Organized Crime and the State in Russia

eastern-promises1114.jpgPopular fascination with the byzantine networks of Russian organized crime seem to be reaching new heights, as demonstrated by the popular film Eastern Promises, offering moviegoers an imagined peek into the smoky backrooms of elite London restaurants, where gangsters bearing star tattoos engage in shady deals and horrific violence. It’s a pretty good thriller, yet the movie never goes anywhere near the three Ps of politics, poisonings, or Putin. Garry Kasparov has probably done the most to bring the mafia paradigm to bear upon today’s Russian political scene, and today this continues with a new report from Stratfor. The analysts write: “Unlike the normal situation in civilized societies, there is no clear distinction in Russia between criminal enterprises and the government.” I imagine that Hollywood is not yet done exploiting this goldmine of material.

Excerpt from Stratfor:The NetworkRussian organized crime is an intricate network throughout Russian society whose operations include extortion, fraud, cargo theft, prostitution, drug- and arms-trafficking and more. The Russian mafia has penetrated business and state-run enterprises to a degree unheard of anywhere in the Western world, a fact that start-up firms soon discover. Moreover, its reach in the business realm extends throughout the former Soviet Union.Unlike the normal situation in civilized societies, there is no clear distinction in Russia between criminal enterprises and the government. In fact, criminal organizations and their leadership often have direct ties to oligarchs and others in positions of power. In order to conduct business in Russia, companies are finding that dealings with the government lead directly to dealings with thugs demanding pay, not for product or services but for protection and other vague promises, including “permission” to conduct business. The protection they are purchasing, however, is from the people they are paying.When demands are not met or lines are crossed, the result often is a violent and bloody death, regardless of who erred or what sin he committed. In the fall of 2006, a rash of mob-related murders occurred in Russia, often targeting high-profile Russian businessmen in the financial and banking sectors. Contract killings, car bombs, planted explosives and even death by wood chipper are techniques in the Russian mob’s repertoire, as would be expected in a country in which “incitement to commit suicide” is a crime….Unlike groups such as La Cosa Nostra, Russian organized crime cannot be diagrammed using the typical pyramid structure. This is because Russian organized crime is made up of gangs that act autonomously for the most part and have only loose ties to regional, national or international networks. This is where the media portrayal of the monolithic “Russian Mafia” diverges from reality because Russian organized criminal groups are not distinct, centralized entities, and they usually lack the membership rules and codes of honor described in most mafia stories….With powerful allies (and members) of the Russian mob operating at the highest levels of government, Putin would need to begin with internal housecleaning, forcing those members who abuse their positions for reasons of money and power to choose their loyalty. The most significant source of power for the Russian mob is its connections within the government, and destroying those connections would be a huge feather in Putin’s cap.With hundreds of small groups operating with relative independence and very little formal structure, however, Russian organized crime will not simply collapse should the bosses be taken into custody. Also, with the expansion of the Russian mafia into numerous countries, its members literally can run from the law like rats from a fire. They will find holes to operate in, means for monetary income and illicit activities by which to maintain their chosen lifestyles. Therefore, should Moscow attempt serious overt actions against Russian organized crime families, it will be a critical first step down a long, hard — and very bloody — path.