The ‘Prophylactic Conversation’ and the management of Russian organised crime: the Ekaterinburg example

gangstersgrave

Ekaterinburg still seems to have the best crop of gangster gravestones

Back when Yuri Andropov headed the KGB, the Soviet political police replaced, or at least supplemented the blunter instruments of earlier times with more subtle and insidious ones. One such was the profilakticheskii razgovor, the ‘prophylactic conversation.’ Someone identified as a possible problem – talking too openly critically about the Party, say, or trying to get the trade union actually to represent workers’ interests – would be invited to the local KGB office, just for a chat.

Depending on the quality and delicacy of the interlocutor, often no threats would be made, no accusations advanced. It would be just that, a chat. How’s the job? I hear your kid is applying to university next year, that must be exciting. I hope your grandmother’s illness clears up soon. But of course, in a system when a severe and spiteful state controls everything, both sides knew that every word was a threat. A good job could be replaced with a bad one; a child could get rejected from university; medical care could be withheld. Few people have the ruthlessness with themselves or others to be heroes in such circumstances. Andropov’s dictum was, after all, maximum effect for minimal force.

Increasingly, this has become a tool also used with organised crime. The state does not control organised crime (let alone vice versa), but the relationship is complicated. Much of the time, it genuinely fights it, but at other times it recognises a degree of symbiosis. This is not just about the many interconnections, especially at the local level, between political, business and underworld elites. It is also because, like post-war Japan for most of its history, there is something of a sense that organised crime is better that its disorganised counterpart.

The prophylactic chat is thus a way of setting the ground rules, of indicating when something is going to cross a line that will require the state to respond.

Recently, the network of gone-but-not-yet-irrelevant godfather Aslan ‘Ded Khasan’ Usoyan has been making a comeback in the Urals region. Since Temuri Mirzoev (‘Timur Sverdlovskii’) died in 2014, there has been no regional boss of the Georgian and North Caucasian criminals. Back at the start of 2016, Avtandil Kobeshavidze, ‘Avto,’ a lieutenant of Shakro the Younger, had tried to establish himself in Ekaterinburg in Timur’s place, but after a ‘prophylactic chat’ with representatives of the police and FSB, in which it was made clear his presence was considered destabilising, he left for Rostov-on-Don. He still has people in Ekaterinburg and elsewhere in the region, but his hopes of regional godfatherdom were dashed.

Recently, though, Georgy Shalvovich Akoev (‘Gia Sverdlovskii’) was released from Polyarnaya Sova (‘Polar Owl’) prison after serving 11 years for robbery. Last week, he tried to hold a sit-down with local kingpins such as Vladimir Solomennikov (‘Soloma’), the regional underworld banker and a particular ally of his, Levan Akoev (‘Leva’), essentially Ekaterinburg’s godfather. Even some of Avto’s people were present.

Akoev is well-placed to take over. Mirzoev’s grand-nephew, he was ‘crowned’ as a vor v zakone in prison in 2008, sponsored by Usoyan and Mirzoev. Having been in prison, his hands are (relatively) clean of the blood from recent clashes, and his relations with the Russian gangsters of Ekaterinburg and the city’s political leadership are not close, but at least not acrimonious. Although early reports said the skhodka, the sit-down, took place, it later emerged that it had been raided by the police, and Akoev and other participants were detained. Before they were released, Akoev had a ‘prophylactic conversation’ of his own. Interestingly, though, it does not seem that Akoev was warned off his ambitions or encouraged to leave town. Rather, the implication is that he was being put on notice: the powers that be would permit him to pick up where ‘Timur Sverdlovskii’ left off, but with the understanding that there would be no settling of scores, no underworld vendettas. (A particular concern was the danger of a struggle over the city’s Vegetable Warehouse No. 4, currently under Avto’s protection.) Ultimately, even ‘Ded Khasan’s successors know the state is the biggest gang in town, and gets to set the rules.

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3 Comments

  1. “the best crop of gangster gravestones” – there’s plenty of beautiful stone here in the Urals, is all.

    Reply
  2. Good reading; and I thought my Fantasy writing was complex.

    Reply
  1. Russia / Strategy Media Update – 30 August 2017 – To Inform is to Influence

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