Over the past 20 years, the role of Russian-based organised crime (RBOC) in Europe has shifted considerably, notes Mark Galeotti, senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague and principal director of the Mayak Intelligence consultancy. Today, Russian criminals operate less on the street and more in the shadows: as allies, facilitators and suppliers for local European gangs and continent-wide criminal networks, he writes in a report for the European Council on Foreign Relations:
- The Russian state is highly criminalised, and the interpenetration of the criminal ‘underworld’ and the political ‘upperworld’ has led the regime to use criminals from time to time as instruments of its rule.
- Russian-based organised crime groups in Europe have been used for a variety of purposes, including as sources of ‘black cash’, to launch cyber attacks, to wield political influence, to traffic people and goods, and even to carry out targeted assassinations on behalf of the Kremlin.
- European states and institutions need to consider RBOC a security as much as a criminal problem, and adopt measures to combat it, including concentrating on targeting their assets, sharing information between security and law-enforcement agencies, and accepting the need to devote political and economic capital to the challenge.
Putin’s Russia is very much an ‘adhocracy’, Galeotti contends:
Institutions and formal positions, whether one is a civil servant or not, matter very little. What matters is how useful one is to the state. As a result, any individual or structure may be called-upon as and when the need arises. The blurring of social and functional boundaries in this way has also, inevitably, blurred the legal ones. Just as the Soviet state frequently used criminals and agents as instruments, whether controlling political prisoners in the Gulags or compromising foreigners, so Putin has continued the tradition and also put them to use.