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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow's Warring Mafia

The press carries reports from time to time of gunfights in Moscow restaurants, in the markets, or even right on the street. These stories do not usually attract any special attention, and are perceived as just ordinary episodes from the annals of crime, such as fill all the Western papers.

But these reports are tangible evidence of processes that are raging now under the surface of society. Criminal groups are consolidating, uniting into powerful concerns and syndicates, and conducting savage battles among themselves over territory where they can expand their activities.

The "Soviet mafiosi" were clearly unprepared for the current situation. This, added to their low level of education and their aggressiveness can to some extent explain why the internecine fight for "a place in the sun" has been so barbaric.

Moscow and some other large Russian cities have begun to resemble old Chicago, which we know through Hollywood films.

Our domestic mafia, which arose in the Brezhnev-era was formed along nationality and geographical lines, but strove to extend its sphere of influence throughout the Soviet Union. The collapse of the empire interrupted this process, but, quickly recovering, the mafia adapted to the new conditions.

The well-organized Chechen and Azerbaijani groups have staked out positions in Moscow, but they can not seem to agree among themselves on a partition of spheres of influence. More than once their peaceful negotiations in Moscow restaurants have ended in gunfire, with several corpses left as a result. In Moscow's markets the discerning eye will quickly note that the overwhelming majority of sellers belong to one ethnic group, and any attempt by another group to break into the market will result in armed conflict.

It is curious that representatives of Moscow business, evidently reconciled to the fact that Moscow has been colonized by more efficient newcomers, are battling for the open territories far from the capital.

Quite recently, in Yekaterinburg, in broad daylight, Oleg Vagin, the director of an insurance company, was shot at point-blank range with a machine gun. A few days before that, also in Yekaterinburg, Viktor Ternyak, president of a Euro-Asian company was killed. Both of the victims were leading representatives of a growing number of businessmen from the Urals, and they occupied important positions in trade, service, entertainment, and real estate sales.

These acts are attempts by the Moscow mafia to inspire fear, to strengthen their position in their race to the immense markets of the Urals. Similar incidents are taking place in other cities.

Almost no crimes of this type have been solved, including the murders in Yekaterinburg, and the criminals have not been punished. Such impunity acts as a stimulus to hired killers, and their employers.

The police are not able to cope with such-powerful foes - they do not have the necessary personnel, the technology, the experience or the knowledge. The fear of falling victim to the mafia is also a factor.

The numerous committees and commissions appointed to fight organized crime, can develop plans and strategies for attacking the mafia, but the implementation of their ideas is the prerogative of the law enforcement services.

And this is where all the best plans fail. According to official data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the number of crimes involving the mafia which have been solved, or the number of criminals who have been brought to justice, in no way corresponds to the scale of the crimes committed. Let us not forget that corruption, which has affected all levels of the present government, has exerted a powerful negative influence on measures for fighting the mafia.

Arkady Vaksberg is a prominent Moscow jurist and political observer for Literaturnaya Gazeta.