Site Agentura.Ru - on behalf of national security
Fighting terrorismTerrorist attacksTerrorist organizationsParliamentary control
© , 2000-2006 .
TopList Rambler's Top100 ServiceRambler's Top100 Service

Organized crime in Russia. How to struggle in favor of legality?

Lecture of editor of Agentura.Ru Andrei Soldatov for Fondazione internazionale Lelio Basso per il diritto e la liberazione dei popoli. / Rome, June 10, 2005 /

Its a subject of my report. But the subject is very common, and you can find here too many aspects - political, economic, ethnic etc. I have to say, that my job is to cover intelligence and law enforcement services activity. Im the editor of Agentura.Ru - web-site, devoted to secret services. So, I want to tell you about problems of our law enforcement services in the fight against organized crime.

First of all, we need to agree what we mean when we talk about organized crime in Russia.

Its not surprise that Russian organized crime have the same main features as European organized crime:

  • Participation in drug business. Russia is not only customer but transit country for drug trafficking from Asian countries, and especially Afghanistan. This danger is growing up, and two years ago Putin had to form separate special service to fight against drug trafficking.
  • Arms trade. Its a very profitable business because of mostly uncontrolled arms storage in the Russian Army and the war in Chechnya. Not secret it is possible for some officers in Chechnya to sell all kinds of arms without risk.
  • Racket or protection of the companies. Its a profitable business in Russia, not only for organized crime groups, but crime groups, which act under cover of private security agencies. Sometimes its even difficult to understand whether it is a security agencies or criminals. As example, there was a notorious trial last year, when former colonel of foreign intelligence service, chief of one of the top Russian private security agency has been found guilty in extortion. Most interesting in this story is a fact that this former colonel has been working for 3 years (until this arrest) as a chairman of one non-official organization - Consultative Council of FSB. This Council was established in order to improve FSB image.
  • Links between Organized crime and terrorists. Its a natural, casual situation. As example one of main target for surveillance to Russian secret services is Chechen Diaspora in Moscow. Criminal part of the diaspora supports financially Chechen terrorists.
  • Ethnic character of many organized crime groups. Russia is multinational country, so we have huge number of ethnic mafia-groups. The reasons are very simple and we can compare them with conditions in Sicile, when mafia has been organized as partisan response to pressure of invaders. The same thing we see in Russia - high level of xenophobia, pressure of national minority by law enforcement services provides the growth of mafia-structures.
  • Last but not least. Mafia penetration in government, law enforcement agencies, secret services. We will discuss this subject a little bit later.

Russian features of fight against organized crime:

First that you should do in this fight is to infiltrate organized crime groups. Its inevitable condition for success. In Russia this activity is accompanied by strong fear of our secret services. They are concerned about mafia penetration in law enforcement agencies. This fear is justified.

There are the reasons:

  • Recruitment and personnel problems. Experienced officers have left law enforcement services for last 15 years because of small salary, as a result these services lost many specialists, on other hand corruption is growing up. Former officers sell not only their skills but their connections inside Police and secret services.
  • Absence of civilian control. According to Russian law the control under law enforcement services is a duty of Office of Public Prosecutor. Actually the most corruption cases inside these services are initiated by self-security division. As a result, these structures are out of control.
  • Specific features of Russian ethnic organized crime. One example: some time ago Ive been invited at the meeting of the reach big Gorgeous family. The Family was discussing future of the youngest sister. At last chief of family had proposed to make the sister responsible for family hotel business on the Black Sea. I asked: Have you decided to appoint her executive director? Answer was very important - No, she will start working in MVD.
  • People who were connected to organized crime now became economic elite. And now they can influence on manpower policy of law enforcement services.

But what kind of law enforcement services is responsible for fight against organized crime in Russia?

We considered there is not organized crime in the Soviet Union, so the system of fight against the organized crime has been formed only after the Soviet Union collapsed.

In 90-s this system consisted of 3 services:

  1. Inside Ministry of Internal Affairs - GUBOP is main directorate of fight against organized crime. It includes syteme of RUOPs (regional divisions of GUBOP).
  2. Inside Federal security service (FSB). Two divisions: Department of economic security and URPO (Division for investigation of crime organizations).
  3. At last, tax police (FSNP). In our country this service has investigated not only tax crimes, but all kinds of economic crimes, including activity of organized crime groups.

So lets see what has happened with this system.


MVD is the main Russian law enforcement service responsible for fight against organized crime and mafia. In early 90-s Russian legislation was not adapted to this kind of crime. It was impossible to organize effective fight in frames of legality.

As a result in 1992 group of young MVD officers have created RUOP in Moscow - Regional division for fight against organized crime. Vladimir Rushailo has been named a chief of RUOP in Moscow. Later GUBOP was formed in the level of Ministry.

RUOP officers believed that the result is more important than legality. Their methods were effective, but not strictly legitimate: they used organized crime groups in struggle against each other.

Their mission was to clear Moscow streets, but not to destroy organized crime. They protected businessmen but not free-of-charge. Finally people called RUOP the most powerful organized crime group as they can abuse the power of law.

RUOP was involved in criminal situation, and it was so far from legality, but RUOP had real contacts inside organized crime, and officers got real information about events in mafia groups.

In the middle of 90-s the parking near RUOP headquarter was very interesting place - it was an exhibition of new luxury sport style cars, mercedeces and expensive jeeps.

RUOP became independent structure because of knowledge of sensitive information. Rushailo was very powerful person, sometimes more powerful then head of the ministry of internal affairs. And we should remember that in that time oligarchs grew rich. Some of them used their links with RUOP.

As a result, in 1999 Rushailo was appointed as a head of Ministry of internal affairs due to his friendship with Boris Berezovsky - oligarch, who had elected the actual president Vladimir Putin.

Rushailo proposed the reform of MVD, which includes creation of new special investigative service - Russian analog of FBI.

But such situation could not be proceeded very long. When Putin became independent from Berezovsky, he decided to make FSB main Russian special service. In 2001 Rushailo had to retire and his close friend Vladimir Kozlov, deputy chief of MVD and chief of GUBOP, also had to resign. Then system of RUOPs was destroyed.

It was new stage of reform in MVD.

We can call it FSB period in MVD, because new head of ministry - Boris Gryzlov - has appointed generals of FSB to key posts. By the way, Gryzlovs successor, actual head of ministry Rashid Nurgaliev, is also general of FSB.

New MVD management had decided to refuse methods of RUOPs.

It was crucial change of tactics.

Yes, there were many facts of corruption in the time of RUOP, but it was the period of approach to the organized crime. Now, in terms of chess it was transition to defense. And it was passive defense. New tendency of MVD is the fear that organized crime will be able to penetrate inside MVD.

It was the main reason why new head of ministry decided to appoint to key post FSB generals. The most interesting fact is that these persons remain FSB generals. Their mission inside MVD was to make the Ministry free from interior enemies. Cleaning of MVD is a leitmotif.

As result we get now a few big trials of top-officers of MVD accused of corruption, racket etc. This operation was called Hunting for werewolves in MVD. Coordinator of this operation is chief of Division of MVD self-security, general FSB Romadanovsky.

And whats about the fight against organized crime?

After RUOPs destroying MVD has lost control of organized crime groups.

There was one attempt to fix situation. And it was very interesting experience. In 2001 head of MVD decided to create ethnic minority divisions to infiltrate ethnic organized crime - Armenian division should work in Armenian Diaspora, Georgians - in the Georgian etc. It was a good idea. Hiring officers from ethnic minority backgrounds is a crucial asset in countering ethnic organized crime. For infiltrating an agent into an organization is complicated by a language barrier, which involves many diverse dialects.

But after two months these divisions were destroyed because members of these divisions were suspected of the work for criminal groups.

So, now we have to say that MVD has mostly stopped the approach to organized crime.


FSB has created a division especially for fighting against organized crime. This division was formed in 1996 and named URPO - Division of investigation and fight against organized crime groups. In the middle of 90-s legislation was a common problem, so FSB choose the same way as MVD. URPO had to become FSB analog of RUOP, but more secret, and more effective. It was example of Russian Death Squadrons, who had to execute heads of criminal groups.

But it was very difficult to find inside FSB such kind of specialists. Whats why group of officers from troops of MVD were recruited by FSB for this job. One of these officers was Alexander Litvinenko. He has described URPO as Division of non-judicial executions.

But soon URPO activity shocked Russian society. There were many scandals with racket, extortion etc. At last URPO has been destroyed two years later with big scandal. Director of FSB also had to resign.

By the way, Litvinenko is now refugee in London, and close friend of Boris Berezovsky. And I think I shouldnt remind you about friendship between Berezovsky and RUOP.

Second division, responsible for fighting against organized crime was Department of economic security. This department included Divisions of fight against illicit trade, drug trafficking, division of counterintelligence in transport objects, etc.

But after Putin election this department became responsible for fighting against oligarchs.

Head of this department Zaostrovcev has quickly became the most famous FSB general. He was mastermind of operations against Gusinsky, Berezovsky, and in first step - against YUKOS. Zoostrovcev resigned in 2004. And in this stage the most important thing for this department became fight against oligarchs, not organized crime. FSB really believes that Lubyanka defends political regime and Putin himself.

But when secret service invades Politics, you should forget about civilian control.

As result of this freedom, soon Zaostrovcev and his department have been accused by media in criminal connections. Its important, that in case of MVD and RUOP there were connections with organized crime groups. In case of FSB there were connections with big financial companies and corporations.

During last 15 years experienced officers had to leave FSB, as result FSB loose many specialists, on other side - corruption is growing up. Former FSB officers sell not only their skills, but their connections inside FSB.

So, now FSB has stopped fight against organized crime because this service found new target, more politically important - oligarchs. But unlike MVD, FSB forgot about self-defense, so now its a very attractive and undefended target for corruption and organized crime.

Tax police

Its a very short story. This agency was created in 1992. It was like a secret service. Staff included former officers of FSB and MVD. First years activity of tax police was limited by tax crimes. But 5-6 years later tax police became very powerful agency with big plans of expansion.

By 2003 tax police became a very big and influential secret service - with intelligence and investigation divisions, special forces unit etc. So tax police became real competitor of Department of economic security of FSB. And nobody knows why this crime case is investigated by tax police and that case by FSB.

But after Putins election, history of tax police has been finished. Putin destroyed

tax police and created new service for fighting against drug traffic.

Drug traffic is a very important part in fight against organized crime. But the problem is that new service used staff of tax police. So now former tax policemen are investigating heroin traffic. They havent got special training, no experience, so it was very controversial decision.

Modern stage of problem

Whats going on now, at this moment? We should recall features, which we talked about 20 minutes ago.

1. First of all, problem of infiltration into organized crime. Our law enforcement services still cant resolve this problem. There are not ethnic divisions not in FSB not in MVD. And I dont think they will be able to solve this problem in near future. Its a question of trust to ethnic minority. And today the level of xenophobia inside secret services is very high.

Reasons are very simple: war in Chechnya. During second Chechen war we send officers to Chechnya for 3 months from every regional divisions of FSB and MVD - from Vladivostok to Moscow. Its called system of rotation.

Thanks to this system we get officers in every division of MVD and FSB who bring home not only military experience, but rules, what can be used only in the war. And these officers totally dont trust ethnic minority from Caucasus. So, law enforcement services dont hire people from diasporas, as result they cant infiltrate these diasporas.

2. Danger of mafia penetration in secret services is growing up. Today law enforcement agencies and secret services are most powerful structures in Russia, the most xenophobian and with high level of corruption. Whats result of this combination?

Secret services extort many from ethnic minority, and ethnic minority understands that its impossible to protect themselves with legal methods. And they have to infiltrate law enforcement agencies. For example, today we have very high percent of students from Caucasus in Moscow law institutes.

They study at institute for bribe, and after institute they become prosecutors and officers of MVD. Its a common practice now.

3. In 2004 weve got new factor. MVD decided to combine fight against organized crime and the war on terrorism. In 2004 there were structural reforms in MVD and FSB. In result GUBOP (Main division of fight against organized crime) MVD was renamed to Department of fight against organized crime and terrorism. Inside Department there is Centre T, who is directly responsible for antiterrorism.

Why it is a bad decision?

Its clear, authors of this reform have the reasons for it. Its clear, many organized crime groups have connections with terrorists, they sell them arms etc. Its real problem when two separate divisions are investigating one criminal group, but cant solve the problem of coordination and exchange of information.

We have such examples.

In 2002, some months before siege and storming of the Moscow theatre, I mean Nord-Ost, former officer of FSB Michael Trepashkin, then lawyer, got information that group of Chechen terrorists, close to Salman Raduev (famous Chechen warlord), went to Moscow. In FSB Trepashkin investigated illicit trade, so hes got this information from his sources in organized crime. Trepashkin sent this information to FSB.

But no result. FSB has preferred to not use this information. After Nord-Ost Trepashkin went to newspapers and told this story. And where is Michael Trepashkin now? He is in the prison, he was accused of disclosure of state secret and he was founded guilty.

So, the problem of coordination exist.

But if you decide to solve problem of coordination to simply merge two divisions - counterterrorist and counter organized crime, you will have got new kind of problem.

War on terrorism - its always grey zone for legality and human rights.

Nick Fielding, journalist of British Sunday Times, wrote in his book Defending the realm. Inside MI5 and the War on terrorism:

In a tense, fast-moving terrorism crisis, there is no time to analyse and peruse a file over several months

Terrorists are not like organized crime groups. They do not play long game. They bomb, kill and maim according to their own timetable, usually within hours.

So, if you arrest suspected on terrorism, you should interrogate him and to get information as soon as possible. And its a point - as soon as possible, because you never know, when they will attack - tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or may be today?

Prize is human lives. So, at this moment you forget the rules, you forget about legality and you decide to use the pressure both moral and physical. May be tortures. Its a common problem for counterterrorist services around the world.

We see such problem (special interrogation techniques) in Guantanamo, we see it in Chechnya. But this problem didnt appear after nine eleven.

For example, in 80-s and early 90-s French counterintelligence service DST was known as the harshest secret service in Europe. Reason is simple - experience of fight against Algerian terrorists.

Russian ministry of internal affairs has decided to merge fight against terrorism and fight against organized crime, and one result will be inevitable.

Officers who have to investigate organized crime, began use the same methods, as in the war on terrorism. So, forget on legality.

But its not only question of legality, its a question of efficiency. In this kind of work you really need long game, you really need long-term surveillance etc.

4. Absence of Civilian control.

Its no secret success in fight against organized crime depends on transparency in secret services. There are only two ways to organize efficient Civilian control - media and parliament.


You know we have some problems with press freedom in our country. Especially when you write about corruption in secret services. One example: In May 2002 I have published article devoted to business of secret services in Moscow. How secret services take part in real estate business. You know how expensive real estate is in Moscow.

Our secret services have got many offices, headquarters, bases, and garages in the Centre of Moscow. Its the inheritance of the Soviet Empire. Thats why you cant build new super-market or office without permission of secret services. You should have good relations with secret services. I wrote about it.

After six months, Ive been accused by FSB that Ive disclosed state secret. Ive been interrogated some times in Lefortovo. After half of year this criminal case has been closed. FSB has understood at last, I cant disclose any secret, because I had not access to any secret, Im just journalist.

Parliamentary control:

Formally we have the same system of parliamentary control as United States or Italy. You have Comitato parlamentare per i servizi di informazione e sicurezza e per il segreto di Stato, we have Committee of Security in State Duma. But now its no more than just visibility.


Actual members of this Committee are mostly members of presidential party Edinaya Rossia. There are many former generals of secret service. For example one deputy of Committee chairman is former chief of Rostov division of FSB, another is deputy director of Foreign Intelligence Service.

But before elections-2004 there were many oppositional politicians in this committee. They created commission for fight against corruption. But when this commission began investigate corruption inside FSB and Public Prosecutor Office, Yuri Shekotchikhin (member of this Commission and famous investigative journalist) has been suddenly died.


By the end of 90-s we had 3 law enforcement services which were responsible for fight against organized crime.

Today situation has been changed. One service - tax police - was destroyed in result of turf wars between secret services.

Another - Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) - choose passive position. They are worried more about self-defense than approach to the organized crime. After last MVD reform we lost special service responsible only for fight against Organized crime - like Italian DIA - Direzione investigativa antimafia.

And the third - Federal Security Service (FSB) - has preferred the war against oligarchs and participation in political life to fight against mafia.

And we have not coordination center between law enforcement agencies youre your Consiglio generale per la lotta alla criminalità organizzata.

We need reforms in law enforcement services, but today in modern political situation all plans of reforms are designed by secret services and of Presidents Administration without public discussion. We lost our abilities of civilian control.

Now we hopelessly lose our fight against the organized crime. And I fear in this political situation we have very few chances to change this situation in near future.