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.

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Talking about Russian organized crime in Prague, March 19

Invite Mark Galeotti

With post-Soviet (Armenian) organized crime boss Andranik Soghoyan being convicted in absentia to 22 years in prison in Prague Municipal Court, and with the commercial rivalry over the Temelin nuclear power initiative leading to inevitable dark mutterings about Russian criminal and espionage activities in the Czech Republic, I’m especially pleased to be speaking about the myths and the realities of Russian organized crime in Prague in a couple of weeks’ time. It’s a public event organized by NYU’s Prague Center and PIDEC, the Prague Institute for Democracy, Economics & Culture, and is open to all (please RSVP if you plan to attend, but the email address on the poster may not be working, in which case please use pidec.nyu@gmail.com).

I’ll cover developments in Russia a little, but mainly look at how Russian and Russia-based organized crime has — and has not — spread internationally, and what its real relationships with the intelligence services are. Considering that I think Prague and the Czech Republic risk becoming a renewed focus of their operations, it seems to be a timely opportunity to discuss these guys.

They whack him here, they whack him there… The Azeri Pimpernel

I think it fair to say that Rovshan Janiev is less dashing

I think it fair to say that Rovshan Janiev is less dashing

It is as much as anything else a sign of the pressures in the Russian underworld and the lack of clarity in what will follow the murder of Aslan Usoyan (‘Ded Khasan’) that one of the potential instigators of the attack, Rovshan Janiev (‘Rovshan Lenkoransky’) is various reported killed in Moscow, killed in Turkey, detained in Baku and, according to his brother, alive and well in Dubai

As of writing, I don’t know which of these is true, if any. Thanks to a conversation with someone in Moscow who I feel would know, I feel fairly confident that he was briefly arrested in Baku, as much as anything else as a warning to scale down his leadership campaign within the ‘mountaineer’ (Caucasus) underworld community. There seems to be a growing body of reports in the Russian press about his death in Turkey, but these could easily simply be feeding off each other. That said, he is an ambitious man, a destabilizing force, and as a result has many enemies over and above Dmitry Chanturia (‘Miron’), Usoyan’s heir. Following the murder of his lieutenants Astamur Gulia (‘Astik Sukhumski’) in Abkhazia and Rufat Nasibov (‘Rufo’) in Moscow, Janiev may well be a tempting target.

We’ll see. However, worth noting at this point is the dog that isn’t barking: the ethnic Russian and Slavic gangs who make up the majority of the Russian underworld and who are presumably happy to see their southern rivals tearing each other apart, and the Chechens, who while ‘mountaineers’ essentially keep themselves apart from the others. They could be a force for stability, preventing the mob war from escalating, or they could seek to capitalize on it by making land grabs of their own, further ratcheting up the tension…

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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