The Russian Mafiya has emerged to become among the largest networks of organized crime in the world. It feeds off the political and economic transitions taking place in Russia, undermining objectives of national reform policies. A gray area between criminal and legal business activity has allowed Mafiya groups to penetrate most areas of the Russian economy and has provided them with a disproportionate amount of influence. Between 5,000 and 6,000 gangs operate within the boundaries of Russia, including several hundred organizations whose activities span the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Central and Western Europe and the United States. These transnational groups are regarded as very sophisticated and are believed to be operating in approximately 29 countries.
What makes the Russian Mafiya unique is its infiltration of key sections of the government bureaucracy. According to government investigators, more than half of the country's criminal groups have ties to the government. A number of Mafiya organizations are fronts for the former Soviet party elites -- the "nomenklatura capitalists" -- who have engaged in illegal activities, including bank fraud, to become wealthy monopoly owners. Further, throughout 1993 successive corruption scandals paralyzed the Yeltsin government; senior commanders of the Red Army were caught in smuggling rings while cabinet ministers and police officials were discovered working for shady commercial firms.
A major group based in Russia is the Georgian Mafiya, which controlled much of the black market under the Communist system and has now extended its range of activities. Two other ethnically oriented organizations include the Chechens and the Azerbaijani groups, who have contributed to a major upsurge in the illegal trafficking of drugs, metals, weapons, nuclear materials and even body organs. Several of the Mafiya groups have infiltrated the Russian banking system and have used tactics of intimidation and violence against bankers and businessmen that do not cooperate.
Among the most influential Mafiya groups in the United States are
the Odessa Mafiya, based in Brighton Beach, NJ, the Chechens, who tend to
concentrate on contract killings and extortion, and the Malina Organizatsia,
a multi-ethnic group also in Brighton Beach that maintains extensive international
connections and is active in a variety of areas including drug trafficking,
credit card and tax fraud and extortion.
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