Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 26

Russia’s organized crime problem shows no sign of waning

by Aleksandr Zhilin

It was an historical first when the Russian Interior Ministry’sCollegium recently announced that law enforcement agencies arelosing the battle against crime. An examination of the crime wavesweeping Russia makes understandable the MVD leaders’ exasperation.

The Criminal Gangs

Since the beginning of this year, officials from the Russian OrganizedCrime Department have neutralized about 3,500 criminal groups.During the same period, the nation’s courts have sentenced morethan 10,811 criminals, including 275 for murder, 691 for mugging,74 for kidnapping and 20 for hostage-taking.

In 1995, cash and valuables totaling 253 billion rubles, or over$11 million, more than 548 kilograms of precious metals, 11,910firearms, and more than 1,800 kilograms of explosives were confiscatedfrom criminals. Over 29 billion rubles in restitution was returnedto the victims. According to the Organized Crime Department, thenumber of crimes solved is growing–but not as fast as the crimerate.

For example, in the Moscow oblast, Baturenkov’s six-man gang,whose members committed 12 murders and a number of violent assaultsover a short period, was arrested. A pistol and ammunition, anRGD-5 grenade and some explosives were confiscated from the criminals.

In Voronezh, 29 members of the "Voronezh" criminal groupwere detained. Twenty-two of them have been indicted under ArticleNo. 77 of the Russian Criminal Code. It has been establishedthat this gang committed 156 serious crimes, including 13 murders,and a raid on the guard detail of a motorized infantry battalion,where 34 machine guns and a grenade launcher were stolen. Thesecrimes were committed on the territory of the Voronezh oblast,the Tambov oblast, the Moscow oblast, the Kostroma oblast, andEstonia. This gang was also charged with two other raids in which93 machine guns, 301 pistols, and 4,000 rounds of ammunition werestolen. When these bandits were arrested, the police confiscatedtwo grenade launchers, 134 firearms with silencers and six stolencars.

The Kaliningrad Regional Organized Crime Department recently arrestedtwo bandit groups. One of them numbered 14 men and had committedfive contract murders. Ten firearms were seized from them. Anothergroup consisted of 16 people, including five members of the OMON(the Interior Ministry’s special militia).

In the Samara oblast, the police have arrested 17 members of theAgiya "interregional" gang, which had committed 65 seriouscrimes, including a series of contract murders of underworld figures.This band included residents of Togliatti, Tyumen, Lugansk, Tambov,Perm, and the Orenburg oblast.

According to specialists from the Main Organized Crime Department,there have been some positive achievements in the fight againstthe most dangerous forms of organized crime — the gangs whichcommit violent crimes. In the first six months of 1995,146 such groups have been eliminated, and 84 cases have alreadybeen brought to court.

Officials with the Main Organized Crime Department note that thepresidential decree of June 14, 1994 gave the police agenciesbroader authority to combat organized crime. But nonetheless,they noted, the size of the army of Russian bandits has not decreased.The kingpins of organized crime are not experiencing any "personnelshortages." Almost immediately after gangsters are arrested,they are replaced by new recruits, usually young unemployed men.

Well-Stocked Armories

Over the first six months of 1995, the Main Organized Crime Departmentconfiscated some 8,300 firearms from various criminal groups.It is estimated that "bandit" formations, excludingthe anti-Moscow groups fighting in Chechnya, have about 65,000firearms (not including the popular "Mukha" grenadelaunchers).

Unfortunately, the confiscation of illegal firearms has not ledto a drop in the number of guns in the hands of criminals. Thereason is quite simple: military units’ warehouses are not heavilyguarded. It is not unusual for a criminal to purchase weaponsfrom a warrant officer or a sergeant for a price as low as a caseof vodka.

In fact, it is hard to find a military district or navy fleetwhere there have not been large-scale thefts of arms over thelast few years. Recall that in the former Western Group of Forcesalone some 7,500 pieces of firearms were reportedly stolen (accordingto the documents of the related criminal files), although theGroup’s command officially denied this.

Detectives have noted that their work is stymied by the many loopholesin the Russian law "On the Safeguarding and Use of Firearms."Gun-carrying gangsters avoid arrest by producing, for the policeofficer, a note which says he has found the pistol and is on hisway to a police precinct to hand it over. According to the lawreferred to above, such a person must be released immediatelyafter he produces his identification.

Following the rules of supply and demand, arms prices on the "blackmarket" have fallen significantly in central Russia. Forexample, one can buy a Kalashnikov, (the latest improved model),in Moscow for $2,000. The Makarov pistol costs $1,200, F-1 handgrenades, on the average, cost $50 a piece. An SR-25 sniper’srifle with a silencer, (made in the USA), costs $5,000.

The main sources for replenishing criminals’ arsenals, accordingto the Main Organized Crime Department, are smuggling (mainlythrough the Baltic States), and stealing from arms warehousesand arms factories.

The arms smuggled into Russia are mostly of Chinese and Romanianorigin. And to this day, Soviet-made weapons are still findingtheir way back home from Afghanistan.

Not all that long ago, the arms trade in Russia was the domainof foreign criminal structures. But now this activity has beentaken over completely by domestic mafiosi. Whole "arms"clans have sprung up.

It is worth noting that in the Russian Far East, the smugglingis starting to go in the opposite direction; criminals are beginningto export Russian arms. Representatives from the Japanese criminalworld, including the Yakuza, have repeatedly shown interestin acquiring Russian weapons. A well-publicized case of the seizureof a Russian ship bound for Japan with a hold full of smuggledfirearms was recently concluded. Both in 1994 and this year, severalRussian sailors were arrested in Japan and South Korea by thesecurity services of those countries for trying to supply foreignerswith pistols and machine guns.

The Moscow Organized Crime Department has recently eliminateda large underground syndicate of arms traders. In the course ofthe search of the syndicate’s headquarters, the police confiscatedtwo SKS rifles, PPSh submachine guns, a Kalashnikov, ten Makarovpistols, TT, Taurus, Walther, and Beretta pistols, 4,500 cartridgesof various calibers, twenty F-1 grenades, 91 kilograms of TNT,a 100-meter length of fuse and a number of silencers.

The Criminal "Shadow" Economy

Officials have uncovered 1,589 criminal groups involved in financialfraud so far this year. More than 3,000 incidents of economiccrime by organized groups have been reported. The rapid increasein the amount of fraud and other financial crime testifies tothe fact that Russian mafiosi have reoriented themselves towardsthe economy.

Recently, drastic changes have taken place in this "shadow"economy. According to analysts, until recently the most profitableactivities for organized crime — economic racketeering and autosales, have receded. Extortion is practiced by poorly-organizedgroups or occurs when a criminal must "beat" paymentout of those who own them money. It is understandable that thisactivity would decrease over time. Eventually the sources willdry up; besides, the sums demanded are often not worth the riskof winding up behind bars. The auto racketeering business hasalso declined, especially since the introduction of new customsduties on imported cars has made it less profitable.

These activities have been replaced by a more sophisticated swindlingin the area of credit and finance. In Moscow alone, more than1,000 incidents of this kind (costing a total of $6 billion) havebeen reported this year. Now, according to experts, almost everycriminal group owns or controls commercial firms and banks, whichare useful for money laundering and a variety of other tasks incomplex financial fraud schemes.

Criminal groups are concentrating their efforts on the big moneyitems: the fuel and energy complex. In St. Petersburg, an eight-mancriminal group which had been implicated in four premeditatedmurders and two fraud cases, was exposed. Their fraudulent scamsswindled the Russian Oil Company and Baltstroiinvest out of morethan 1.3 billion rubles in 1993.

However, the Main Organized Crime Department’s specialists insistthat financial criminal groups are under control. A database isbeing created on the activities of commercial structures controlledby criminal groups which will enable the authorities to monitortheir activities.

The Ringleaders

Police have managed to arrest 28 criminal ringleaders thisyear. As a rule, a gang leader is arrested on a tip from his competitors.

Recently, organized crime specialists noted some interesting changestaking place in the leadership system of the criminal world itself.The younger ringleaders began to demonstrate stiff resistanceto the rule of the older "dons" [vory v zakone— or "thieves in the law"], many of whom have beenactive in racketeering since the Soviet days. But the system whichhad been worked out over the years not only did not weaken, butgave the young "up and comers" a worthy rebuff.

According to information available to the Main Organized CrimeDepartment, the top leadership of the criminal world has recentlybeen spending considerable time and money in order to infiltrategovernment structures. Several criminal ringleaders actually holdoffice in the executive or the legislative branches of government.In the Moscow oblast alone, 22 assistants to deputies of the StateDuma and Moscow city Duma have been arrested this year for theirdealings with the criminal world.

All these facts indicate that the wave of organized crime continuesto sweep across Russia. The wave is widening, and is penetratingdeeper into society as well as government structures. There isample evidence to support the MVD’s recent declaration that 70percent of the country is ruled by the mafia.

Aleksandr Zhilin is the National Security Issues Editor ofMoskovskie novosti.