Video: Russia’s Hybrid War: What Does it Really Mean, And How Should the West Respond?

hybridwarjan2017On 10 January 2017, I spoke at an event organised by the Institute of International Relations Prague (UMV) at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs (to whom I must express my thanks for the use of the splendid Mirror Hall).

The video is now available at the IIR’s YouTube page, here. The blurb is below, and you can find the report around which I was speaking here.

The challenge of Russia’s ‘hybrid war’ remains one of the main concerns of Western policy-makers, yet quite what does this mean, and how can it best be resisted? Dr Mark Galeotti, a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague and one of the world’s leading experts on Russian security has recently completed two major analyses of the issue, his comprehensive report Hybrid War or Gibridnaya Voina? Getting Russia’s non-linear military challenge right (Mayak) and Heavy Metal Diplomacy: Russia’s political use of its military in Europe since 2014 (European Council on Foreign Relations).


One-and-a-Half Cheers for new Czech centre to resist Political Warfare

mvcrOn 1 January, the Czech Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats (CPTHH) is formally opened, within the Ministry of the Interior (MVČR). With a 20-strong staff, its main focus will be to tackle disinformation and political manipulation through the media–and yes, essentially this means Russia’s current ‘political war’ on the West–and to respond openly. My snap verdict is that this is a worthy start, but the Czechs, like other European countries, need also to move beyond this fashionable but essentially reactive approach and think more strategically and perhaps also robustly about fighting this political war.


Who were the Georgian gangsters arrested in Europe?

I’ll complete this list as more identities become available, but to date, these are the names of the various figures arrested in the June 18 swoop on the Georgian Kutaisi gang across Europe:


  • Merab Dzhangveladze, “Dzhango,” vor v zakone and leader of the Kutaisi
  • ?


  • Guram Odisharia, “Buya,” vor v zakone
  • Roin Uglava, “Matevich,” vor v zakone
  • Gia Gurchiani, vor v zakone
  • Aleko Imedadze, vor v zakone
  • Beso Kuprashvili, vor v zakone
  • Akaki Tugushi, “Enzo Batumi,” vor v zakone
  • ?

Czech Republic

  • Alexander Kartsivadze, vor v zakone
  • ?


  • Givi Gordeladze, “Givi Tol’styi” (“Givi the Thick”), vor v zakone [Gordeladze is again at large; the Lithuanian court, for reasons still not wholly clear, released him on bail, not deeming him a flight risk on grounds of his age (65) and health. Surprise, surprise: he flew.]
  • Temur Nemsitsveridze, “Tsripa,” vor v zakone
  • Razhden Shulaya
  • ?
  • ?


  • ?
  • ?


  • ?

(Last update: June 27, 2013)

“A Tale of Two Cities”: Corruption in Prague and Moscow compared

“Influence-peddling, embezzlement of government funds, the (ab)use of state intelligence agents to snoop on personal rivals; the police swoop, politicians and powerful government officials are arrested and the prime minister, while personally not involved, takes responsibility for what happened on his watch and resigns. Moscow? Hardly: this is Prague.”

In my latest column for Russia! magazine, I consider what lessons the Czech’s treatment of their current–very real–corruption problem could hold for the Russian government. If it is serious about dealing with corruption systemically and from the top down. Which, sadly, I very much doubt.

Georgian Organized Crime Blitz in Europe

(Some further thoughts to complement my initial, snap response, Europe-wide arrests of Georgian gangsters, with senior Kutaisi vor seized in Prague’)

squadarmobileOn 18 June, police in six European countries carried out coordinated operations, arresting 18 alleged members of the Georgian organized crime group known as the Kutaisi clan. Coordinated by the Italian National Police’s Central Operational Service and the Bari city Squadra Mobile (flying squad), these arrests netted 13 alleged vory v zakone (‘thieves in law’ or ‘thieves within the code’). Overall, there were 7 arrests in Italy, 2 in the Czech Republic, 5 in Lithuania, 2 in Portugal, one in France and one in Hungary. (Some Italian reports also cite arrests in Moscow, but I have yet to see that confirmed.)

This operation, the outcome of an 18-month investigation, was described by Europol as “one of the most significant blows against clans controlled by this high-ranking, elite of the world of Russian-speaking organised crime.”

Perhaps most interesting is that it appears—although this has not been confirmed—that the Hungarian arrest was of Merab Dzhangveladze (“Dzhango”/”Django”), the head of the Kutaisi grouping, and a major player within the Georgian underworld in both Georgia and Russia.

He is a close ally of Tariel Oniani (“Taro”), the vicious senior Georgian gang leader in Russia. He was also a sworn enemy of Aslan Usoyan (“Ded Hasan”), murdered in Moscow in January. Usoyan had formally had Dzhangveladze stripped of his vor v zakone status in 2008, as part of a tit-for-tat struggle with Taro, although this means little in today’s more diffuse and opportunistic underworld. Dzhangveladze may well have been behind the assassinations of both Usoyan and Vyacheslav Ivankov (“Yaponchik”) and has in many ways been Oniani’s right hand while he is in prison.

If Dzhangveladze has indeed been arrested, then this turns a serious blow to the Kutaisi into a devastating one. His brother Levon has in the past acted as his interim lieutenant, but lacks the stature to hold the group together for long. The Kutaisi clan, with an estimated 50 vory v zakone, is one of the most significant Georgian organized crime groups, not least amongst the so-called lavrushniki (“bay leaves”), Georgian gangsters within the Russian underworld. It certainly delivers a serious blow to the extensive Georgian—and, by extension, Eurasian—organized crime in Europe, as well as another example of the increasingly effective coordination of the struggle against them by European police forces.

However, this may also play to underworld developments in Russia. At present, the Usoyan and Oniani networks are locked in a phony war over both deep feuds and future dominance of the “mountaineer” fraction of the underworld, not so much a cold war as a tepid one that could quickly heat up further. If Dzhangveladze is taken out of the picture for long and if the Kutaisi clan are not able to bounce back quickly—two distinct “ifs”—then it does undermine Oniani. It could even embolden Chanturia, Usoyan’s successor, to strike…

Europe-wide arrests of Georgian gangsters, with senior Kutaisi vor seized in Prague


uooz__vnahledI’ve noted, both on this blog and elsewhere, that “Russian organized crime” in Europe often is actually Armenian or Georgian–even if today’s Georgian godfathers are frequently based in Russia. It’s a complex and very cosmopolitan underworld, these days, that also manifests itself in the multinational networks through which these gangsters operate. This has been illustrated by the breaking news that a 46-year-old Georgian man, a senior figures within the Kutaisi criminal ‘clan’, has been arrested by ÚOOZ, the Czech organized crime police department.

According to the police, they have been working on Georgian OC since 2011, and since 2012 working especially with Italian law-enforcement because criminal enterprises were conducting crimes elsewhere and moving money into and through the Czech Republic. In particular, the Geogian Kutaisi grouping, led by Merab Dzhangveladze (“Dzhango”/”Django’), was involved in operations in Italy, which included a skhodka sit-down in Milan in December 2011 to resolve disputes with the rival Shushanashvili brothers’ Tbilisi-Rustavi clan, and the murder of a Rustavi man in the city of Bari in 2011 and the retaliatory killing of Revez Tchuradze (“Rezo”), a local Kutaisi factor, in 2012.

After the Italians, led by the Bari magistracy, issued European Arrest Warrants for several individuals on racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder and money laundering charges, 32 people were detained not just in the ČR and Italy, but also Hungary, Lithuania, France, Belgium, Poland, Germany and Portugal. In Prague, officers from ÚOOZ supported by URN anti-terrorist commandoes, seized the as-yet-unnamed Georgian criminal, apparently a member of the criminal subculture of the vory v zakone (although this means very little these days), as well as cash and documents.

There is even a link with the killing of Ded Khasan in Moscow earlier this year; Dzhangveladze is an ally of Tariel Oniani (“Taro”), Hasan’s main foe, and also possibly close to Rovshan Janiev, whom Khasan’s own people have blamed for the murder. Italian police intercepts record him ironically noting that Khasan had warned that if the Kutaisi network tried to penetrate the Moscow underworld, “the city would be spattered in blood”–and that Khasan died shortly afterwards…


Here’s a handy summary from Europol, although given that all the criminals in question appear to have been Georgians at first glance, maybe :”Russia-speaking” is a little questionable a headline.


The Hague, the Netherlands
19 June 2013

Early on 18 June 2013, Europol supported the arrest of 18 suspects, 13 of them ‘thieves in law’ (vor v zakone), from the Georgian Kutaisi clan. This is one of the most significant blows against clans controlled by this high-ranking, elite of the world of Russian-speaking organised crime.

The operation was developed in Italy where the Central Operational Service of the Italian National Police and the Squadra mobile of Bari led the case and arrested 7 people. Other arrests took place simultaneously in the Czech Republic (2), France (1), Hungary (1), Lithuania (5) and Portugal (2). As well as the arrests, weapons, drugs and EUR 100 000 were seized. Belgian, German and Polish law enforcement authorities also provided substantial operational support. This outcome is the result of 18 months of EU-wide intelligence exchange and evidence gathering activities in several European Union countries.

This is the first time in Europe that such a high number (13) of thieves in law have been arrested simultaneously. The arrest of the Kutaisi leader in Hungary is specifically a significant blow to Russian-speaking organised criminals. As well as the leader, the rest of the clan’s hierarchy were arrested. The operation is ongoing and further arrests are expected.

This EU-wide investigation was supported from the outset by Europol specialists who facilitated the exchange of criminal intelligence with other Member States, delivered analytical reports and supported the operation on the spot with a mobile office. Eurojust participated in several operational meetings held during the investigation and Interpol was also present yesterday in the operational centre.

In offering his congratulations to all the services involved in this operation Michel Quillé, Deputy Director (Operations) at Europol said: “In such operations the essential role in bringing separate, sensitive investigations together in a secure environment is exactly what Europol is designed to do. In this way a clear picture of the situation in the EU can be built up, intelligence exchange between Member States can be stimulated and Member States can be alerted to the need for them to launch their own investigations or support ongoing enquiries. This case is an excellent example of such cooperation working to protect EU citizens across several Member States.”


Vor v zakone or thieves in law are Eurasian criminals who act as leaders, controllers and regulators of Russian-speaking organised crime. For several years the power balance in this criminal landscape has been in turmoil because of an ongoing conflict between the two main Georgian clans – the Tbilissi and Kutaisi clans. The main reasons for the conflict have been the struggle for important crime investment areas and the ultimate aim of full control over all Eurasian organised crime groups.

The assassination of a Tbilissi clan leader, in January 2013 in Moscow, created a new power vacuum leading to several, violent attempts by key players to strengthen their criminal positions. This has resulted in an increased presence of thieves in law in the EU. EU countries have become a shelter for them to avoid investigation and prosecution in their home jurisdictions. Ease of movement and excellent communications in the EU are an attractive environment for them to deploy and monitor their organised crime groups, re-invest criminal proceeds and hide from possible retaliation from opposing clans in the ongoing power struggle.

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