Russian Mafia

Russian Mafia


Territory International, strongholds in former Soviet states; extensive operations in European Union, Middle East, the United States
Ethnicity Primarily Russians, Ukrainians, Chechens, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, etc.
Criminal activities Money laundering, extortion, arms trafficking, cybercrime, human trafficking, prostitution, drug trafficking, arson, counterfeiting, fraud, and larceny

The Russian MafiaRusskaya Mafiya) is a name applied to organized crime syndicates in Russia and Ukraine. The mafia in various countries take the name of the country, as for example the Ukrainian mafia.

Bratva slang for “brotherhood”, which applies to all gangs, including rivals) is a name designating a range of organized crime syndicates originating in the former Soviet Union, Russia and the CIS. Since the August 19–December 26, 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, these groups have amassed considerable worldwide power and influence.They are active in virtually every part of Russian society.Russian criminals are internationally active in the illegal oil trade, human trafficking, drug trafficking, smuggling of weapons and money laundering. In December 2009, Timur Lakhonin, the head of the Russian National Central Bureau of Interpol, stated: “Certainly, there is crime involving our former compatriots abroad, but there is no data suggesting that an organized structure of criminal groups comprising former Russians exists abroad”.



Organized crime has existed in Russia since the days of the Czars in Imperial Russia in the form of banditry and thievery but it could trace its roots even earlier. In the Soviet period vory v zakone or “thieves in law” (understood as “bound by code”) emerged. This class of criminals 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 delicatessen during the Brezhnev era which were hard to reach for the ordinary Soviet citizen.

Fall of the Soviet UnionThe real breakthrough for criminal organizations began in 1988, when the Soviet Union legalised private entrepreneurship, allowing free trade. However the new law said nothing about regulations and security of market economy. Crude markets started forming, the most notorious being the Rizhsky market where prostitution rings were run next to the Rizhsky Railway Station in Moscow. As the Soviet Union headed for its collapse, so too did the economy and resulted in a social decay. 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 the mid-1990s it was believed that the Ukrainian born Semion Mogilevich had become in charge of finance for some Russian Mafia syndicates ( Solntsevskaya bratva), and described by the FBI as “one of the most dangerous men in the world”. By 1993 almost all banks in Russia were owned by the mafia, and 80% of businesses were paying protection money. In that year, 1400 people were murdered in Moscow, crime members killed businessmen who would not pay money to them, as well as reporters, politicians, bank owners and others opposed 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.

Lubyanka Criminal Group BookLubyanka Criminal Group (also translated as The Gang from Lubyanka) is a book by Alexander Litvinenko about the alleged transformation of the Russian Security Services into a criminal and terrorist organization. Lubyanka is known as KGB headquarters. In the book, Litvinenko claims that Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and other FSB officers have been involved in organized crime, including covering up drug traffic from Afghanistan.


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.[15] Vyacheslav “Yaponchik” Ivankov was the first major ethnically Russian organized crime figure prosecuted by the U.S. government, running his extortion operations out of Brighton Beach Brooklyn.[16] Russian organized crime has spread to many other countries as well including Israel, India,[17] Hungary, South Africa, Spain,[18] Thailand[19] and the United Kingdom.

[edit] Individual gangsRussian Mafia gangs are typically called “bratki”, “bratva” meaning “brotherhood” in Russian.

The Solntsevskaya Bratva, or Solntsevskaya brotherhood from Izmaylovo District) was considered one of the country’s most important and oldest Russian Mafia groups in Moscow and also had a presence in Tel Aviv, Berlin, Paris, Toronto, Miami and New York City. It was founded during the 1980s under the leadership of Oleg Ivanov and was estimated to consist of about 200 active members (according to other data of 300–500 people). In principle, the organization was divided into two separate bodies—Izmailovskaya and Gol’yanovskaya  which utilized quasi-military ranks and strict internal discipline. It was involved extensively in murder-for-hire, extortions], and infiltration of legitimate businesses.

The Tambov Gang  of Saint Petersburg.

The Potato Bag Gang, a manifestation of the Odessa Mafia, was a gang of con artists from Odessa that operated in New York City’s Soviet emigre community in the Brighton Beach area of New York City in the mid-1970s.

The Orekhovskaya gang

was a criminal organization based in Moscow] active between the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The Mkhedrioni was a paramilitary group involved in organised crime led by thief-in-law Jaba Ioseliani in 1990s Georgia.
Armenian Power, or AP-13, is a California based street gang and crime syndicate tied to Russian and Armenian organised crime.
The Brothers’ Circle operates in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and the United States of America, according to US Department for Treasury officials. Vladislav Leontyev is considered the most important figure in the group.
Throughout the former Sovjet Union, Europe as well as North America there are organized criminal gangs consisting of ethnic Russians, Russian/Ukrainian Jews and Belarusian Jews, Georgians ( including Svans, Mingrelians, Adjarians and Georgian Jews), Chechens, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Dagestanis, Kyrgyzstanis, Uzbeks, Uyghurs, Yezidi Kurds, Abkhazians, Ossetians, Volga Germans, Lithuanians, Estonians, Moldovans, Ingushetians, Turkmens, Tajiks and Russian Romani people. The term Russian Mafia is sometimes incorrectly used as a colloquial term for all of these gangs.


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