Has a new Russian Mob War started in Abkhazia?

Hasta la vista, Hasan

Hasta la vista, Hasan

Could the murder of a no-more-than-moderately infamous local gangster in Abkhazia, Astamur Gulia, ‘Astik Sukhumski,’ mark the start of a wider gang war following the murder of Aslan Usoyan, ‘Ded Khasan’? Usoyan’s death inevitably sent shock waves through an underworld already in a degree of turmoil. The long-running feud between Usoyan and Tariel Oniani (‘Taro’), the hungry encroachments of Rovshan Janiyev (‘Rovshan Lenkoranskiy’) for dominance over the Caucasus gangsters, new disagreements with Zakhar Kalashov (‘Shakhro Junior’), sparked by rows over the distribution and management of his assets after he was arrested in Spain in 2006, all these helped ensure that the ‘mountaineers’ — the gangs from the North and South Caucasus — were increasingly at daggers’ drawn. However, it’s important to realize that for all the airtime they get, the ‘mountaineers’ do not comprise the majority of Russian organized crime and the extent to which there are wider, economic and political pressures also bearing down on the status quo that has held for the past decade.

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‘Contract killing is a continuation of business by other means’

It goes against the grain, but sometimes – rarely – I feel Putin and the Russian security apparatus deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt. On 6 October, the interesting but often-sensationalist Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta ran an article ‘Registered Speciality – the Killer’ which claimed that the Russian spetsluzhby, the security agencies, now routinely murder enemies of the Kremlin. The author, Novaya gazeta’s military affairs editor Vyacheslav Izmailov, pulls together a varied collection of killings and kidnappings and asserts that the same sinister hand is behind them all.

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