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The rise of the new Russian – or Eurasian – gangster

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Forget about the tattooed, ex-gulag Russian gangster stereotype portrayed in Hollywood films, or the vory v zakone (‘thieves within the law’) mobster elite, once considered the “judges” of the criminal world. The new type of outlaw rising in Russia as well as in other post-soviets republics is essentially the criminal entrepreneur, the avtoritet gangster businessman, according to Mark Galeotti, professor at New York University (NYU). A leading expert on Russian organized crime, and author of the blog In Moscow’s Shadows, he spoke at NYU Prague last Tuesday, March 19, on the topic of Russian Organized Crime: the Myth, the Reality, the Threat.

“The avtoritet wants to be invited to the ambassador’s reception, wants to be able to travel freely so he can spend his money in the boutiques of London or go to the beaches of Saint Tropez. He doesn’t just involve himself in crimes. He probably has a whole portfolio of businesses, ranging from the essentially legal to something somewhere on the borderline,” described Galeotti, who discussed this new type of mobster through the case of the Armenian gangster Andranik Soghoyan. He was sentenced in absentia last month by the Prague Municipal Court to 22 years in jail for ordering the murder of an Armenian businessman.

According to Galeotti, although Soghoyan was a vor, he was not the old-style gangster, who was mostly a “thief for the sake of thievery.” Instead, he was typical of the new kind of outlaw, who is only interested in money, as it can buy, above all, security and respect in the criminal world.

The initial influx of gangsters from the former Soviet Union into the Czech Republic in the 1990s was largely controlled. According to Galeotti, though, there is a new wave coming, working in a new way: “Whereas they used to come as conquistadors, planning to conquer virgin territories, now they come as merchant-adventurers, offering all kinds of opportunities – heroin business, money laundering, cybercrime, contract killing – to local organized crime gangs.”

There are several reasons why the Czech Republic is an attractive destination for these emerging Eurasian gangsters, especially those who operate in and through Russia. Its central location means it can serve as a great hub for redistribution, particularly with the increasing amount of drugs heading towards Western Europe through Russia. It has a good, safe, solid and stable banking system, at a time the gangsters now fear the further collapse of the financial system. Moreover, gangsters feel the need to look for respectable places, not known as criminal havens, to stash their money.

The upside of the story is that this new avtoritet is not unbeatable. “Czech and European institutions are far stronger now than they were on the 1990s, and the nature of the challenge is much more well understood. The very changes that are taking place will make the criminals more vulnerable as well,” concluded Mark Galeotti.

The author is a student of Professor Mark Galeotti, from New York University.

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