Russian History


Organized Crime

By early 1994, crime was second only to the national economy as a domestic issue in Russia. In January 1994, a report prepared for President Yeltsin by the Analytical Center for Social and Economic Policies was published in the national daily newspaper Izvestiya . According to the center, between 70 and 80 percent of private enterprises and commercial banks were forced to pay protection fees to criminal organizations, which in Russia received the generic label mafiya . Unlike organized crime in other countries, which controls only such criminal activities as drug trafficking and gambling, and specific types of legitimate enterprise such as municipal trash collection, the Russian crime organizations have gained strong influence in a wide variety of economic activities. In addition, beginning with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the weakening of border controls, Russia has been drawn into the network of international organized crime. In this way, Russia has become a major conduit for the movement of drugs, contraband, and laundered money between Europe and Asia. In 1995 an estimated 150 criminal organizations with transnational links were operating in Russia.

Among the main targets of organized crime are businesses and banks in Russia's newly privatized economy and foreigners--both individual and corporate--in possession of luxury goods or the hard currency (see Glossary) to purchase them. Many of Russia's mafiya figures began their "careers" in the black market during the communist era. They are now able to operate overtly and are increasingly brazen. Many current and former government officials and businesspeople have been identified as belonging to the mafiya network.

The 1994 report to the president described collusion between criminal gangs and local law enforcement officials, which made controlling crime especially difficult. The enforcement problem, which became acute in 1993, was exacerbated by overtaxation, confusing regulations, and the absence of an effective judicial system. By 1993 criminal groups had moved into commercial ventures, using racketeering, kidnapping, and murder to intimidate competition. In 1994 an MVD official estimated that there were 5,700 criminal gangs in Russia, with a membership of approximately 100,000.

In March 1995, Vladislav List'ev, a prominent television journalist, was assassinated. List'ev had been a supporter of efforts to stop corruption in state television, where large amounts of advertising revenues were being extorted by organized crime. A Russian news agency reported that, between 1992 and mid-1995, there had been eighty-three attempts--forty-six of which were successful--to kill bankers and businesspeople. In 1996 contract killings remained a regular occurrence, especially in Moscow.