Pax Europa and America
The Russian mob has moved beyond its homeland to every corner of the globe. They are most active in Eastern Europe, where they merged with native ethnic gangs there, and in America, where they teamed up with the traditional Mafia as well as other criminal organizations to further their nefarious career. The shifting alliances and structure of the Russian mob has made it difficult for law enforcement to take out large numbers. But as intelligence grows, so does the ability of the cops to understand them and work to remove them from the crime world.
Brighton Beach Memoirs
Initially, the Russian Mafia operating in America preyed mostly on other Russian immigrants who had settled in the United States. Shakedowns and extortions were common crimes inflicted on the decent hardworking Russians. They also engaged in the usual crimes such as thievery and prostitution.
The Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, New York, was a hotbed of activity for the Russian Mafia in the 1970s. It even formed an uneasy alliance with the Italian boys who had been in place for decades. The homegrown Mafia was not about to let these newcomers start muscling in on their territory. The Italians let the Russians operate, but at a price that must have stunned those raised in a communist regime. They had to pay a hefty “tribute” to the Italian Mafia for the privilege of operating in New York. La Cosa Nostra's aggressive capitalism was a rude awakening for the Russian Mafia.
The Russian Mafia is causing trouble in America, but its influence in the United States pales in comparison to the power it wields in Mother Russia. Dozens of political assassinations have been linked to the Russian mob, as well as assassinations of leading journalists, including the editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine.
Mafia Family, Russian Style
The Russian Mafia equivalent of the don is called the pakhan. This boss controls four operating “cells” through his second in command. This number two man is called the brigadier. Given that this crime family structure originated in Russia, where secret police once ruled with terror and fostered a paranoid environment, the pakhan employs spies to keep an eye on the brigadier. The cells are made up of the usual suspects — soldiers who deal in drugs, prostitution, extortion, bribery, and all manner of criminality. But the viscous nature off these groups makes it harder for authorities to track who's really on top.
The members of the individual cells do not know members of the other cells, though they all report to the pakhan. This is a crime family of the Eastern European variety. Just as the American Mafia mirrors the legitimate capitalist world, the Russian Mafia reflects the communist regime where it was spawned.
Courtesy of AP Images/Monika Graff
Vyacheslav Ivankov, center, allegedly a top boss of the Russian mob in Brooklyn, is flanked by FBI agents while being led in this file photo from the agency's New York headquarters on Thursday June 8, 1995. Ivankov, fifty-six at the time, was convicted Monday July 8, 1996, with three co-defendants of trying to extort $3.5 million from two owners of Summit International, an investment advisory firm for Russian emigres.
Nothing is sacred, not even the Olympics. Russian gangster Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov is accused of putting the fix on the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, compelling judges to vote for the Russian figure skating team in exchange for votes for the French ice dancing team.
The Russian Mafia sent emissaries out to the West Coast and established a foothold in San Francisco and Los Angeles. There is a steady stream of Russian Mafiosi heading across country to the sun and fun of California. Authorities believe this is happening because the American Mafia is least powerful on the West Coast. The Russian Mafia has to pay a heavy “tax” to the American Mafia when doing business in its territories. California represents more freedom and higher profits for them, not to mention a large pool of immigrants from which to draw recruits and victims to extort.
The first major Russian gang leader to be arrested in America was Vyacheslav Ivankov. He arrived in Brighton Beach in 1992 and immediately built a gang of more than 100 soldiers. He started extorting local businessmen. That led to his arrest in 1995. He was extradited to Russia in 2004 for murder charges but was acquitted. He is now in Russia.