Russian Mafia

Russian Mafia

Russian Mafia (Русская мафия, "Russkaya Mafiya"), Red Mob (Красная мафия, "Krasnaya Mafiya") or "Bratva" ("Братва"; slang for 'brotherhood') or Mafya or Mafiya, is a name given to a broad group of organized crime groups from the former Soviet Union (FSU) territories after its fall in 1991.


Organized crime existed in Russia prior to the fall of the Soviet Union and even in the imperial era. A key component in organized criminality prior to the collapse of the USSR was the Vory v zakone or "thieves in law". This class of criminal had to abide by certain rules thought up in the prison system. One such rule was cooperation with the authorities of any kind was forbidden. During World War II some prisoners made a deal with the government to enlist in the armed forces in return for a reduced sentence, but upon their return to prison they were attacked and killed by inmates who remained loyal to the rules of the thieves. [Varlam Shalamov, "Essays on Criminal World", "Bitch War" ( [ Shalamov's essay online] ru icon) in: Varlam Shalamov (1998) "Complete Works" (Варлам Шаламов. Собрание сочинений в четырех томах), vol. 2, printed by publishers "Vagrius" and "Khudozhestvennaya Literatura", ISBN 5-280-03163-1, ISBN 5-280-03162-3 ] [A. V. Kuchinsky "Prison Encyclopedia", (Кучинский А.В. - Тюремная энциклопедия, [ a fragment online] ru icon)]

During the Leonid Brezhnev era when the Soviet economy took a downhill turn, the "Vory" would take control of the black market with the help of corrupt officials, supplying products such as electronics which were hard to reach for the ordinary Soviet citizen.

The real breakthrough for criminal organizations occurred during the economic disaster and mass emigration of the 1990s that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Desperate for money, many former government workers turned to crime, others joined the Soviet citizens who moved overseas, and the Mafia became a natural extension of this trend. Former KGB agents, sportsmen and veterans of the Afghan and Chechen Wars, now finding themselves out-of-work but with experience in areas which could prove useful in crime, joined the increasing crime wave. [ [ BBC News - The Rise and rise of the Russian mafia ] ] Widespread corruption, poverty and distrust of authorities only contributed to the rise of organized crime. Contract killings reached an all-time high with many gangland murders taking place, a substantial number remaining unsolved. The new criminal class of Russia took on a more Westernized and businesslike approach to organized crime as the more code-of-honor based "vory" faded into the background. [ [ Vory v Zakone has hallowed place in Russian criminal lore] ]

The former Soviet Bloc's opening up to the world and the internationalization of its economy also gave the Russian mafia connections to other criminal organizations around the world such as the Chinese Triads or the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. Connections with Latin American drug cartels allowed the Russian mafia to import cocaine into the country. [ [ MSNBC- Russian mob trading arms for cocaine with Colombia rebels] ]

Widespread immigration in the 1990s allowed Russian criminal organizations to spread themselves further around the world. Prior to the collapse of communism Russian Jews were allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union, and many criminals took advantage of this if they were themselves Jewish, or if not acquiring a Jewish passport to be granted permission to leave. In the United States a key location for Russian organized crime was the Russian-Jewish community of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York. Vyacheslav "Yaponchik" Ivankov was the first major Russian organized crime figure persecuted by the US government, running his extortion operations out of Brighton Beach. [ [ FBI Official Website - Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov] ] Russian organized crime has spread to many other countries as well including Israel, Hungary, Canada, South Africa and Spain. [ [ BBC News - Spain raids 'major Russian gang'] ]


*The Solntsevskaya bratva, or Solntsevskaya brotherhood (Russian:Солнцевская братва), was one of--if not the--most powerful organized crime group operating in Moscow.

*"Dolgoprudnenskaya" (Долгопруденская) was a Russian mafia organization and was considered one of the largest groups of organized crime operating in Moscow. It was really named after Dolgoprudniy, which is a Moscow suburb. It was founded in 1988 and was allegedly very influential. [Oleg Liakhovich, "A Mob by Any Other Name", The Moscow News]

*The Izmailovskaya gang (Russian: Измайловская мафия) was considered one of the country's most important and oldest Russian Mafia groups in Moscow and also had a presence in Tel Aviv, Paris, Toronto, Miami and New York City. [B. Ohr, "Effective Methods to Combat Transnational Organized Crime in Criminal Justice Processes" US Dept. of Justice] It was founded during the 1980s under the leadership of Oleg Ivanov ("Олег Иванов") and was estimated to consist of about 200 active members (according to other data of 300-500 people). In principle, the organization was divided into two separate bodies - Izmailovskaya and Gol'yanovskaya (Гольяновская) , [Домашняя библиотека компромата Сергея Горшкова ("Home library of Sergei Gorshkov")] which utilized quasi-military ranks and strict internal discipline. It was involved extensively in murder-for-hire, extortions, and infiltration of legitimate businesses. [US, COMM, PERM, p. 201]

* The Tambov Gang ("Тамбовская банда") of Saint Petersburg.

* The Obshina (Община, "community" in Russian), or Chechen mafia, was a formidable organized crime group in the Russian underworld. According to experts, ethnic Chechen criminal gangs formed the most dominant minority criminal group in Russia. It is believed some gangs may have ties to Chechen militant factions.

* The Potato Bag gang was a gang of con artists operating in New York's Brighton Beach in the mid-1970s.

* The Orekhovskaya gang ("Ореховская банда") was a powerful criminal group in between the late 1980s and early 1990s.

* In California Armenian-American organized crime groups have also appeared in Los Angeles County, and are involved in many white-collar frauds as well as drug trafficking and extortion. [ [ Russian-Armenian organized crime 'like the 1930s New York mob'] Los Angeles Daily News]

Notable members

* Marat Balagula (Brooklyn-based crime boss and originator of billion-dollar gasoline bootlegging scam; close associate of Lucchese crime family. Released from American prison in 2004; murdered in Brighton Beach 2008.) Friedman, Robert I. "Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America". New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2000.]
* Arbi Barayev (Chechen warlord/crime boss; killed by Russian armed forces in 2001.)
* Viktor Bout (GRU Major turned international arms merchant; former international fugitive; now awaiting extradition to the United States.) [ The HUMINT Offensive from Putin's Chekist State] Anderson, Julie (2007), International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, 20:2, 258 - 316, page 309. ]
* Yuri Brokhin (Famed expatriate Russian dissident/international drug dealer and jewel thief; murdered 1982.)
* Vitali Dyomochka (Russian mobster who produced a TV series chronicling his own activities.)
* Monya Elson (Prolific professional killer; convicted of three murders and imprisoned.)
* Vadim Safronov (Major Vor v Zakone "works with semyon moglevich.)
* Ludwig "Tarzan" Fainberg (Southern Florida intermediary between the Medellin drug cartel and the Russian Mafia; deported to Israel.)
* Vyacheslav "Yaponchik" Ivankov (America's most powerful "vor v zakone"; deported to Russia.)
* Zakhar "Shakro" Kalashov (International "vor v zakone" boss; jailed in Spain.) [ [ Kavkaz Center - Georgian Police Seize House of Top Russian Mafiosi]
* Vladimir Kumarin (Saint Petersburg-based boss of Tambov Gang crime group.) [Jürgen Roth, "Die Gangster aus dem Osten", Europa Verlag Publishers]
* Otar "Otarik" Kvantrishvili (Moscow extortionist; murdered in 1994) [Bandits, Gangsters and the Mafia (Martin McCauley)]
* Ruslan Labazanov (Chechen crime boss; murdered in 1996.) [Hughes, James, "Chechnya: The Causes of a Protrated Post-Soviet Conflict", 2001]
* Sergei Mikhailov (Moscow-based head of "Solntsevskaya bratva" crime group.) [ [ BBC News- Alleged Russian mafia boss cleared] ]
* Semion Mogilevich (Billionaire Budapest-based crime lord.) [ [ Semyon Mogilevich, the 'East European mafia boss', captured in Moscow] ]
* Boris Nayfeld (International drug kingpin.)
* Khozh-Ahmed Noukhaev (Chechen crime boss; missing and believed dead.) [Aleksandr Zhilin, "The Shadow of Chechen Crime Over Moscow", The Jamestown Foundation 1999]
* Alexander Solonik (Notorious professional assassin; murdered in Athens in 1997.) [ [ BBC article, with information on Alexander Solonik] ]
* Nikolay "Hoza" Suleimanov (Chechen head of "Obshina" crime group; murdered in 1994.) [BBC News, [ So Who are the Russian Mafia?] , BBC Online Network, April 1, 1998]
* Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov (Arms dealer and accused Olympic fixer.) [ [ CNN:Russian organized crime implicated in skating scandal] ]
* Nik Radev (Australia-based Bulgarian gangster and enforcer for local Russian mob; murdered in 2003) [ [ Why gangland's bloody code is hard to crack] John Silvester, "The Age" April 20, 2003]
* Movladi Atlangeriyev (Chechen crime boss, kidnapped in 2008)

Foreign businessmen and the Russian mafia

An unknown number of foreign businessmen, believed to be in the low thousands, arrived in Russia from all over the world during the early and mid 1990s to seek their fortune and to cash in on the transition from a communist to a free market/capitalist society. This period was referred to by many of the businessmen as the "second great gold rush".

Generally, 1990 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. Many foreign businessmen left Russia after these incidents.

Foreign businessmen associated with the Russian mafia

* Paul Tatum: American joint owner of Radisson-Slavanskaya Hotel ("Гостиница Рэдиссон-Славянская") in Moscow; shot 11 times in the head and neck (his attacker knew he was wearing a bulletproof vest) and killed in a sensational shooting in a Moscow Metro station in November 1996 for refusing to pay "krysha" (крыша, "roof" in Russian) and to be squeezed out by a silent partner. Tatum was surrounded by his own bodyguards when attacked; however, they made no attempt to save him and allowed his attacker to escape unharmed. Tatum had, only weeks before this, taken out a full-page ad in a local newspaper denouncing his Chechen partner Umar Dzhabrailov (Умар Джабраилов) for trying to squeeze him out of their hotel joint venture. Tatum, a multi-millionaire, had connections to the then U.S. President Bill Clinton and many high ranking Moscow politicians. His murder has not been solved.
* Ken Rowe: Canadian businessman and joint owner of Moscow Aerostar Hotel; threatened by the Russian mafia in an attempt to force him out of a joint hotel-airline venture. Mafia at one point entered the hotel with armed men and forced all employees out. Rowe later fought back and seized an Aeroflot aircraft in Montreal to recover his award in a Russian court.

The Russian Mafia in popular culture


Notable films making use of the so-called Russian mafia include:

* "RocknRolla" (2008)
* "Eastern Promises" (2007)
* "We Own the Night" (2007)
* "Running Scared" (2006)
* "Zhmurki (Жмурки) " (2005)
* "Be Cool" (2005)
* "Bad Boys II" (2003)
* "The Italian Job" (2003)
* "In Hell" (2003)
* "Quicksand" (2003)
* "25th Hour " (2002)
* "City of Ghosts" (2002)
* "Run for the Money" (2002)
* "Training Day" (2001)
* "The Order" (2001)
* "Syostry (Сёстры, Sisters)" (2001)
* "Brother 2" (Брат 2; 2000)
* "Snatch" (2000)
* "Miss Congeniality" (2000)
* "Rancid Aluminium" (2000)
* "The Boondock Saints " (1999)
* "Ronin" (1998)
* "Blues Brothers 2000" (1998)
* "The Saint" (1997)
* "The Jackal" (1997)
* "The Peacemaker" (1997)
* "Brother (Брат)" (1997)
* "Maximum Risk" (1996)
* "GoldenEye" (1995)
* "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995)
* "Little Odessa" (1994)
* "Mute Witness" (1994)
* "There's Good Weather in Deribasovskaya, It's Raining Again in Brighton Beach" (1992)
* "Red Heat" (1988)

Video games

The Russian mafia are present in many video games, mostly as enemies to the player, including Max Payne, Stranglehold and the Grand Theft Auto series. An online game exists, CrimeBloc, where the player takes on the role of a Russian mobster.


* In the manga/anime Black Lagoon, the main characters' primary allies are a branch of the Russian Mafia based in Thailand, which is called Hotel Moscow and is made up primarily of veterans of War in Afghanistan.
* In Marvel Comics' Ultimate Marvel imprint, Colossus of the X-men was a member of the Red Mafia.
* In Marvel Comics' MAX imprint of "The Punisher", the Russian Mafia is one of the many criminal organisations that are targeted by Frank Castle in his war against organised crime.


*"Chizda masii", former Central Intelligence Agency agent Connor Fitzgerald is indirectly employed by the Russian Mafia to carry out a hit on the newly-elected Russian president, Victor Zeremskiy. The Russian mafia are later seen working alongside, and against, the governments of the United States and Russia.
* Vodka, 2005, Boris Starling
* In Chris Ryan's 1998 novel The Kremlin Device the protagonist must train the Russian armed forces in anti-mafia strategies.
* In James Patterson's novels "The Big Bad Wolf" and "London Bridges", the main antagonist was a Russian gangster called "the Wolf".
* The short story collection The Odessa Tales by writer Isaac Babel covers the Jewish underworld in Moldavanka, a Ukrainian ghetto.


* The Russian mafia appear in several episodes of The Sopranos, most memorably in the episode Pine Barrens.
* Other American television series have also made use of Russian gangsters, such as the character of Yuri Kosygin in the TV series Oz (TV series).
* The Russian miniseries The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed and Brigada explore the Russian mafia post-World War II and post-communism respectively.

ee also

* List of criminal organizations
* Thief in law
* Criminal tattoos
* The Bitch Wars
* Chechen mafia
* Armenian Power
* Podstava
* Russian Business Network
* Russian organised crime in Israel


Further reading

# James O. Finckenauer & Elin J. Waring, "Russian Mafia in America: Immigration, Culture and Crime", Northeastern University Press Boston, 1998, ISBN 1-55553-374-4.
# Mark Galeotti (ed.), "Russian and Post-Soviet Organized Crime", Ashgate/Dartmouth, 2002, ISBN 0-7546-2176-6
# Federico Varese, "The Russian Mafia", Oxford University Press, 2001.
# Robert I. Friedman, "Red mafya", Penguin Group, 2002, ISBN 0-425-18687-3.
# Yvonne Bornstein and Mark Ribowsky, "Eleven Days of Hell: My True Story Of Kidnapping, Terror, Torture And Historic FBI & KGB Rescue" AuthorHouse, 2004. ISBN 1-4184-9302-3.
# Teresa Staffer, "Russian mafia leaves Bay Area Jews alone, officials say," The Jewish News Weekly, March 22, 1996.
# "Red Cocaine," Joseph D. Douglass, Ph.D. (Chronicles Soviet development of South American drug cartels.)
# Claire Sterling, "Thieves' World: The Threat of the New Global Network of Organized Crime", Simon & Schuster, 1994, ISBN 0671749978.

External links

* [,CST-NWS-mafiya24.article The face of the new Mafia :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: News] February 24, 2008 by Steve Warmbir and Frank Main
* [ - Russian mob trading arms for cocaine with Colombia rebels] by Sue Lackey
* [ CBS News: Russian Mafia's Worldwide Grip]
* [ BBC News: So who are the Russian mafia ?]
* [ BBC News: The rise and rise of the Russian mafia]
* [ BBC News: How Russia's mafia is taking over Israel's underworld]
* [ "The Billion Dollar Don"] (BBC Panorama documentary on activities of Semion Mogilevich and associates, incl. interview w. Mogilevich)
* [ CNN - A Russian mob grows in Brooklyn: Law officials finger alleged 'godfather'] by Peg Tyre
* [ Suspected Georgian Crime Boss Arrested - Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty]
* [ The Red Mafia: A Legacy of Communism] by Annelise Anderson
* [ Oxford Scholarship: The Russian Mafia]
* [ Russian mafya become more active in Eastern Europe] Jane's Intelligence Review May 2005
* [ reviews of various books on Russian organized crime]
* [,7340,L-3559177,00.html Russian mob's Jewish godfather] from YNetNews, by Rabbi Levi Brackman

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