US takes on the Russian organized crime ‘Brothers’ Circle’. Who?

The US administration has rolled out its new Strategy to Combat Transnational Crime with an associated Executive Order on Blocking Property of Transnational Criminal Organizations. Great – it is time to put TOC higher up the threat ladder (just as the terrible Oslo events underline the dangers in focusing too much on jihadist terrorism) and while this does not represent a silver bullet solution in and of itself, it is a useful overall strategy and does unlock further resources as well as, one hopes, mark the shift of budgetary allocations towards the struggle.

The Strategy on the whole talks in broad terms, but it does make it clear that its main concern about Russian/Eurasian gangs is the threat of the penetration and destabilization of the US economy by kleptocrat criminal-businessmen:

Russia/Eurasia: Russian and Eurasian organized crime networks represent a significant threat to eco­nomic growth and democratic institutions. Russian organized crime syndicates and criminally linked oligarchs may attempt to collude with state or state-allied actors to undermine competition in strategic markets such as gas, oil, aluminum, and precious metals. At the same time, TOC networks in the region are establishing new ties to global drug trafficking networks. Nuclear material trafficking is an especially prominent concern in the former Soviet Union. The United States will continue to cooperate with Russia and the nations of the region to combat illicit drugs and TOC.

I’m a little skeptical about the whole question of dominating strategic assets (not least because the Kremlin tends to regard that as its job, and whatever you say about Russian OC, it’s outgunned by the state). Arguably a greater threat to US economic wellbeing is the extent and professionalism of Russian medicare fraud operations. Sure, rather less sexy that nuclear trafficking, less headline-grabbing than drug dealing, but a substantial drain on an already overstretched public good.

My main surprise, though, was in reading the list of specific entities targeted in the Executive Order:

3. YAKUZA (a.k.a. BORYOKUDAN; a.k.a. GOKUDO)

The Camorra are indeed the most violent and dynamic of the Italian-based OC groups. The Yakuza have suffered major setbacks, and are rather less overtly violent, but retain massive economic clout and social capital. Los Zetas, ex-special forces turned narcos, are among Mexico’s most dangerous groups.

But the Brothers’ Circle, aka Family of Eleven, aka The Twenty? Who are these? (more…)


‘Siloviks & Scoundrels’: my new column in the Moscow News

Time for a brief and self-indulgent excursion into self-publicity: today saw the publication of the first article in a new column I’ll be writing for the Moscow News. Entitled Siloviks & Scoundrels, it will cover issues relating to crime and policing, espionage and the military, and all the myriad other issues relating to Russian (in)security. The first article looks at prosecutor Sergei Kudeneyev’s new challenges, and future columns will look at topics including the reality of Russia’s crime statistics, how organized is Russian organized crime and the semiology of police uniforms…

Sergei Kudeneyev takes over as Moscow chief prosecutor

The position of chief prosecutor is meant to rotate every five years and thus it is unsurprising that Yuri Semin (Syomin), who was appointed in 2006, has stood down and is being replaced. I find it hard to regret Semin’s departure (I’d only call him a heavyweight tongue-in-cheek), who did little to prevent his office being politicized in terms of the cases brought to court and, arguably at least as important, the cases which were not, and, I felt, handled racial violence especially poorly. Of late, the Moscow region and city procuracies alike have also been embroiled by investigations, not least one relating to links with gambling bosses which tarnished his deputy, Alexander Kozlov who is also under investigation for an illegal privatization. Semin was presumably seen as having proven himself a safe pair of hands, though, as he has moved on to head the General Procurator’s Office’s department overseeing anti-corruption legislation – a great place to protect the Kremlin’s friends.

Although technically his candidature has to be confirmed tomorrow by the Moscow Duma, with today’s announcement of his candidacy, the choice of Sergei Kudeneev to replace him is essentially a foregone conclusion. It is quite an  interesting choice, though. (First Deputy Prosecutor Vyacheslav Rosinsky at the same time was transferred out to become deputy head of the GerProkuratura’s department for criminal prosecutions – perhaps either as a consolation prize for not getting the top spot or else because Kudeneyev wanted a clean slate.) Kudeneyev, was previously prosecutor of the Mordovian republic (this is presumably the same S V Kudeneev who wrote his 2005 thesis on ‘Pressing questions of maintenance of legality at municipal level: On the Republic Mordovia example’?) and then Orel, where he played a role in laying the foundations for the anti-corruption campaign that followed the removal of long-time regional boss Yegor Stroyev. Most recently, he headed the Prosecutor General’s Office for the Supervision of the Legality of the Execution of Criminal Penalties, which hardly sounds like an exciting position, but is a significant one and a stint at the central GenProkuratura is an essential part of the cursus honorum of a rising star. There, he proved rather more open than some of his predecessors, in February even admitting to a 6% rise in deaths in Russian prisons last year. I can’t say this with absolute surety, but I also get the sense that he was genuine in trying to extend the use of parole in non-violent crimes, too.

Orel is hardly cleansed, and I’d hesitate to identify Kudeneyev as some kind of paladin ready, willing and able to swoop in and cleanse Moscow. I’d like to think so, but we don’t yet know him well enough – and how free a hand he will have. The first indicator, though, will be what happens in the Moscow procuracy itself. That needs to be cleansed thoroughly for any wider systemic progress: watch this space.

A look back: ‘”Quiet Revolution” seeks to end legal nihilism’ (Oxford Analytica, 1 November 2010), on the Russian Law on the Police

In part as I reimmerse myself in the detail of this past year of change and not-so-change within the MVD, I thought I’d post (with permission), a piece I wrote for Oxford Analytica back in November of last year. This article was originally published in The Oxford Analytica Daily Brief:


Two key constraints I identified were corruption and a lack of political will. It is still hard to be upbeat about the former – some definite grounds for guarded optimism, but it’s hard to know whether Russia is genuinely going to be able on current showing to address the engrained culture of corruption within the police. However, Medvedev is showing a little more political will than, to be honest, I expected eight months ago. Many of the current wave of dismissals are simply getting rid of the irredeemably incompetents and the politically out-of-favor, and many of the incomers are no cleaner, just smarter, better connected or simply luckier.

I’m writing another brief for OA now on the issue, though, and given that all too often in the past Russia has disappointed instead, it is a pleasant surprise to be marginally more optimistic than before.

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