Today, Aslan Usoyan, known by his underworld nickname ‘Ded Khasan’ (‘Grandpa Hassan’), was shot in the stomach in an ambush in central Moscow’s Tverskaya street as he went to visit his son. The 73-year-old survived the attack, but is still in critical condition in hospital. And so the gang war that the Russian godfathers had hoped to avoid is all but started.
The cause is presumably a running feud that is dividing the crime scene in European Russia, at least. In the one corner is Khasan, who represents not just many of the gangs of North Caucasian criminals but also the older generation, still heedful of the underworld etiquette of the vory v zakone (not because of any intrinsic manners so much as an awareness that conflicts are bad for business and risk arousing what is still the biggest gang in town, the state). On the other is Tariel Oniani, ‘Taro’, the recently-convicted Georgian criminal, whose powerful criminal empire faces dismemberment at the hands of other gangs, but who has a reputation for ignoring the rules and not being willing to go down without a fight.
When Oniani was arrested and convicted, the majority of the leadership of the Russian underworld breathed a sigh of relief. They hoped that meant that he was out of the picture and the wider mob war that was brewing was averted. After all, such a war might start as being between Taro and Khasan but would both draw in other gangs and also run the risk of forcing the state to crack down.
Back in July, I wrote that “Oniani reportedly plans to appeal. If he is successful, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next moves against him are rather more direct – but I’m sure he is equally marshaling more than just his legal resources. Although his conviction does go some way to averting the risk, a serious mob war is not yet out of the question.” It looks as if he has reached out from prison and demonstrated the truth of this. The murder of Vyacheslav Ivankov, ‘Yaponchik’ in 2009, probably also at Oniani’s behest, brought matters close to a full war. The (strikingly similar) attack on Usoyan, whether or not he survives, is an even more dangerous move. Usoyan, or his allies and successors, cannot do anything but respond.
Sadly, I find it hard not to anticipate a lot more blood on the streets as a result — and possibly a wider shake-up of the current balance of terror and pecking orders within the Russian underworld. Furthermore, given that this conflict has already led to deaths in Europe, this is not a conflict that will be entirely confined to Russia’s borders.