Summer of 1985, Vladimir Babushkin (Vasya Brilliant (Vasya Diamond)), one of the most distinguished figures in the criminal world of the 20th century, died in Bely Lebed (White Swan) maximum security penal colony in Solikamsk, Perm krai. Many people believe that his death has marks the end of the epoch of ‘true’ thieves-in-law.
Vasya Brilliant spent in detention 35 years of his life out of the 57 – except for prison breaks. In strict adherence to the old thieves’ principles, he had hadn’t worked a single day, never collaborated with authorities, did not serve in the military, was never married, and never sought personal enrichment.
Throughout its entire history, the Soviet penitentiary system had attempted to put crowned thieves under its control – but it failed to suppress Babushkin. He had demonstratively ignored all requirements of the prison administration, never entered the bitches’ zone (cells of inmates collaborating with the authorities), never wore the prison uniform, could resist the person on duty, etc. For such deeds, Vasya Brilliant was reprimanded and penalized on a regular basis – but he never bowed down.
At the same time, he did not look like a rebel – Babushkin was a quiet elderly person wearing glasses. However, other inmates had deeply respected the legendary thief and obeyed his orders.
In the 1990s, a new moral has established itself in the country, including the criminal world. The old thieves’ code became obsolete. Owners of underground workshops came out of the shadow, new businessmen emerged, various organized criminal groups started struggling for power disregarding the centralized thieves’ structure. At that time, any ambitious criminal could create his own gang, while former athletes, law enforcement officers, and military men returning from conflict zones were joining the criminal world en masse. All these factors have diluted the thieves’ society and introduced new behavior models into it.
At the same time, many people in the country could finally afford things they used to dream about – foreign-made cars, appliances, clothes, and travels abroad. It became prestigious to be rich – not scary anymore.
Wealth became the primary goal for criminal ‘authorities’ and then – for thieves-in-law. Everybody likes dolce vita – and unlike crowned thieves of the past, new criminal lords drive expensive cars, live in luxury homes, and resemble businessmen in many ways – they marry, own casinos, restaurants, and hotels, and maintain friendly relations with governmental functionaries.
Typical representatives of the ‘elite’ of that time were officials/businessmen having ties with the criminal world or criminal ‘authorities’ having ties with the local administration – i.e. powerfully built men in raspberry-red blazers wearing massive gold chains on their necks. It became possible to buy the thieves’ status – and so-called ‘mandarins’ (usually, natives of former Transcaucasian republics making big money on fruit trade) joined the criminal society.
It became as prestigious to be a thief-in-law as to be a prince or count – these titles were also available for sale. Stars had entertained the both categories of ‘aristocrats’ in a similar way – and members of their audience were increasingly frequently mentioned in society columns. The thieves’ world started turning glamorous.
Party with shooting
In fall 2017, criminal ‘authorities’ have again demonstrated to the public how are they partying. A shooting incident occurred during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Dmitry Pavlov (Pavlik), a leader of Izmailovskie organized criminal group, in Crystall Ball Room restaurant in the OKO tower of Moscow City. Body guards of one of the guests had a conflict over a parking spot with private security guards retained by the establishment.
The media became aware that Valery Meladze, Grigory Leps, and Lyubov Uspenskaya were supposed to entertain the guests, while Valdis Pelsh had to host the show. In addition, such well-known in the criminal world persons as thieves-in-law Oleg Shishkanov (Shishkan) and Sergei Aksenov (Aksen), who have taken charge of Izmailovskie gang jointly with Pavlik after the death of Anton Malevsky, attended the celebration to congratulate the ‘authority’. According to The CrimeRussia source, several Deputies of the State Duma were among the guests. REN TV reports that in addition to crowned thieves and Deputies, Sergei Lalakin (Luchok (Little Onion)), leader of Podolskie organized criminal group; Sergei Mikhailov (Mikhas), leader of Solntsevskie organized criminal group; and billionaire (the 82nd position in the Russian Forbes Rating) Gavril Yushvaev, former co-owner of Wimm-Bill-Dann Foods, earlier prosecuted for robbery and known in certain circles as Garik Makhachkala, were also present there. It were his bodyguards who have initiated the conflict resulting in the death of an officer of Okhrana (Protection) Federal State Unitary Enterprise of the National Guard of Russia and several more injuries.
Meladze, Leps, and Pelsh had later denied their announced participation in that party. Only Lyubov Uspenskaya confirmed that she was invited there – but after being notified of a shooting incident in the restaurant, she decided not to go there.
In fact, the appearance of Uspenskaya wouldn’t surprise anybody at that birthday party – singers glorifying the criminal romanticism are very popular among the people they are singing about. Shufutinsky, Willi Tokarev, Vyacheslav Medyanik, and, of course, Mikhail Krug – all these artists were spotted alongside thieves-in-law who had apparently inspired the chansonniers.
Money and beneficial friendship perspectives have attracted to the criminal world even representatives of other singing genres – above-mentioned Meladze, Dmitry Malikov, Sergei Glyzin, Vyacheslav Dobrynin, Aleksander Serov, Soso Pavliashvili, Aleksander Rozenbaum, Vakhtang Kikabidze, and other media personalities had close ties with crowned thieves.
Favorite singer ‘of the entire country’
Grigory Leps – who, according to Dmitry Peskov, Deputy Chief of the Presidential Executive Office and Presidential Press Secretary, is the favorite singed of Vladimir Putin and the entire country – also does not make a secret of his friendship with representatives of the criminal society.
According to the US Department of the Treasury, Leps had acted as a courier in the criminal community; he worked for thief-in-law Vladislav Leontiev (Vadik Bely (Vadik the White)).
In 2013, the USA designated him a member of Brothers’ Circle criminal syndicate. Recently he was denied entry to the UK on these grounds. A few days ago, Israel has joined these states. According to The CrimeRussia source, in 2013, Leps had tried to release from jail his detained friend – crowned thief Dzhemal Mikeladze (Dzhemo). Leps has personally contributed $100 thousand to the polled cash fund collected for Dzhemo and called other people asking them to help.
In 2012, Leps attended the birthday party of thief-in-law Sergei Asatryan (Osetrina Mladshy(Sturgeon Meat Junior) or Serezha Bentley). Jointly with Radik Yusupov (Drakon (Drake)), leader of Sevastopolskie gang, he had visited somebody’s tomb in Kazan in the period when Yusupov was supposed to serve a term in a penal colony. In Latvia, Leps had met with crowned thiefLasha Dzheladze (Racha) and local ‘authoritative’ businessmen having ties with various Russian organized criminal groups. According to his own words, he has been maintaining friendly relations with members of the criminal world since the beginning of his singing career in Sochi. In addition, Sochi ‘authority’ Sergei Chkhetiani (Chkhet) is a second uncle of Grigory Leps.
Lepsveridze (this is the true last name of the singer) reportedly owes his success in the show business to some influential thief-in-law. Vyacheslav Medyanik told in an interview that in 2004, they were singing together with Leps at a party thrown in celebration of the return of Vyacheslav Ivankov (Yaponchik), ‘godfather of Russian mafia’, from the USA. The large audience consisted exclusively of crowned thieves – according to Vyacheslav Medyanik, it was a big honor for him to entertain them. The performance was successful, the main spectator was happy, and the artists’ refusal to accept payment touched the heart of Yaponchik who has personally commended their talent.
‘Patriarch’ of the Russian stage
Iosif Kobzon, another famous and respected singer and currently a Deputy of the State Duma, had also maintained friendly relations with Yaponchik. The American authorities don’t appreciate such ties – since 1995, the singer has been barred from entering the country. In addition to Ivankov, Kobzon had ties with another prominent figure of the early 1990s – Otari Kvantrishvili (Otarik) – and even planned to establish together with him a political party entitled Dvizhenie “Sportivnaya Rossia” (Sports Russia Movement). The political career of Kobzon could begin much earlier – but the assassination of Kvantrishvili in 1994 delayed his ascension to the official circles of power.
Otarik was not a thief, but had wielded a great authority – the following people came to pay last respects to him in addition to Kobzon and ‘bros’: singers Bogdan Titomir and Aleksander Rozenbaum, athletes Aleksander Karelin, Aleksander Tikhonov, Shota Mamalashvili, Igor Kochnevsky, Valery Vasiliev, Aleksander Yakushev, Aleksander Maltsev, and Olympic boxing champion Stanislav Stepashkin. According to witnesses, the funeral resembled an Olympic games opening.
According to Gennady Snustikov, ex-producer of Kirkorov, following his request, Otari has once greatly helped the singer by ‘settling’ the situation with creditors Philipp was owing big money to. Alla Pugacheva also admitted that Kvantrishvili had assisted her and made approaches to her.
In fact, many people were courting the diva at that time. Late ‘authoritative’ businessman Shabtai Kalmanovich, affiliated with Solntsevskie gang, having friendly ties with many thieves-in-law, and murdered in 2009, claimed that if it were not for Philipp, Alla would become his wife. He was one of her sponsors and paid for almost all her birthday parties.
According to one of the versions, his assassination was masterminded by his rivals at the weapons market. According to another version, the reason behind the murder of Kalmanovich was a conflict around Dorogomilovsky market. Alla Pugacheva, Maksim Galkin, Iosif Kobzon, Zemfira, Aleksander Rozenbaum, and other stars came to pay last respects to him.
Kalmanovich and Kobzon had a joint business – in 1993, they have established a Russian-Hungarian pharmaceutical company named Liat-Nataly after their children. The joint venture had also a chain of brand-name sports wear stores in Moscow and St. Petersburg; up until 1994, it was one of the biggest distributors of Nike and later – Puma products.
In the early 1980s, Kobzon introduced Pugacheva to another member of Brothers’ Circle – businessman Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov (Taivanchik). According to the prima donna, she had already heard of him as an amazing assistant to Sofia Rotaru. Later he started assisting Pugacheva as well, especially in her foreign trips.
Famous crowned thief Vasily Khristoforov (Vasya Voskres (Vasya Resurrected)) is no stranger to the show business as well.
Younger thieves prefer different music and, accordingly, different artists. For instance, Sergei Asatryan (Osetrina Mladshy (Sturgeon Meat Junior) or Serezha Bentley) was spotted with rapper Dino MC-47.
In fact, the rap culture originating from criminal black ghettos of America is actively using the domestic thievish themes.
Crime and entertainment stars
Some artists don’t limit themselves to friendly or business relations with members of the thieves’ world – but actually become their relatives.
In 2011, Ukrainian songstress Anastasia Prikhodko, member of the Star Factory Russia, who had represented our country at Eurovision 2009, has introduced to the public her daughter Nana and common-law partner Nuri Kukhilava, son of Sukhumi native Antimos Kukhilava (Antik, Antimos), the most famous thief-in-law in Ukraine expelled from the country two years earlier for violations of passport regulations.
The star told that they were introduced to each other by common friends. After the birth of their daughter, the husband took them on a trip to his parents living in a lovely large home in Antalya. The local law enforcement authorities have confirmed that it was the place of residence of Antimos. According to them, after the expulsion, the crowned thief was supposed to be escorted to Georgia and jailed – but he reportedly managed to flee to Spain for $3 million and then relocate to Turkey. The couple have separated in 2013. In 2016, Antimos returned to Ukraine. Next year, Nurik was arrested in Odessa. According to unofficial information, father and son Kukhilava control smuggling flows and Caucasian pickpockets and bag snatchers – however, the law enforcement authorities have only charged Kukhilava with violations of the Ukrainian rules of stay.
Opera singer Maria Maksakova met thief-in-law Vladimir Tyurin (Tyurik) in the early 2000s. He had showered her with gifts – from expensive vehicles and diamonds to luxury apartments – and finally got into graces. They lived together for 15 years and have two children.
However, in 2011, she joined Edinaya Rossia (United Russia) Party and became a Deputy of the State Duma – at that time, an explanation has been posted on the party web site stating that Maksakova “was never officially married” and expressing “a sincere perplexity” in relation to a Novaya Gazeta publication claiming that Tyurik was her husband.
In March 2015, Maria has officially married Denis Voronenkov, a Deputy of the State Duma representing the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF). Next year, she gave birth to their son. On March 23, 2017, Voronenkov was shot dead near Premier Palace Hotel in the center of Kiev where they have relocated shortly before that to avoid criminal prosecution of Voronenkov for raiding takeover of a building in the center of Moscow. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine named Vladimir Tyurin, first husband of Maksakova, the mastermind behind this crime. Maksakova agreed with this conclusion; she believes that Tyurikhad both personal and commercial motives to assassinate Voronenkov.
Another once-bright star of the Russian show business – Yulia Volkova, ex-singer of t.A.T.u. duo – apparently has an affair with thief-in-law Georgy Zarandia (Giya Galsky). Their joint photos started appearing on the Internet a few years ago with star’s comments explaining how important it is to have a person nearby who believes, supports, loves, etc. It was even reported that the couple have married because Yulia is going to give birth to their child.
Zarandia was born in 1979 in Abkhazia (he is a Georgian citizen). Currently he resides in Moscow and controls criminal groups of pickpockets, bag snatchers, and burglars.
Zarandia was crowned in summer 2011 in the Kaluga region by brothers Gela and Gizo Kordava, Vladimir Zhurakovsky (Vova Pukhly (Vova the Chubby)), Roland Gegechkori (Roland Shlyapa (Roland the Hat)), and Merab Mzarelua (Duyak). In 2012, he was arrested with fake ID’s and 50 grams of hashish. In 2014, he was arrested again in Moscow – this time, for a trivial violation of immigration rules and lack of household registration. In 2016, Zarandia was arrested with a fake passport and expelled from the county again. However, every time he had returned to the Russian capital after a little while.
Volkova refuted the rumors about her alleged pregnancy and marriage; however, photos showing the glamour–crime alliance continue appearing on the Internet.
In the meantime, some members of the criminal world are trying to become entertainment stars themselves. For instance, Aleksander Severov (Sasha Sever (Sasha North)), former overseerof the Tver region, lost the thieves’ title because of his too frequent appearances on TV. After his release in 2012, Sasha Sever started not only giving interviews to federal TV channels but also singing on public.
In fact, he had a strong reason for that – Severov was a friend of his famous fellow countryman Mikhail Krug. According to a legend, the singer has dedicated Vladimirsky Tsentral (Vladimir Central Prison) song to him. However, other thieves haven’t appreciated his creative impulses and decrowned Sasha Sever in 2014 for deviation from thieves’ traditions.
The relaxation of the thieves’ rules taking place in the 1990s included, in addition to the possibility to have a family (even though an unofficial one in most cases), the right to own luxury. The arrest of Shakro Molodoy has clearly demonstrated this to the entire country.
This is his home in the metropolitan area.
In fact, he always liked luxury – below is his home in Georgia:
In the Soviet period, people could demonstrate their affiliation with the thieves’ caste only by certain tattoos – for instance, stars ,or strips with epaulets, or signet rings on fingers. Now they use special license plate numbers of VOR (thief) series to be visible on the road.
Aside from the wealth and position in the criminal hierarchy, modern thieves are no strangers to other sweets of life – they want to look modern and stylish.
It must be admitted though there are very few stylish persons among them – sports suits and leather jackets used by bandits as clothes for everyday wear back in the 1990s are still popular in the 21st century and exchanged for a blazer only in exceptional circumstances.
Thieves are active users of modern technologies – cell phone became the most important attribute of their life: it allows to control ‘bros’ even from jail, participate in thieves’ congregations via messengers, and recruit new gang members on social networks.
Thieves-in-law are also adopting such advanced media tools as PR campaigns and information wars. They gain support of their associates and send threats to rivals via social networks.
In observable future, inmates may start receiving ‘circular letters’ through bulk e-mailing or via messengers – while crowned thieves, being respectable people of our time, are going to appear soon on glossy magazine covers, communicate with convicts via their press services, and steal money exclusively from the state budget.