult to determine the number of Jews in the Russian mafia. And while they by no means dominate the organization, a significant number of Russian mafia members do have Jewish roots.

The Russian Mafia also has a multitude of other nationalities such as Ukranians, Belarusians, Armenians (tied to Armenian Power gang), Moldovans, Khazaks, Uzbeks, Georgians, Dagestanis, Azeris, and others. Additionally, countries such as Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Moldova have their own mafia organizations which have extensive links to the Russian mafia.

NOTE: The majority of organized crime groups and their members within Russia are ethnically Russian. Furthermore, the majority of violent organized crime groups and their members are also ethnically Russian within Russia’s borders.

But to establish accurate statistics of the ethnic makeup of all organized crime members throughout Russia is nearly impossible - Mainly because most businessmen in Russia have ties to organized crime and are often labeled as gangsters (which in most cases they are not). This sometimes creates the perception of a high number of Jewish gangsters involved in Russian organized crime when in fact many of these “Gangsters” are simply Jewish businessmen with ties to organized crime.

Furthermore, Russian organized crime groups operating in the United States usually have high percentage of Jewish members simply because Jewish Russians immigrate at much higher percentage then ethnic Russians (Soviet Jews were also allowed to leave the Soviet Union while ethnic Russians were not).

The high percentage of Jewish members in Russian organized crime groups operation within the United States can also create the perception that Jewish gangsters make up a large portion of all Russian organized crime groups within Russia and abroad. This is because Western Media does not usually cover organized crime activities within Russia and focuses most of it’s coverage of Russian organized crime within the United States.

Foreign businessmen and the Russian Mafia

An unknown number of foreign businessmen, believed to be in the low thousands arrived in Russia during the early and mid 1990s, from all over the world, to seek their fortune and to cash in on the transition from a communist to a free market/capitalist society. This period in time was referred to by many of the businessmen as the "second great gold rush".

In regard to the Russia experience, there were basically two types of foreign businessmen, the lucky ones and the unlucky ones. For the lucky ones, huge fortunes were made and they were able to return to their native homeland with their life, limbs and money. Many clever foreign businessmen made huge profits early on, by good timing, chiefly by buying up products in nearly worthless Rubles, storing them for a time and after the introduction of the free market economy, later selling the same products for hard currency such as US Dollars. Many became millionaires, literally overnight. Others took advantage of astronomical interest rates being paid by Russian banks for any deposits during this period. Although many banks failed and depositors lost their holdings, the well-connected foreign businessmen usually had inside knowledge of an impending bank crash, and would rescue their money before the bank collapsed. Others at this time, wired their earnings out of volatile Russia, most often to secret bank accounts in Switzerland.

Other foreign busnessmen, the unlucky ones, have met a grim and grisly end, often killed outright or had their fortune stolen by the local Mafia or even by corrupt officials with the Russian government. Foreign businessmen during this period were looked upon as good for Russia and its fledgling economy. Generally, they lived the high-life in either Moscow or St. Petersburg and enjoyed a relatively luxurious life in comparison to the average Russian. Often living in the best flats, with a country dacha, in the company of beautiful women and driving expensive imported cars, they set the stage for the "wannabes", the up and coming local Russian businessmen who attempted to emulate them. The Russians even incorporated into their language, a whole new anglicized word for this new type of person and way of doing things....."biznesmen" (plural: "biznesmeni").

Generally, 1990 through to 1998 was a wild and unstable time for most foreign businessmen operating in Russia. Dangerous battles with the Russian Mob occurred, with many being killed or wounded. The Mafia welcomed the foreign businessmen and their expertise in facilitating business and making things happen in a stagnant and new economy. The Mafia considered them as a good source of hard currency, to be extorted under the usual guise of "protection money". Many different Mafia groups would fiercely compete to be able to "protect" a certain businessman, in exchange, the businessman would not have to worry about having more than one group showing up demanding tribute from him. Listed below are some of the more notorious and serious incidents of conflicts between foreign businessmen and the Russian Mafia, including the much publicized Paul Tatum saga. Many foreign businessmen left Russia after these incidents, and after almost a decade since the wild 90's, the Mafia still holds its grip on the majority of legitimate and illegal business occurring in Russia.

Examples of foreign businessman associated with the Russian mafia

  • Paul Tatum (American joint owner of Radisson-Slavanskaya Hotel in the Moscow; shot 11 times in the head and neck (his attacker knew he was wearing a bulletproof vest) and killed in a sensational shooting in a Moscow Metro station in November 1996, for refusing to pay "krysha" and be squeezed out by a silent partner. Tatum was surrounded by his own bodyguards when attacked, however they made no attempt to save him and allowed his attacker to escape unharmed. Tatum had only weeks before this, taken out a full-ad page in a local newspaper denouncing his Chechen partner Umar Dzhabrailov, for trying to squeeze him out of their hotel joint venture. Tatum, a multi-millionaire, had connections to then U.S. President Bill Clinton, and many high ranking Moscow politicians. His murder has not been solved.
  • Ken Rowe (Canadian businessman and joint owner of Moscow Aerostar Hotel; threatened by the Russian mafia in an attempt to force him out of a joint hotel-airline venture. Mafia at one point entered the hotel with armed men, and forced all employees out. Rowe later fought back and seized an Aeroflot aircraft in Montreal to recover his award in a Russian court.)
Comrade Criminal: Russia`s New Mafiya


Post a Comment

<< Home