communism," "vodka," may be "Vladimir Putin." But everyone who would be asked about Russia would also say "Russian mafia" who are very cruel and dangerous gangs from Russia and who wouldn't stop behind anything in achieving their dirty plans.
The term and the phenomenon of Russian mafia are pretty young if compared to well-known mafia of Sicily, Italy, Latin American cartels. The first news and rumors about Russian mafia in the United stated appeared in 1980 ies, when a massive immigration of predominantly Russian Jews started from the Soviet Union. Russian mafia had penetrated into the infrastructure of the main business centers of the U.S.A.: New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Boston. They spread their influence over the successful immigrants from Russia, who have to pay for their "protection" or who have to allow mafia representatives participate in running businesses.
If to look on the nature of relations of Russian immigrants and compare them to the nature of Sicilian mafia relations in clans we would find differences. For the first and current generation of Russian mafia there is no concept of "family" or "family business" where all relatives are involved in certain kind of activities. Russian mafia organization looks more like a company or corporation ran by a leader or two, who are usually "thieves in law" or simply much respected criminals who were able to establish the organization. "Thief in law" is a special institution in the complicated hierarchy of criminal Russian environment. They are much respected criminals (mostly thieves) who were imprisoned and who gained a perfect reputation in the circles of prisoners (only criminals) so that they are given special status or "crown" and become "thieves in law" or "crowned thieves." "Thief in law" has to observe a special thief's honor code (do nothing but be involved in criminal activity, thief is not allowed to have family, in order to be independent). By the way nor drug-dealers, nor stolen stuff dealers, nor murders and nor those accused in rape could become "thieves in law." Thief in law has immunity from other thieves, they have to treat him with respect and obey him.
During the regime of communists, organized crime was strictly persecuted by Soviet militia and KGB. Criminals were considered to be "defective" personalities: they could not have leading positions on work, they could not have positions where they were responsible for making decisions and where they were in charge of others; they could not serve in army, and what is the most important they were under very strict supervision of system, and were often imprisoned again for unserious offences. But even during the years of Soviets, USSR had already a reputation of the country where "every tenth was inprisoned and every fifth was watching over." One of the closest societies, which was isolated from the rest of the world by "iron curtain," society with a strong army, military defense system, technologies and authoritarian rule of communist party, still was very poor as the majority lived over the poverty line and their life could be characterized more by "existence" than "living." Crimes and offences were usual things in this society, especially shaken by the years of stagnation and uncontrolled alcoholism.
In 1970 ies the crisis of the socialist system and of dictatorship in the U.S.S.R. was obvious, it was time when the Soviets started the war in Afghanistan, in order to unite the army and not let the country to collapse. But at the same time it was an epoch when something similar to market relations and some kind of business activities inside the country were establishing (mostly illegally, as it was prohibited in the country where the state was the only master of all property and the only employer). Incomes of some population circles began to grow: they were jewelers, dentists, tailors, merchants and those who rent apartments in resort areas. All those people didn't pay taxes to government as there was no concept of business activity in the Socialist society, but still they were dependent, all of them were controlled by organized crime groups headed by "thieves in law." With years, as the crisis and collapse of the Soviet Union was getting more obvious and near, the power of organized crime was growing, while the power of militia and KGB was getting weaker. KGB and militia officers were paid miserable salaries (not more than 300$, at the same time the prices on imported products from Europe and the U.S.A. were enormous: jeans were 100-150$), so they became quickly corrupted and controlled by organized crime groups.
Already in late 1980 ies, during the years of Mikhail Gorbachev reforms (called "perestroika") there appeared first premises for the development of organized crime structure similar to mafia. Corrupted government, ministers, army officers and other bureaucrats noticed a lot of "holes" in Soviet legislature at the same time new opportunities, caused by liberal and market reforms allowed them to use their power in personal interests. Heads of KGB and of defense ministry organized channels for the delivery of weapons from military bases to the leaders of Afghanistan fighting clans who fought against the Soviets. Nearly all channels of weapon and drugs delivery worked in cooperation with local criminal authorities, in order to distract the attention from the officials.
Already during the years of Gorbachev, lots of KGB and militia officers understood that they could spread their spheres of influence over uncontrolling country if they would submit criminals and would allow criminals to "work" under their guidance and monitoring. These were the first attempts to divide the spheres of influence in the country, which often lead to bloody conflicts of different criminal groups. Government was losing the control over affairs inside the country, it was promoting the politics of democratization and liberalization, but in reality jut did nothing and took passive participation in redistribution of power in the country. Everybody was afraid of responsibility and that's why preferred to do nothing but simply observe. No functioning system of taxation, customs, goods exchange and trade regulations caused an unseen export of capital from Soviet Union abroad, caused unseen goods export abroad, which as the result caused hyperinflation and impoverishment of the nationn in some 2-3-year period. Russians and citizens of all former USSR republics lost their savings and were left penniless in the country that was losing its image, it's territories, it's face and trust of its nation. There was nearly none who had control over the situation in the country, but young Russian mafia did. Criminal authorities, who made fortunes and initial capital during the years of Soviet Union and especially during the years of perestroika, felt real power and ambitions to "legalize" both capitals and power in a "new country."
Mafia was getting real power starting from the year of 1993. It was the year when Russian economics was more than depressed and was on the border of default. To solve this problem, in order to fill state's treasury with money and to start paying national debt, government proposed a very risky project of privatization. Everyone was allowed to privatize state's property: factories, plants, mines, oil and gas pipe lines, power plants, state gas and oil extraction companies, nearly everything that was a guarantee of USSR economical and industrial superiority and stability for 70 years. No wonder common citizens were unable to have money; there were three groups of potential owners of state property: foreign investors, successful Russian businessmen who planned to share possession rights still with foreign investors, and there was a third group, represented by shadowed business and criminality. As the result, the biggest state enterprises were privatized by Russian and foreign business, but still the majority of industrial objects appeared to be in the hands of criminal organizations.
In some 2 years economics of former super-power appeared to be in the hands of former criminals and adventurers who got property by bribery. By the words of Russian decedent, Nobel prize winner, writer Alexander Soljenitzin: "Russia has no semblance of democracy and is far from real market reform. Russia's present rulers are hardly better than the Communists. A stable and tight oligarchy of 150-200 people is deciding the fate of the nation. For the past 10 years, leaders have robbed their own people of national wealth, pocketing billions of dollars, impoverishing millions and possibly leading to the death of thousands. Russia's economic chaos is the result of nearly criminal reforms that have created a new class of mafia capitalists."
The changes were so obvious, that Russia had changed greatly in some 5-year period from a country where government had a 100% control over the situation in all spheres of life, to a country where government had only a technical power. According a CIA Director's report to Congress made in 1994 "in a poll in Russia in response to the question "Who controls Russia?" A plurality of 23% responded "The Mafia," 22% responded with "No one," 19% responded "I don't know," and only 14% responded "President Yeltsin."…