Thursday, September 17, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Criminal Groups Playing by New and More Dangerous Rules

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 17 – Like Don Carleone at the end of the Godfather films, organized crime criminal groups in the Moscow increasingly are moving into legitimate businesses and government even while retaining ties with their criminal base. But because there is no single authority, the groups are increasingly fighting among themselves, according to Russian officials.
The Russian media over the last few days have been focusing on the state of organized crime in the wake of the assassination attempt against one of the most powerful criminal clan bosses, Vyacheslav Ivankov, knowsn as “the Japanese,” who now lies near death in a Moscow hospital.
But today’s “Komsomolskaya Pravda” provides not only the most detailed discussion of the current state of organized crime in the capital, including the impact of the government’s moves against the gaming business and of the economic slump but even a detailed map of which groups control what markets in what part of the city (
According to the paper’s Anna Veligzhanina, the attack on “the Japanese” has led to the outbreak of a new struggle “in the criminal world for the re-division of spheres of influence,” a struggle that by its nature not only calls attention to the power of organized crime there but also to the new rules its operatives are following.
Criminal groups in Moscow, she says, no longer get involved in mass retribution – although there may be some of that because of the attack on Ivankov – and instead rely on more “clever methods of struggle for leadership” including bribery, purchase of protection, and getting information they can use by corrupting the militia.
“The criminal authorities,” Veligzhanina suggests, “are investing [their] money in business, religion and charitable operations, they are opening firms, paying taxes, seeking power, building connections and [even] financing movies. For those who love movie classics,” she suggests, “we now are already at the fourth series of “The Godfather.”
At that point, she recalls, “Don Corleone has gone into legal business, but his connections with [his criminal] past remain.”
Until relatively recently, that process has been relatively peaceful, but both the new opportunities for profit presented by the government with its plans for the Sochi Olympics, limits on gaming industries and other markets from which the criminal groups have extracted so much profit, and the economic crisis have sparked new fights for control over various sectors.
The impact of the economic crisis has been particularly severe, albeit indirect. As most businesses have suffered, criminal groups that had provided protection have lost money. And as they have suffered, there has been less and less willingness by any of the criminal groups to recognize the traditional “rights” of other groups to particular markets.
Aleksandr Gurov, a Duma deputy who earlier headed the Interior Ministry’s administration for the struggle with organized crime, told the paper that “organized crime [in Moscow] is “now different” than it was in the past. In the past, such criminals were involved with open theft and racketeering; now they are seeing to get control of legitimate businesses.
On the one hand, Gurov said, that shift toward “legalization” makes the mafia, in appearance at least, “more civilized.” But on the other, it sometimes means that the criminals, given ethnic divisions in the criminal world, takes on “’patriotic’ and nationalist” aspects, with “Orthodox [criminals] against Muslims” and Russians fighting against “the Georgian mafia.”
The evolution of Russian organized crime over the last 20 years, Gurov added, recapitulates the kind of evolution that organized crime in Europe passed through over the course of 200 centuries, with one major difference: “there is no major group such as the Cosa Nostra,” which links the crime families together. Instead, they compete with one another more openly.
In addition to this discussion of the nature of Russian organized crime, “Komsomolskaya Pravda provides both a detailed and colorful map of Moscow showing which groups operate where and also a guide to individual criminal groups, describing their activities, size, location, and in many cases ethnic origins.

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