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Mafiya, or Mafya (aka "Red Mafia" or "Krasnaya Mafiya), is a name given to a broad group of organized criminals of various ethnicity which appeared from the Soviet Union after its disintegration in 1991. Apart from ethnic Russians, the term comprises disproportianately large numbers of Jews and Chechens, as well as the Georgian, the Ukrainian, the Armenian, and the Azeri mob, as well as so called "mafia" groups from other former USSR republics. Within this article, the terms "mafia" and "mafya" will both be used.
mid the political uncertainty that has engulfed the former Soviet Union since the end of the Cold War nearly two decades ago, rampant, unchecked organized crime has laid waste to noteworthy democratic reforms and contributed to an economic and moral meltdown within the 15 newly independent republics. Intelligence reports emanating out of Russia peg the numerical size of the Russian Mafia (“mafya”) at 100,000 members owing allegiance to 8,000 stratified crime groups who control 70-80% of all private business and 40% of the nation’s wealth.
Between 1992 and 1994 the Russian Mafia targeted the commercial centers of power, seizing control of the nation’s fragile banking system. At first the criminal gangs were content to merely “park” their large cash holdings in legitimate institutions, but soon they realized that the next step was the easiest of all: direct ownership of the bank itself.
Banking executives, reform-minded business leaders, even investigative journalists, were systematically assassinated or kidnapped. In 1993 alone, members of the eight criminal gangs that control the Moscow underworld murdered 10 local bankers. Calling themselves “Thieves in Law” (vori v zakone), Russian gangsters have murdered ninety-five bankers in the last five years.
The demoralized and underpaid city police are ill equipped to curb the rising tide of violence or halt the nightly shootings. In 1993, Moscow police records show that there were more than 5,000 murders and 20,000 incidents of violent crime. Since then, conditions have only worsened. On average, 10,000 people die each year from gun violence—600 are contract killings.
Threats to International Business
Foreign companies pay up to 20% of their profits to the Mafia as the on-going price of doing business in Russia. Ignoring shakedown threats merely invites tragedy.
Most American and other western firms find it necessary to hire private security guards to protect their executives from extortion threats and roving assassins.
Ineffective law enforcement has spurred the rapid growth and expansion of the private security industry. In the past seven years, 25,000 Russian security firms were established, employing between 600,000-800,000 workers. The Mafia controls at least one-sixth of them. Two-thirds avoid paying state taxes all together.
The ominous implications for western companies exploring joint ventures and partnerships with emerging companies in the former Soviet Union are self-evident.
The Russian Mafia appears to be organized in similar ways to the legendary Italian mafia. It is believed, however, to be a very loose organization with internal feuds and murders being commonplace. A particularly brutal practice rumored to be utilized by the Russian Mafia is the killing of not only of the individual who has "snitched" or turned against the Organizatsiya, but also the individual's family. The Russian mafia, the Bratva, is notorious for underground operations and clean transactions. The Russian mafia, unlike that of the Italian, is known for its secrecy and unflamboyant manner.
Despite seeming to arise during the Fall of the Soviet Union, organized crime had existed throughout the imperial and communist eras as a form of open rebellion against the systems in the form of the "Thief's World". During this time they were fiercely honor-based and often attacked and killed traitors among their ranks. Nevertheless, during World War II, many enlisted in the Russian Army resulting in the Suka Wars, or Bitch Wars, which killed many of the thieves who were branded as government allies as well as the original thief underworld during Stalin's reign. The criminals, seeking a new survival strategy, began to ally with the elite in the Soviet Union as a means of survival, creating a powerful Russian black market.
Despite the Kremlin's attempts to reform, the criminals continued to grow in power. Nevertheless, the real breakthrough for criminal organizations occurred during the economic disaster of the 1990s that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Desperate for money, many former government workers turned to crime and the Mafia became a natural extension of this trend. According to official estimates, some 100,000 Russians are hard-core mobsters, with a large, but unknown number engaging in these criminal practices on and off.
Many of the bosses and main members of the Russian mafia are believed to be ex-Soviet Army and ex-KGB officers who lost their posts in the reduction of forces that began in 1993 after the end of the Cold War. It is also believed that many of the groups' enforcers are ex-Russian Spetsnaz special forces, an organisation renowned for its brutality. Russian mobsters recruit sportsmen, too - boxers, martial artists, weightlifters, [as funding for sports had decreased sharply] and other olympic athletes. In some cases, the Russian mafya has recruited olympic sharpshooters to carry out hits.
Since the mid-90s the Russians have been trying to expand into America, most often via the trafficking of drugs and illegal weapons. This has led to some brutal wars with the organizations already present, including the Italian Mafia and the Yakuza. The group is believed to have links to Colombian drug smugglers and many smaller gangs as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union. Some also believe they are at the heart of gangs smuggling illegal workers west to the European Union and often Britain, though no proof has been offered for this at the time. The home of the Russian Mafia in America is in the Brighton Beach (dubbed by Russians "Little Odessa") neighborhood in New York.
Over the last few years, the FBI and Russian security services have cracked down on the Mafia, though the impact of this has yet to be measured. The FBI especially has not put the resources into investigations targeting the Russian Mafia. Many mafioso have become rich in America and have begun to imitate the Italian Mafia in lifestyle. This has led to the apparent softening of the mafia, though in reality they may well be as dangerous as ever.
Foreign businessmen and the Russian Mafia
An unknown number of foreign businessmen, believed to be in the low thousands arrived in Russia during the early and mid 1990s, from all over the world, to seek their fortune and to cash in on the transition from a communist to a free market/capitalist society. This period in time was referred to by many of the businessmen as the "second great gold rush".
In regard to the Russia experience, there were basically two types of foreign businessmen, the lucky ones and the unlucky ones. For the lucky ones, huge fortunes were made and they were able to return to their native homeland with their life, limbs and money. Many clever foreign businessmen made huge profits early on, by good timing, chiefly by buying up products in nearly worthless Rubles, storing them for a time and after the introduction of the free market economy, later selling the same products for hard currency such as US Dollars. Many became millionaires, literally overnight. Others took advantage of astronomical interest rates being paid by Russian banks for any deposits during this period. Although many banks failed and depositors lost their holdings, the well-connected foreign businessmen usually had inside knowledge of an impending bank crash, and would rescue their money before the bank collapsed. Others at this time, wired their earnings out of volatile Russia, most often to secret bank accounts in Switzerland.
Other foreign busnessmen, the unlucky ones, have met a grim and grisly end, often killed outright or had their fortune stolen by the local Mafia or even by corrupt officials with the Russian government. Foreign businessmen during this period were looked upon as good for Russia and its fledgling economy. Generally, they lived the high-life in either Moscow or St. Petersburg and enjoyed a relatively luxurious life in comparison to the average Russian. Often living in the best flats, with a country dacha, in the company of beautiful women and driving expensive imported cars, they set the stage for the "wannabes", the up and coming local Russian businessmen who attempted to emulate them. The Russians even incorporated into their language, a whole new anglicized word for this new type of person and way of doing things....."biznesmen" (plural: "biznesmeni").
Generally, 1990 through to 1998 was a wild and unstable time for most foreign businessmen operating in Russia. Dangerous battles with the Russian Mob occurred, with many being killed or wounded. The Mafia welcomed the foreign businessmen and their expertise in facilitating business and making things happen in a stagnant and new economy. The Mafia considered them as a good source of hard currency, to be extorted under the usual guise of "protection money". Many different Mafia groups would fiercely compete to be able to "protect" a certain businessman, in exchange, the businessman would not have to worry about having more than one group showing up demanding tribute from him. Listed below are some of the more notorious and serious incidents of conflicts between foreign businessmen and the Russian Mafia, including the much publicized Paul Tatum saga. Many foreign businessmen left Russia after these incidents, and after almost a decade since the wild 90's, the Mafia still holds its grip on the