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Russian Organized Crime


 From personal experience as both a student of social sciences(criminology, criminal justice and psychology) and as a forensic criminologist, I have noticed that topics related to criminal justice and criminology tend to focus only on America and American interests, even in the post 9/11 world, there is a tendency to view and concern ourselves only with criminology issues that are occurring in America, almost as if we are living in a bubble, were transnational/international crime does not and is not a concern to the average American citizen. This is an extremely limited view point.

Transnational crime has become (and every indication is that it will continue to be) a global criminal justice issue that does impact America and American interests. Groups that are engaged in transitional crime have been linked to drug trafficking, arms trafficking, and human trafficking (just to name a few). Also, evidence suggests that transnational criminal groups are working together to form larger criminal enterprises.

For example:

 IN testimony before the U.S. Senate FBI director Louis Freeh stated that some 27 ROC groups had been identified as operating in the United States. The activities of these groups are believed to center primarily around such major U.S. Cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and New York. Other countries with a known ROC presence include Germany with 47 groups, Italy with 60 groups. (Butler, 2012)

In addition:

 Britain’s Daily News wrote a year ago that the Russian Mafia controlled 70% of the Russian economy as well as the prostitution businesses in Maco China and Germany. According to British reports the Russian Mafia controls drug trafficking in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan the money laundering groups in Israel Belgium and England (Butler, 2012)

This research report will focus on Russian Organized Crime (ROC) and will serve as a starting point for more in-depth studies of transnational organized crime groups and/or gangs.

Russian Organized Crime

 While it may be tempting to view ROC as a relatively modern phenomenon and/or caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet economy the truth is:

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 WWII many criminals enlisted in the Russian Army resulting in the Suka Wars which killed many of the thieves who were branded as government allies as well as the original thief underworld

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 (Butler, 2012)

ROC groups have always held an interesting position in the Russian/Soviet political system, these groups served as the middle man, so to speak, between government authority on the top and the rank and file citizens on the bottom, the ROC became involved in the black market selling goods and services from the haves (government officials) to those with the need/money to buy them (the rank and file citizens). Since the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s ROC groups have solidified their position as part of the Russian economy and now control most of the banking industry in Russia.

The name Russian Mafia is a name that has been applied to organized crime syndicates or crime groups in Russia and the Ukraine. The term Bratva or brotherhood has been applied to a wide range of organized crime groups that have originated in the former Soviet Union, Russia and the CIS (Common Wealth of Independent States). These groups have expanded in power and influence since 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union. Now only are these groups active in Russia, their influence has also expanded to other parts of the world “In testimony before the U.S. Senate, FBI director Louis Freeh stated that some 27 ROC (Russian Organized Crime) groups had been identified as operating in the United States. The activities of these groups are believed to center primarily around such major U.S. cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and New York. One MVD official stated that ROC activities in the United States include money laundering, illegal money transactions, and narcotics trafficking. Other countries with a known and active ROC presence include Germany, with 47 groups; and Italy, with 60 groups. The MVD estimates that over 100 ROC groups are active in at least 50 countries.”(The Russian Mafia In North America, n.d.)

Crimes connected to Russian Organized Crime include:

“Russian organized crime (ROC) groups participate in both traditional and non-traditional organized criminal activities. They commit the usual street crimes such as extortion, prostitution, drug trafficking, and theft. However, they are better known for their sophisticated non- traditional criminal activities. These include fuel excise tax schemes, money laundering, and many various forms of fraud.”(CJC - Publications - CJI – Archives, n.d.)

As this indicated, Russian Organized crime groups have been connected to everything from prostitution to drug trafficking, these groups are also connected to human trafficking, arms dealing, and narcotics trafficking. Increasingly Russian Organized crime is also being connected to other organized crime groups including the Italian Mafia (La Costra Nostra LCN), Chinese Traids, and Latin American Drug Cartels.

Current evidence suggests that Russian Criminal organizations have formed extensive links with criminal organizations based outside of Russia in Europe, North and South America, the middle and Far East and North Africa. Russian based criminal organizations are known to be involved in criminal activities with many of the major international crime groups including Chinese Triads Columbian drug traffickers. Latest intelligence suggests that 200-300 Russian Mafia groupings of varying size are actively operating in almost 70 counties across both the western and eastern hemispheres and many Russian god fathers are known to have established a permanent base abroad. (Shanty, 2008, p. 145)

Additionally ROC groups have expanded into the Central Asian drug market:

 Russian Mafia expansion into the states of Central Asia opened up the possibility of extending networks into the Asian Market through the Caucasus and into the extensive drug markets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey. From the early 1990s Russian Mafia groups established alliances with Chinese triads although many Chinese gangs were wary of forming close working relationships with Russian Criminals (Shanty, 2008, p. 145)

 Traditionally members of the ROC have come from the Russian prison system, as a result ROC members have a fierce loyalty to one another, and this has resulted in the Thieves Code of Conduct:

Thieves Code of Conduct

 There is a traditional code of conduct within this old style of organized crime in Russia called Vory V Zakone or thieves’ law. This group existed throughout the Soviet era and continues today throughout the republics of the former Soviet Union. In this society the thieves in law live and obey the Vorovskoy Zakon the thieves’ code. The members are bound by 18 codes and if they are broken the transgression is punishable by death.

Law enforcement officials in the former Soviet Union indicate that most of the organized crime groups are well organized with sophisticated technical equipment, computers, transportation, financial support, and an excellent counterintelligence network.

A thief is bound by the code:

 1.Forsake his relatives, mother, father, brothers, sisters

2.Not have a family of his own-no wife, no children, this does not preclude him from having a lover.

3.Never under any circumstances work no matter how much difficulty this brings, live only on means gleaned from thievery.

4.Help other thieves both by moral and material support, utilizing the commune of thieves.

5.Keep secret information about the whereabouts of accomplices

6.In unavoidable situations (if the thief is under investigation) to take the blame for someone else’s crime, this buys the other person time of freedom.

7.Demand convocation of inquiry for the purpose of resolving disputes in the event of a conflict between oneself and other thieves or between thieves.

8.If necessary, participate in such in inquiries

9.Carry out the punishment of the offending thief as decided by the convocation

10.Not resist carrying out the decision of punishing the offending thief who is found guilty, with punishment determination by the convocation

11.Have good command of the thieves jargon(Fehnay)

12.Not gamble without being able to cover losses

13.Teach the trade to young beginners

14.Have if possible informants from the rank and file of thieves.

15.Not lose your reasoning ability when using alcohol

16.Have nothing to do with the authorities not participate in public activities nor join any community organizations

17.Not take weapons from the hands of authorities, not serve in the military

 18. Make good on promises given to other thieves (Russian Organized Crime, n.d.)

Russian Organized Crime in the U.S.

Evidence indicated that ROC groups are active in several areas of the United States including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago:

Brighton Beach area of New York has long been a focus point for U.S. law enforcement efforts against organized crime as the distract contains one of the oldest and most prominent Russian émigré communities in the United States (Shanty, 2008, p. 150)

The ROC in Brighton Beach is known as the Odessa Group.

Additionally FBI estimates place “5000-6000 criminals from the former Soviet Union in the United States and clear evidence of Russian Crime operations has been uncovered in 14 US. States.

Recent FBI reports have identified almost 20 Russian Crime groups operating in the U.S... Activities of which are believed to center primarily around such major U.S. Cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and NYC.”(Shanty, 2008, p. 145)

As with other forms of criminal activity now that ROC has a foothold in the United States it is possible and probably that this group’s influence will begin to spread to other areas of the country.


 This was meant to serve as a brief introduction of Russian organized crime. Additional information will be added shortly.


Butler, J. C. (2012). The Russian Mob. Harvard: Kindle.

CJC - Publications - CJI - Archives. (n.d.). Crime and Justice International Magazine - Sam Houston State University - Home. Retrieved June 11, 2012, from http://www.cjimagazine.com/archives/cjic0fa.html?id=198

Russian Organized Crime. (n.d.). Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved July 16, 2012, from http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/rusorg3

Shanty, F. (2008). Organized crime: from trafficking to terrorism. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio.

 The Russian Mafia In North America - Rcmp Report | Mafia Power Play | FRONTLINE | PBS. (n.d.). PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved June 11, 2012, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/hockey/mafia/csis.html

Transnational Organized Crime | National Institute of Justice. (n.d.). National Institute of Justice: Criminal Justice Research, Development and Evaluation. Retrieved June 11, 2012, from http://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/transnational-organized-crime/welcome.htm