Russian mafia

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Russian Mafia
Founding location Russia / Former Soviet Union
Territory International, strongholds in former Soviet states and extensive operations prostitution in Israel and the United States
Ethnicity Primarily Russians, minorities of Ashkenazi Jews, Ukrainians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Assyrians, Belorussians, Chechens, Georgians, Uzbeks, Kyrgyzstanis, Tajiks, Ossetians, Abkhaz, Lithuanians, Ingushetians, Yezidi Kurds and Latvians
Criminal activities Money laundering, extortion, arms trafficking, fraud, cybercrime, human trafficking, prostitution, drug trafficking, Russian oligarchs

The Russian Mafia (Russian Wp→: Русская Мафия, tr. Russkaya Mafiya, IPA: [ˈruskəjə ˈmafʲɪjə]) is a name applied to organized crime syndicates in Russia and Ukraine. The mafia in various countries take the name of the country, as for example the Ukrainian Mafia.

Bratva (Russian Wp→: Братва, IPA: [brɐˈtva], brotherhood) is a name designating a range of organized crime syndicates originating in the former Soviet Union, Russia and the CIS. Since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, these groups have amassed considerable worldwide power and influence.[1] They are active in virtually every part of Russian society.[2] Russian criminals are internationally active in the illegal oil trade, human trafficking, drug trafficking, smuggling of weapons and nuclear material and money laundering.[2] In December 2009, Timur Lakhonin, the head of the Russian National Central Bureau of Interpol, stated: "Certainly, there is crime involving our former compatriots abroad, but there is no data suggesting that an organized structure of criminal groups comprising former Russians exists abroad".[3]


Organized crime has existed in Russia since the days of the Czars and Imperial Russia in the form of banditry and thievery. In the Soviet period vory v zakone or "thieves in law" (understood as "bound by code") emerged. This class of criminals had to abide by certain rules in the prison system. One such rule was that cooperation with the authorities of any kind was forbidden. During World War II some prisoners made a deal with the government to join the armed forces in return for a reduced sentence, but upon their return to prison they were attacked and killed by inmates who remained loyal to the rules of the thieves.[4][5] During the era when the Soviet economy took a downhill turn, the Vory would take control of the black market with the help of corrupt officials, supplying products such as electronics or delicatessen during the Brezhnev era which were hard to reach for the ordinary Soviet citizen.

Fall of the Soviet Union

File:Mogilevich s1.jpg
'Don' Mogilevich believed to be the in charge of finance for the Solntsevskaya bratva.[6]

The real breakthrough for criminal organizations began in 1988, when the Soviet Union legalised private entrepreneurship, allowing free trade. However the new law said nothing about regulations and security of market economy. Crude markets started forming, the most notorious being the Rizhsky market where prostitution rings were run next to the Rizhsky Railway Station in Moscow. As the Soviet Union headed for its collapse, so too did the economy and resulted in a social decay. Desperate for money, many former government workers turned to crime, others joined the former Soviet citizens who moved overseas, and the Russian Mafia became a natural extension of this trend. Former KGB agents, sportsmen and veterans of the Afghan and First and Second Chechen Wars, now finding themselves out-of-work but with experience in areas which could prove useful in crime, joined the increasing crime wave.[7] Widespread corruption, poverty and distrust of authorities only contributed to the rise of organized crime. Contract killings, bombings and kidnappings reached an all-time high with many gangland murders taking place, a substantial number remaining unsolved. By the mid-1990s it was believed that the Ukrainian born Semion Mogilevich had become in charge of finance for some Russian Mafia syndicates ( Solntsevskaya bratva), and described by the FBI as "one of the most dangerous men in the world".[8][9][10] By 1993 almost all banks in Russia were owned by the mafia, and 80% of businesses were paying protection money. In that year, 1400 people were murdered in Moscow, crime members killed businessmen who would not pay money to them, also reporters, politicians, bank owners and other opposed to them. The new criminal class of Russia took on a more Westernized and businesslike approach to organized crime as the more code-of-honor based Vory faded into extinction.[11]

Lubyanka Criminal Group Book

Lubyanka Criminal Group (also translated as The Gang from Lubyanka) is a book by Alexander Litvinenko about the alleged transformation of the Russian Security Services into a criminal and terrorist organization.[12][13] Lubyanka is known as KGB headquarters. In the book, Litvinenko claims that Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and other FSB officers have been involved in organized crime, including covering up drug traffic from Afghanistan.[14]


The former Soviet Bloc's opening up to the world and the internationalization of its economy also gave the Russian mafia connections to other criminal organizations around the world such as the Chinese Triads or the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. Connections with Latin American drug cartels allowed the Russian mafia to import cocaine into the country.[15] Vyacheslav "Yaponchik" Ivankov was the first major ethnically Russian organized crime figure prosecuted by the U.S. government, running his extortion operations out of Brighton Beach Brooklyn.[16] Russian organized crime has spread to many other countries as well including Israel, India,[17] Hungary, South Africa, Spain,[18] Thailand[19] and the United Kingdom.

Connections to Islamic Fundamentalism

The Chechen independence movement has gained widespread attention and support in the Islamic world and throughout the conflict foreign charity organizations and fighters from many Arab countries have volunteered their services. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City, the Putin administration has made several attempts to link Russian and Chechen insurgents to Al-Qaeda. Allegations of Al-Qaeda and Taliban links to the Russian and Chechen mafia have recently appeared and well-known Chechen leaders have been at different times referred to in the media as Islamists, terrorists, and mafia bosses. In a 1995 interview, former president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Dzhokhar Dudayev gave his opinion of the Russian media's representation of Russian and Chechen rebels:

The use of narcotics profits to finance the Russian and Chechen separatist movement and its links to Islamists groups has been suggested by various intelligence agencies. The Russian mafia presence in Argentina has been linked primarily to the use of Argentina as a transit country for Andean cocaine shipments to Europe in fishing treaters and cargo ships, arms trafficking to Brazil and Colombia, and money laundering. In the so-called "tri-border" area between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay - which is home to a sizable Arab Muslim population[citation needed] - Argentine intelligence sources have detected contacts between Chechen separatist groups and "Islamic terrorists" and suspect Chechen use of these networks for arms smuggling purposes.[20] On the other side of the globe, to finance their separatist movement, Islamist leader Shamil Basayev and his Chechen followers transported Afghan heroin through Abkhazia to the Black Sea or through Turkey to Cyprus and then on to Europe.[21]

In 1998 it was reported by Riyad 'Alam-al-Din in Nicosia and an unidentified Al-Watan al-'Arabi correspondent in Moscow that Osama bin Ladin dispatched a delegation to the Chechen Republic made up of his group and representatives of the Taliban. Secret meetings were held in the outskirts of Grozny with some members of the Chechen Mafia to put the final touches on "the nuclear warheads deal." Allegedly the deal cost $30 million in cash from Osama bin Ladin's treasury and a grant of two tons of Afghan heroin donated by the Taliban. It was claimed that bin Ladin resorted to the services of the Chechen Mafia after many of his aides, some specializing in nuclear physics, failed in their attempts to acquire nuclear technology and equipment.[22] However, these reports have yet to be confirmed by outside sources.

Individual gangs

Russian Mafia gangs are typically called "bratki", "bratva" meaning "brotherhood" in Russian.

In popular culture


  1. Glenny, Misha (2008), McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, passim.
  2. 2.0 2.1 From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia by Yale Richmond, Intercultural Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1-931930-59-8 (page 68)
  3. Russian mafia abroad is a myth – head of Russian Interpol bureau, Interfax-Ukraine (December 22, 2009)
  4. Varlam Shalamov, Essays on Criminal World, "Bitch War" (Shalamov's essay online In Russian) in: Varlam Shalamov (1998) "Complete Works" (Варлам Шаламов. Собрание сочинений в четырех томах), vol. 2, printed by publishers Vagrius and Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, ISBN 5-280-03163-1, ISBN 5-280-03162-3.
  5. A. V. Kuchinsky Prison Encyclopedia, (Кучинский А.В. - Тюремная энциклопедия, a fragment online In Russian)
  6. Glenny, Misha (2008), McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, pp 72–73.
  7. BBC News - The Rise and rise of the Russian mafia.
  8. Glenny, Misha (2008), McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, pp 72-73.
  9. Glenny (2008), Op. cit., pg 77.
  10. Angels, Mobsters and Narco-terrorists: The Rising Menace of Global Criminal Empires, (Wiley 2005) By Antonio Nicaso, Lee Lamothe
  11. Vory v Zakone has hallowed place in Russian criminal lore.
  12. Litvinenko 2002
  13. The FSB as a criminal grouping, Andrei Antonov, Prima News, 2002-09-30
  14. Litvinenko accuses president Putin of involvement in drug business, by Prima News
  15. MSNBC- Russian mob trading arms for cocaine with Colombia rebels.
  16. FBI Official Website - Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov.
  18. BBC News - Spain raids 'major Russian gang'
  19. Foreign Mafia in Thailand Thomas Schmid, Thailand Law Forum
  20. Professor Bruce M. Bagley, Globalization and Transnational Organized Crime: The Russian Mafia in Latin America and the Caribbean
  21. Georgia Dispatches Troops Towards Separatist Region, The Washington Post, October 12, 2001
  22. Al-Watan Al-'Arabi, November 1998, Paris; pp 20-21
  23. B. Ohr, Effective Methods to Combat Transnational Organized Crime in Criminal Justice Processes, U.S. Dept. of Justice.
  24. Домашняя библиотека компромата Сергея Горшкова (Home library of Sergei Gorshkov).
  25. US, COMM, PERM, p. 201.
  26. Mark Galeotti, 'Profit and loss: Russian crime network faces business strain', Jane's Intelligence Review, 27 April 2009
  27. Orleck, Annelise; Elizabeth Cooke (1999). The Soviet Jewish Americans. Greenwood Publishing. pp. 116. . Retrieved 2008-09-13. 
  28. Blumenthal, Ralph (04 June 1989). "Soviet Emigre Mob Outgrows Brooklyn, and Fear Spreads", The New York Times.

External links

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