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Putin's Syndicate And The Law

  • Brian Whitmore

With the behavior of Vladimir Putin's Russia often resembling that of an international crime syndicate, the Kremlin's strident response to Western countries enforcing their laws is hardly surprising. (file photo)

With the behavior of Vladimir Putin's Russia often resembling that of an international crime syndicate, the Kremlin's strident response to Western countries enforcing their laws is hardly surprising. (file photo)

If you've nationalized and weaponized your mafia, it's only natural to view an investigation into organized crime as aggression.

It you use corruption as a tool of statecraft, you'll probably see efforts to foster greater transparency as hostile.

If assassinations, embezzlement, money laundering, and arms trafficking are part of your foreign policy tool kit, it is not surprising that you think prosecuting such things is an act of war.

Aleksandr Bastrykin certainly thinks it is.

In a widely discussed article in Kommersant Vlast last month, the Russian Investigative Committee chief said "international law and the justice based on it, have increasingly become tools of war" against Moscow.

And for once I actually agree with Bastrykin -- with just a small tweak. I would replace the word "war" with "counterinsurgency."

Because, with the Kremlin actively using corruption, organized crime, money laundering, and cyberattacks to undermine and weaken Western institutions, the best weapon against this insidious and stealthy insurgency is the direct and open application of the rule of law.

"An effective Western response to Russia's multi-dimensional challenge requires a whole of government approach," veteran Kremlin-watcher James Sherr of Chatham House wrote recently.

"Unless non-defense arms of government (judicial, financial, regulatory) understand the defense and security implications of their responsibilities, they will not be fit for purpose."

In other words, corruption and transnational crime are national security issues of the highest magnitude, and Western governments are starting to treat them as such.

"In an 'asymmetric' struggle with the United States, Putin and Russia have to be innovative, catch the West off guard, and fight dirty," Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of the book Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, wrote recently.

Part of fighting dirty means the Kremlin's is using corrupt business deals and organized crime to compromise officials and business elites, weaken resolve, and establish Trojan Horses in Western countries.

And Western governments are becoming increasing vigilant about countering the geopolitical threat stemming from Putin's weaponization of globalization.

The European Union has become more assertive in enforcing its Third Energy Package and preventing Gazprom from flouting antimonopoly laws.

Hot Russian money in Europe's banks and property markets is drawing more scrutiny.

Outrage over the revelations in the Panama Papers are forcing governments to crack down on offshore havens.

And Western law enforcement has moved to pull the mask off Moscow's more brazen state-sponsored criminal activity.

The conclusion of a British investigation back in February that Kremlin agents assassinated Russian defector Aleksandr Litvinenko with a rare radioactive isotope in the heart of London in 2006 -- and that Vladimir Putin probably gave the green light -- is one example.

Spanish Judge Jose de la Mata issuing international arrest warrants for a dozen Russians -- including current and former officials -- for links to organized crime earlier this month is another.

Also this month, Portuguese police broke up a Russian organized crime network that had reportedly bought control of soccer clubs and used them to launder black cash.

With the behavior of Vladimir Putin's Russia often resembling that of an international crime syndicate, it only stands to reason that the Kremlin would get absolutely hysterical whenever Western countries exercise their sovereign right to enforce their own laws against Russian perpetrators.

"This elite regarded globalization as a buffet -- that they can enjoy all the opportunities of being Europeans while at the same time maintaining their capacity to steal with impunity back within Russia," New York University's Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian organized crime, told The Moscow Times.

"Now they are finding that this is becoming harder and harder."

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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