The Russian mafiya’s mythical international army

I’ll post in more detail on this general topic shortly, but a particularly and entertainingly muddle-headed piece of journalism in the Russian magazine Versiya did oblige me to comment. It paints the usual blood-curdling picture of Russian organised crime’s global activities. It’s “300,000” members outside Russia reportedly control 90% of the drug trafficking into Spain, dominate the European underworlds, intimidate even Al Qaeda, and so it goes. Professionally, of course, it is always in my interests for there to be a good measure of hysteria about Russian OC: the more of a threat it seems, the more interest there is in my work. But more objectively, let’s just step back from this. The 300,000 figure, for a start, runs the risk of becoming one of those apocryphal figures everyone re-uses because they don’t have any viable alternatives (like the still-recurring “40%” of the Russian economy reportedly controlled by OC). How do we really know? More to the point, the original data on which it is based (from Italian prosecutors who, to be sure, know their stuff) refers to ethnic Russian criminals, not necessarily members of organised crime groupings, and there is a big difference. More to the point, given the especially flexible, networked nature of most Russian OC, and especially that operating outside the Motherland, there is an open question as to how far we can describe what are often multi-ethnic associations as ‘Russian OC’. Definitely something to return to later, but for the moment I can simply be gratified and exasperated in equal measure as to the superficial reporting which still dominates so much coverage of Russian OC, wherever it may be published.

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