Gangster, upstart, folk hero: Rovshan Janiev (Lenkoransky) finally put to rest

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 20.56.46Azeri-born gangster Rovshan Janiev, also know as Rovshan Lenkoransky, was killed in an ambush on 17 August in Istanbul, while returning from a trip to Dubai (which, incidentally, seems to have become the Russian/Eurasian gangsters’ haven of choice). His Range Rover was caught in the crossfire of at least two gunmen firing automatic weapons; he was killed, riddled by some twenty bullets, his driver seriously wounded.

Whodunnit?

Who killed him? Heaven knows: there were enough serious people after his blood. Three Azeris and a Turk have apparently been arrested, but who they are and why they carried out the hit remains to be seen.

What made Janiev interesting is that around him cohered a loose coalition of hungry young and youngish gangsters, who felt the relative stability of the post-90s status quo – and the end of the rapid social mobility caused by periodic turf wars and gangland killings – was locking them out of the big time. Janiev ended up challenging Moscow-based godfather Aslan Usoyan, ‘Ded Khazan,’ and may indeed have been behind his attempted assassination in 2010 and/or his successful one in 2013. Certainly Usoyan’s heirs have continued to be on the hunt for him.

However, Janiev’s ambitions and his open desire to overturn the current underworld order also may have led to his becoming a target of Georgian Tariel Oniani (‘Taro’), one of the most powerful and vicious of Moscow’s gangsters, and even the major Slavic gangs. It did not help that he was persistently accused of sometimes cooperating with the Russian security apparatus (presumably the FSB), when they wanted to bring a little indirect pressure to bear.

And as if that were not enough, it is also worth mentioning that three years ago, near enough to the day, one of Janiev’s bitter enemies, Azeri kingpin Alibala Hamidov (‘Goji Baku’) was murdered in Istanbul. This may prove to have been a delayed revenge.

Local hero

With so many people (literally) gunning for him, and a reported $5 million bounty on his head, perhaps the greatest surprise was that Janiev survived as long as he did, especially since according to some accounts of late he had relaxed some of his security precautions. In February 2013, he had been reported as killed, just one of many tall tales around him, but this proved to be a hoax; it seems unlikely history will repeat itself.

However, also striking was the way his funeral back in his home town of Lenkoran saw up to 25,000 attending to pay their respects. In part, this reflects the Robin Hood-like legend of the local boy who was able to protect the Azeri market traders in Moscow from the Russians and the Georgians (which he did, up to a point, and for a price), in part the Azeri who was able to take on those Russians and Georgians (and Armenians) at their own game.

There was more than just romantic appeal involved, though. Azeri businessman Mubariz Mansimov, President of the Palmali Group of Companies, lent his private jet to deliver the body home, and it is clear that Janiev also had connections with elements of Azerbaijan’s business and thus by definition political elite.

Impact back in Russia?

Janiev had stayed out of Russia for years, but had maintained his operations there, especially connected with the produce markets of the city. With him gone, there is every chance that the sporadically-violent struggles to control them will flare up again. Recent arrests hitting Shakhro Molodoi’s organisation have, after all, already created instability in this underworld sector.

Indeed, it is not impossible that Janiev’s death will actually turn out not to have been because of any of his old feuds, but because of the new pressures on the Russian underworld. As times get tight, the competition over those businesses still making money is only getting commensurately tighter, and Janiev may have posthumously discovered.

Russia under pressure: more crime, more petty

Police BadgeAccording to the MVD’s latest figures, January saw total numbers of recorded crime rise by 4.6% on last year’s (to almost 172,000) but the proportion of serious crimes fall by almost 3%. Some quick and preliminary thoughts:

The absolute level of serious crime is still up–yes, it fell as a proportion, but of a total that rose even faster–yet much less so than other crimes. These other crimes tend to be low-level instances of unpremeditated inter-personal violence and petty theft such as shoplifting. In other words, crimes which are often a pretty good indicator of underlying levels of social and economic pressure on the general population.

Last year overall, the crime rate was 8.6% up. In part, I think this reflects continued improvement in actually recording offences, cutting down on so-called “latent crime” (despite all the challenges, there is still progress), but in the main I think this is a genuine rise, even if not quite as high as that figure suggests.

So, does the January figure actually reflect an improvement? Maybe, but looking month-by-month, January tends to be a less “elastic” month anyway, perhaps because of holidays, higher levels of street policing in the main cities, etc. It’s too soon to say for certain, although it is also worth noting that there is considerable anecdotal evidence of a resurgence in petty police corruption because of the direct and indirect economic pressures on them (I talk about this a little here), which could also lead to renewed under-reporting. It will be interesting to see how the February and March figures pan out.

Lt. Gen. Yakunin on policing Moscow

Yakunin copLt. General Anatoly Yakunin (yes, the other Yakunin], Moscow city police chief, gave an interesting interview to the government newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta, which was published on 24 August 2015, and I think it is worth reproducing some passages from it. Notes and subhead in red are mine, other text my translations from the original [italics are questions in the interview].

Making cuts? (more…)

Russian Crime Today

arrestThe latest in an occasional series of longer articles of mine on Russian crime has recently been published. The articles, for RFE/RL’s Russian-language service, are then being published in English by the Henry Jackson Society. Last year, I wrote Crime and Crimea: Criminals as Allies and Agents, considering the extent to which organised criminal structures were involved in the Russian takeover and how they were affected by the annexation of the peninsula (here in Russian, here in English). This most recent piece, Tough Times for Tough People: Crime and Russia’s Economic Crisis, instead uses a series of individual cases to explore instead the impact of sanctions and hardship on organised crime inside Russia, both the losers and the winners (here in Russian, here in English). A third, future article will explore how corruption is changing.

Breaking up the Khinkalnaya sitdown: Georgians being warned off trying for a slice of the Crimean pie?

Rys' SOBR of the kind deployed to break up the skhodka

Rys’ SOBR of the kind deployed to break up the skhodka

On 24 May, Moscow police including Rys’ SOBR commandos broke up a skhodka–sit down–of mainly Georgian gangsters reportedly at the Khinkalnaya restaurant on Savvinskaya embankment, briefly detaining 38 of them. (The perennially well-connected Life News has the list of detainees here.) In part they were there apparently in another bid to resolve the long-running and periodically-violent feud between the Tbilisi clan of “Dead Ded” Khasan (Aslan Usoyan) and Tariel Oniani’s Kutaisi clan. However, they were also going to talk about expanding their activities in Crimea and how to apportion the profits. These may well be significant, not only in diverting some of the massive investment being channelled there to make it a showcase “why it’s great to be in Russia” region, but also if Sevastopol comes to rival Odessa as a smuggling hub. I suspect that this latter agenda item is why the meeting had to be raided. After all, the ethnic Russian networks are also moving into Crimea, looking to strike deals with local gangs, and they are a much more known and trusted factor for the government. It’s futile to try and keep the Georgians out of Crimea, but I imagine that a pernicious alliance of ethnic Russian mobsters and the government will try to minimise their role there.

Poor Dmytro (Firtash)?

Firtash may be caught by the throat, but most other oligarchs are feeding merrily still

Firtash may be caught by the throat, but most other oligarchs are feeding merrily still

Can one feel sorry for a multi-millionaire ($673M according to some, $2.3B according to alternative accounts, and $3.8B to others) suspected of bribery, who reportedly admitted consorting with wanted gangsters and once boasted of his close ties to Yanukovych? If so, then spare a thought for Ukrainian gas and titanium tycoon Dmytro Firtash, arrested in Vienna on a US warrant on bribery and organised crime charges. Why on earth might one feel any sympathy for him? Not for the philanthropy, not even for the massive donations to my alma mater at Cambridge to endow Ukrainian studies. Rather than Firtash would seem to be a businessman of the regular Ukrainian oligarchic variety. What does that mean? It means certainly not clean by Western standards, but nor, in any meaningful sense, an organised crime figure himself. So what might he have been?

When he first started building his energy empire, bringing Russian gas into Ukraine, the infamous financial crime lord Semen Mogilevich was a shadowy but indispensable fixer and broker. His  involvement was pretty much essential to make any Russo-Ukrainian gas deals work. So, of course, I was entirely unsurprised when the accounts (subsequently denied) of an admitted connection arose. If nothing else, there had been widespread rumours beforehand. Furthermore, Mogilevich–who has an interestingly unique role as, in effect, the boutique personal banker of choice to post-Soviet crooks of every stripe–would conceivably also have been a useful contact and service provider for subsequent sub rosa activities such as moving money abroad discreetly, evading taxes or doing any of the other patriotic parlour games at which post-Soviet plutocrats excel. (more…)

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