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Russia: Extent of organized criminal activity, including links to Russian authorities (2005 - March 2007)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 29 March 2007
Citation / Document Symbol RUS102386.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Russia: Extent of organized criminal activity, including links to Russian authorities (2005 - March 2007), 29 March 2007, RUS102386.E, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Extent of criminal activity

There are varied estimates on the numerical strength of organized crime groups operating inside the Russian Federation (AFP 31 Jan. 2007; RIA Novosti 7 Feb. 2006). In February 2006, Russian News Agency RIA Novosti cited the Deputy Head of the Ministry of Interior's Organized Crime Department Alexander Yelin as stating that there were 400 criminal groups (ibid.; AFP 31 Jan. 2007) with some 10,000 members (RIA Novosti 7 Feb. 2006). Almost a year later, Yelin estimated that the Russian organized crime groups had 12,000 members (AFP 31 Jan. 2007). In January 2007, Deputy Minister of International Affairs Oleg Safonov stated that there are 446 organized criminal formations in Russia today, each of which is reportedly under state supervision (Rossiskaya Gazeta 31 Jan. 2007). However, according to Aleksei Mukhin, a specialist in Russian organized crime cited by The Independent, some 10,000 criminal groups comprising 300,000 people operate in Russia (16 Mar. 2007), although these figures could not be corroborated by the Research Directorate.

In August 2005, Reuters cited the head of the Organized Crime Department of Russia's Ministry of Interior, Nikolai Ovchinnikov, as stating that his department had uncovered 182 mafia groups in the first half of 2005, an increase of one third over the same period the previous year, with almost 20,000 crimes attributed to organized crime groups, an increase of 15 percent over the first half of 2004 (18 Aug. 2005).

Deputy Minister Safonov states that according to Interior Ministry figures, there are 184 kingpins (vor v zakone) and hundreds more crime bosses with lower status (avtoritet) (Rossiskaya Gazeta 31 Jan. 2007). Safonov noted that 40 kingpins were incarcerated under court sentence and an additional 44 were arrested in 2006, of which 33 were detained and 2 expelled from Russia (ibid.).

AFP cites the Russian interior minister Rashid Nurgaliyev as stating that organized crime groups are particularly active in Russia's far east, controlling a significant part of the regional economy, an observation which AFP noted was a "rare high-level admission" of the problem (AFP 14 Dec. 2005). In a speech leaked to the press, Nurgaliyev apparently stated that approximately one-tenth of Russia is under criminal control (The Independent 16 Mar. 2007). Nurgaliyev reportedly indicated in March 2007 that "the Russian mafia is alarmingly well established in Moscow, St. Petersburg, the south of the country and Siberia" (ibid. 16 Mar. 2007). Organized crime experts estimate that the so-called "black market" comprises up to 25 percent of Russia's gross domestic product, which is significantly higher than the 10 percent typical of western European economies (ibid.).

Specific areas targeted by organized crime

In May 2006, Russia's top prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov noted that organized crime is increasingly penetrating state bodies, especially at custom checkpoints (RIA Novosti 15 May 2006; ITAR-TASS 15 May 2006), leading to what Ustinov describes as a "national threat" (ibid.), a sentiment echoed by Russian interior minister Rashid Nurgaliyev (The Independent 16 Mar. 2007). According to Igor Zubov, the former deputy interior minister, many organized crime bosses are no longer committing crimes themselves but are instead going into politics (Radio Mayak 16 May 2006).

Historically, Russian organized crime has concentrated on racketeering, drugs, prostitution and gambling, it has not been heavily implicated in industry (AFP 31 Jan. 2007). However, in January 2007, the Ministry of Interior reports that over 2,000 industrial entities are under criminal control, of which approximately 400 are major companies (ibid.; Le Monde 6 Feb. 2007).

During a November 2006 law enforcement conference, Russian prosecutor general Yury Chaika explained that organized crime groups have extensively infiltrated the country's energy sector, controlling oil rigs, gas stations and oil companies (RFE/RL 21 Nov. 2006; Global Insight 22 Nov. 2006). Chaika observed that oil companies operating illegally are "'only very rarely'" prosecuted (ibid.). In 2006, police broke up a criminal group that was controlling Volzhsky Orgsintez, a major chemical firm with annual revenues of USD 160 million (AFP 31 Jan. 2007).

The US State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006 states that criminal groups dominate Russia's human trafficking sector, with the help of "front companies and established organized crime groups" (US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 5). Human traffickers reportedly use their ties to organized crime to threaten their victims, for instance, by threatening to have their mafia contacts harm a victim's family members should he or she try to escape (ibid.). According to Country Reports 2006,

[t]rafficking organizations typically paid domestic organized crime entities a percentage of their profits in return for "protection" and for assistance in identifying victims, procuring false documents, and corrupting law enforcement. (ibid.)


Russia's Ministry of Internal Affairs (Ministerstvo vnutrennykh del – MVD) is composed of four divisions, one of which is the Criminal Militia Service headed by a deputy minister (World Encyclopedia of Police Forces and Correctional Systems 2007, 782). The Criminal Militia Service is in turn divided into four units, one of which is the Chief Directorate for Combating Organized Crime (ibid.).

According to the head of the Organized Crime Department of Russia's Ministry of Interior, Nikolai Ovchinnikov, there has been a a sharp rise in crimes committed by mafia groups, and "police cannot claim to be winning the battle against them"; he attributes this in part to their complex organizations and the opinion that many kingpins "masquerade as respectable businessmen" (Reuters 18 Aug. 2005). Alexander Yelin, the deputy head of the Interior Ministry's Organized Crime Department has stated that of the 28,500 crimes solved between January and September 2005, 11,000 were committed by organized groups; 4,000 of those who committed these latter crimes were prosecuted in this period (Interfax 15 Nov. 2005). In December 2005, Russia's Federal Security Service announced that it had arrested 20 people who had been caught illegally driving cars bearing government and police license plates (RFE/RL 6 Dec. 2005).

In March 2006, RIA Novosti quoted Russia's top prosecutor, Vladimir Ustinov, as stating that his country should work harder to combat organized crime and corruption (24 Mar. 2006). According to Ustinov, criminal cases were launched against 409 crime bosses in the previous year and a half, of which "'only 40 of them have been convicted'" (RIA Novosti 24 Mar. 2006). Speaking on Russian television, Ustinov stated that many efforts to combat organized crime were "happening so far only on paper" (ibid. 15 May 2006; RTR Russia TV 15 May 2006) adding that some reports on the progress made against these groups were "simply false" (ibid.). According to Russia's Federal Drug Control Service (Federal'naya sluzhba Rossiyskoy federatsii po kontrolyu za oborotom narkotikov, FSKN Rossii), over 100 police officers were arrested in 2005 for trafficking in narcotics (US Mar. 2007, Sec. 3).

RIA Novosti reported in October 2006 that in the space of three days, Russian police shut down three Moscow casinos allegedly run by the Georgian mafia, which kept files containing clients' personal information and copies of their identity documents (RIA Novosti 5 Oct. 2006).

On 6 February 2007, Interfax reported that unknown assailants fired gunshots at Dmitriy Malikov, the first deputy head of Kaliningrad's Directorate for Combating Organized Crime. Further or corroborating information, however, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Also in February 2007, ITAR-TASS published the following Interior Ministry figures on organized crime arrests for 2006: the government opened 1,500 criminal cases against 2,000 members of organized crime groups, including 780 leaders (ITAR-TASS 8 Feb. 2007). In the same year, a total of 237 companies "'were taken out of criminal control'" and 161 illegal businesses were shut down (ibid.).

In March 2006, the Brussels-based daily Europolitics reported that the European Union (EU) was going to fund an Interpol Network Modernisation Scheme to help Russia's Interior Ministry combat organized crime by facilitating information sharing by crime-fighting bodies across the country (1 Mar. 2006).

Association with specific groups

The 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report published by the United States Department of State notes that Central Asian groups, or persons with ties to Central Asia, tend to dominate the Afghan opiate market within Russia (US Mar. 2007, Sec. 2). The Report states that the distribution of drugs is carried out by groups that are "organized along ethnic lines with Central Asian, Caucasian, Russian/Slavic, and Roma groups all active in drug trafficking" (ibid.).

In its June 2006 report on Russia, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) highlighted the situation of Roma and other ethnic minorities who were especially subject to abuse in the state's fight against organized crime (IHF 18 June 2006, 333). Further or corroborating information on the involvement of Roma in Russian organized crime could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Country Reports 2006 notes that journalists investigating organized crime face a particular risk, as independent media non-governmental organizations (NGOs) reportedly describe the physical assaults against journalists as "'routine'" (US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 2.a).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France Presse (AFP). 31 January 2007. "More Brain, Less Brawn: Russian Mafia Gets Into Big Business." (Factiva)
_____. 14 December 2005. "Mafia Rules in Russia's Resource-Rich Far East: Minister." (Factiva)

Europolitics [Brussels]. 1 March 2006. "Organised Crime in Russia." (Factiva)

Global Insight Daily Analysis. 22 November 2006. Andrew Neff. "Organised Crime Prevalent in Russian Oil Sector, Prosecutor-General Says." (Factiva)

The Independent [London]. 16 March 2007. Andrew Osborn. "Interior Ministry: 'One-Tenth of Russia Under Criminal Control'." [Accessed 16 Mar. 2007]

Information Telegraph Agency of Russia (ITAR-TASS). 8 February 2007. "Russian Police to Crack Down on Organized Crime Leaders – Minister." (Factiva)
_____. 15 May 2006. Svetlana Alikina and Alexander Shashkov. "Organized Crime in Russia Becomes National Threat." (Factiva)

Interfax [Moscow, in Russian]. 6 February 2007. "Russian Organized Crime Policeman Attacked in Kaliningrad." (Factiva/BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union)
_____. 15 November 2005. "Russian Organized Crime Trying to 'Infiltrate Government'." (Factiva)

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF). 18 June 2006. "Russian Federation." Human Rights in the OSCE Region: Europe, Central Asia and North America, Report 2006 (Events of 2005). [Accessed 19 Mar. 2007]

Le Monde Economie [Paris]. 6 February 2007. "Le chiffre mafia." (Factiva)

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 21 November 2006. "Organized Crime 'Everywhere' in Russian Energy Sector." [Accessed 12 Mar. 2007]
_____. 6 December 2005. "Russian Police Gang Arrested Over Fake Kremlin Security Passes." [Accessed 12 Mar. 2007]

Radio Mayak [Moscow, in Russian]. 16 May 2006. "Russian Radio Discusses Corruption, Organized Crime." (Factiva/BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union)

Reuters. 18 August 2005. Oliver Bullough. "Russian Mafia Crimes Rise, Says Police Chief." (Factiva)

Rossiyskaya Gazeta [Moscow]. 31 January 2007. « Vorov v zakone pereschitali ».

RTR Russia TV [Moscow, in Russian]. 15 May 2006. "Russia's Top Prosecutor Concedes that Organized Crime is All-Pervasive." (Factiva/BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union)

Russian Information Agency (RIA) Novosti. 5 October 2006. "Moscow Police Close Third Casino Linked to Georgian Mafia." (Factiva)
_____. 15 May 2006. "Prosecutor Slams Law-enforcement Agencies over Organized Crime." (Factiva)
_____. 24 March 2006. "Russia's Top Prosecutor Calls for Crusade Against Organized Crime." (Factiva)
_____. 7 February 2006. "Over 400 Organized Crime Groups Active in Russia – Ministry." (Factiva)

United States (US). 6 March 2007. Department of State. "Russia." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006. [Accessed 12 Mar. 2007]
_____. March 2007. Department of State. "Russia." International Narcotics Control Strategy Report – 2007. [Accessed 12 Mar. 2007]

World Encyclopedia of Police Forces and Correctional Systems. 2007. Edited by George Thomas Kurian. "Russia." Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale.

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International (AI), Anti-Corruption Gateway for Europe and Eurasia, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Comité de liaison pour la solidarité avec l'Europe de l'Est (COLISEE), Council of Europe (COE), The Economist, European Country of Origin Information Network (, Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme (FIDH), Freedom House, Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Association for the Study of Organized Crime, Interpol, Library of Congress, Moscow Helsinki Group, Moscow Times, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Russian Ministry of the Interior.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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