Russia: October 19, 2004


The Chechen Mafia continues to be a major factor behind Russias troubles in Chechnya and in the entire country as a whole. In fact, the Chechen criminal elements may already present more of a problem to federal authorities alone than rebel insurgents. Chechnya is already one of the most dangerous places on earth, with guerrilla fighters, lots of buried land mines, and a corrupt and brutal Russian military and security presence. The Chechen criminal groups have long been one of the major powers in the criminal underworld of the Former Soviet Union, especially in the Russian Federation, where they challenge other ethnic criminal gangs for power. Like most of the organized crime groups operating in Russia, the Chechens are sophisticated, violent, and their range of activities know few limits. Thus, they represent a major threat to Russias security. This threat is enhanced further by the groups relationship with the rebel insurgents in Chechnya. Given Chechnyas all but anarchic state, the region has long been an ideal place for drug smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, and arms smuggling. During the 1994-1996 Chechen War and the current conflict, the Chechen criminal gangs have made a killing selling high-tech weapons to the rebel insurgents, many of whom may also be criminal elements themselves. With the Russian military and security services so corrupt and willing to sell off their weapons, the flow of weapons into criminal and rebel hands has gone relatively unchecked. In cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Chechen gangs control a large portion of the underworld and are known to conduct assassinations and others attacks on law enforcement and government officials. The criminals, many of them hardened by battle experience against the Russian Army in their homeland, make excellent criminal material. Given the never-ending control that criminal gangs have over the Russian nation, it is almost guaranteed that the Chechen mob will continue to destabilize Russia for the long-term future. Organized crime continues to be Russias number one security threat. Some estimates claim that as many as 80 percent of all Russian banks are controlled either directly or indirectly by the mob. The number of individual organized crime groups in the nation is certainly in the thousands, but exact numbers are difficult to estimate. One of the most powerful, the Solntsevskaya crime family, boasts around 5,000 members. -- Rory Walkinshaw


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