Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Power Vertical

Mob Wars: A Vor For A Vor

Paramedics remove the body of mob boss Aslan Usoyan, who was gunned down as he left a Moscow restaurant.
Paramedics remove the body of mob boss Aslan Usoyan, who was gunned down as he left a Moscow restaurant.
And so it begins.
The assassins were waiting in a silver Mercedes as Astamur Guliya, a 31-year-old crime kingpin, left a restaurant in downtown Sukhumi. They opened fire as Guliya entered the parking lot, mortally wounding him.
It was impossible not to notice the similarities with the killing four days earlier of the legendary gangster Aslan Usoyan as he left a restaurant in central Moscow. It was also impossible not to notice that the hit took place on the same day that Usoyan was buried in the Russian capital, where hundreds of mob bosses from all over the former Soviet Union bid their farewells.
And it was impossible not to notice that like Usoyan, Guliya was a "vor v zakone," or "thief in law," the rough equivalent of a "made man" in the Russian and post-Soviet underworld.  
But Usoyan and Guliya were very different types of made men.
Aslan UsoyanAslan Usoyan
Aslan Usoyan
Aslan Usoyan
The 75-year-old Usoyan, a Georgian-born Kurd who was also known as "Ded Khasan" or "Grandpa Khasan," was an old school "vor v zakone" who followed an elaborate code of conduct that dates back to the early 20th century.
The younger Guliya was only crowned a "vor" in December. And, significantly, Usoyan did not recognize the coronation, claiming it was not done in accordance with the thieves' code, calling Guliya a "pretender."
Speaking on the latest "Power Vertical Podcast" last week, NYU professor Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian organized crime and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," said much of the turbulence in the Russian underworld is attributable to a struggle between the old style "vor v zakone" and the younger, flashier, and more brash breed of mobster that has emerged in recent decades.
"This is part of a generational shift," Galeotti said. "The new breed of gangster that has emerged don't wear the tattoos or have a background in the prison camps. They are gangster businessmen. They don't cleave to the old rules."
Usoyan, Galeotti noted, was one of "the last of the old dinosaurs" and his killing marked "an important change point in the Russian underworld."

And the hit on Guliya appears to be the old guard showing its teeth.
Guliya was allied with one of Usoyan's fiercest rivals, an Azerbaijani gangster named Rovshan Janiyev. On the podcast and on his blog, Galeotti named Janiyev, as well as the Georgian crime bosses Tariel Oniani and Zakhar Kalashov, as those who potentially could have ordered the Usoyan hit.
"This could be a retaliation, but it could also simply be a part of a the wider spill-out. Certainly, there are some in Usoyan's network who continue to blame Janiyev, even if the current weight of evidence and supposition points towards Oniani," Galeotti wrote in an e-mail January 21.

He noted that Dmitry Chanturia, Usoyan's nephew, who took over his network, may want to avoid a war with Oniani until he consolidates his authority.
"Oniani is a much harder target, so maybe he has politically chosen to blame Janiyev," he wrote.
Whatever the case, we should expect more mob violence to follow amid the ongoing generational conflict in the underworld, competition over the Afghan heroin trade, and battles over construction contracts for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
"We've had over a decade of relative peace in the underworld, but that peace was already under considerable pressure," Galeotti said on "The Power Vertical Podcast" last week.
-- Brian Whitmore

UPDATE: Be sure to check out Mark's new, and very comprehensive, post on the Guliya hit and the current turbulence in the underworld here.

Tags: Aslan Usoyan,Russian organized crime,Astamur Guliya

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Camel Anaturk from: kurdistan
January 21, 2013 19:41
A vor for a vor,or a Jack for an Eugenia??? And who are the Greatest Godfathers of Mother Russia-the georgians or the azeris??? Only Vakhtang the Great from Moscow knows all the answers,being the FSB chief informer on the underworld,and we all hope he will give us the answers when he gets over his hangover!!!
In Response

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
January 23, 2013 02:56
There is one axiom among others:рerson, who is blames everyone all around, in the work for the FSB,himself is working for the FSB.
Mr. camel, are you snitch...
Give my regards to your boss-Mr.mordvin Izhorets from Leningrad.

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In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

15:34 November 26, 2014


So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014


12:33 November 26, 2014


Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.


12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014


12:18 November 26, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)


Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.


19:16 November 21, 2014


On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

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About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers 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