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Russia: Organized Crime Threatens State

  • Kevin Foley



Washington, 30 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A new report contends that unless organized crime is curbed in Russia, the country is in danger of evolving into a state run by an alliance of gangsters, corrupt bureaucrats and a handful of crooked businessmen.

Organized crime in Russia is "expanding at a dizzying pace," says the report, and it is "a major force in shaping the post-Soviet political, economic and social development of Russia."

The organized criminals in Russia also pose a direct threat to the security interests of the United States because they threaten the stability of democratic Russia, the report says.

The conclusions are part of a two-year study called "Russian Organized Crime." The study was prepared by a group of American experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private Washington organization that researches international issues and makes policy recommendations.

The study asserts that, "the anti-crime program of the Russian government has been a failure," and that the government "has had neither the resources nor the will to alter the conditions that support," organized crime. There are people inside and outside the government willing to undertake harsh measures against organized crime, says the report, but the possibility of repression to control crime raises serious human rights questions.

Other key findings in the report include the assertions that:

Corruption has infected every level of the Russian bureaucracy, and that this corruption is the major impediment to combating organized crime.

Organized crime is seriously undermining the processes of democratization and economic liberalization in Russia.

The erosion of the government is imperiling cooperative efforts in the international areas of peacekeeping, control of weapons and economic restructuring.

The efforts within Russia to fight organized crime have been weak, often side-tracked by fear and bribery, and frequently derailed by assassinations.

The CSIS study on Russia is part of a larger effort by the center to monitor international organized crime. The center's organized crime committee is chaired by William Webster, a former director of both the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Russian project director is the Washington journalist and author and CSIS fellow Arnaud de Borchgrave. Current and former organized crime experts from the State Department, Justice Department, Commerce Department and government intelligence agencies contributed to the study.

A lot of the information contained in the CSIS study was already widely known in law enforcement and intelligence circles. Much of it had been made public at hearings before the U.S. Congress or in books, journals, magazines and newspapers.

However, the 93-page study by the highly regarded CSIS provided updated information in a concise, organized fashion that will get wide circulation among members of Congress and policy makers in government.

At a press conference Monday, de Borchgrave told reporters that the CSIS report is a comprehensive study that assesses the breadth and depth of the organized crime problem in Russia and examines its implications for U.S. foreign policy.

Senator John Kyl (R-Arizona), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on terrorism, said he would convene new hearings on the subject in order to draft policy recommendations for the White House.

Kyl called the CSIS report an "eye-opening" document. He says the U.S. has not devoted enough attention to the problem, and he says Americans must understand what he calls the inter-relationships between criminals and the Russian bureaucracy.

The CSIS report cites official Russian sources for many of its conclusions. For example, the report quotes the Ministry of Interior estimate that, "40 percent of private business, 60 percent of state-owned enterprises, and between 50 percent and 85 percent of banks are controlled," by organized crime. Two-thirds of Russia's economy, the CSIS report says, "is under the sway of the crime syndicates."

There are at least 8,000 gangs operating throughout the whole of the former Soviet Union, the CSIS experts say, and the 200 largest of these gangs now operate on a global scale. The CSIS study says the top 26 gangs also have established a presence in the United States and are cooperating with the old American Mafia crime syndicate and the younger Colombian drug cartels to divide up criminal enterprises.

U.S. law enforcement authorities estimate that the biggest Russian gangs have established working relationships with criminal groups in 50 countries.

Among the many recommendations for a U.S. response to Russian organized crime, the CSIS report urges the President of the U.S. to make a public recognition of organized crime as a security threat, and it calls on the U.S. to make the development of a free market in Russia based on the rule of law as the central element of all U.S. policy decisions about Russia.

The U.S., the report says, should stop supporting political personalities and instead should support segments of the Russian government that are working to usher in the rule of law.

Ultimately, the report says, only Russia itself can deal with the pervasive corruption on which organized crime feeds. But it also says the United States and other Western nations need to support Russia in its battle against organized crime.

The report says: "Western states can and must assist Russia with the modernization of its law enforcement apparatus and the alignment of its judicial system to make them more relevant to democratic processes and an open, market economy."

Former U.S. National Security Agency deputy director Gerard Burke told the press conference that organized crime is not unique to Russia, but he said that what makes Russian organized crime unique and especially dangerous is that it exists in a state with nuclear weapons.
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