The World History of Organized Crime: Russia
THE WORLD HISTORY OF ORGANIZED CRIME travels the globe to get an insider's view of some of the most active, dangerous and diabolical criminal syndicates in existence. In the episode about Russia, the breakup of the Soviet Union paving the way for a new breed of ruthless criminals.
Source: History Channel
Organized crime has existed in Russia since the days of the Czars and Imperial Russia in the form of banditry, pornography, and thievery. In the Soviet period Vory v zakone or "thieves in law" emerged. This class of criminal had to abide by certain rules in the prison system. One such rule was that cooperation with the authorities of any kind was forbidden. During World War II some prisoners made a deal with the government to join 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.
During the 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 or extra food during the Brezhnev era which were hard to reach for the ordinary Soviet citizen.
1990s and fall of the Soviet Union
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 former Soviet citizens who moved overseas, and the Russian Mafia became a natural extension of this trend. Former KGB agents, sportsmen and veterans of the Afghan and First and Second Chechen Wars, now finding themselves out-of-work but with experience in areas which could prove useful in crime, joined the increasing crime wave. Widespread corruption, poverty and distrust of authorities only contributed to the rise of organized crime. Contract killings, Bombings and Kidnappings reached an all-time high with many gangland murders taking place, a substantial number remaining unsolved. By 1993 almost all banks in Russia were owned by the mafia, and 80% of businesses were paying up protection money. In that year 1400 people were murdered in Moscow, crime members killed businessmen who would not pay money to them, reporters, politicians, bank owners and other opposition to them. 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 extinction. By the late nineties it was believed that Semion Mogilevich ("Don Semyon") had become the "boss of all bosses" of most Russian Mafia syndicates in the world, and was considered by the FBI to be the most powerful crime-boss on earth.
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.. Due to the soviet breakup, thousands of arms were smuggled into the black market. Missiles, anti-aircraft guns, helicopters, tactical assault weapons, were sold to the highest bidders. Submarines were sold to drug lords, as well as illegal sale of uranium and Plutonium on the black market