Organized crime in western Siberia (Part 2)

Posted: March 22, 2012 at 3:12 pm, Last Updated: September 7, 2012 at 1:54 am

Author: Aaron Beitman, PhD Student,  University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Department of Political Science

As previously noted in Part 1 of this series, the Bratsk criminal society has been identified as the premiere criminal authority in western Siberia, in light of its control of the so-called Siberian “obshchak” or common criminal “fund.”  Upon closer inspection, however, the fabric of organized crime in western Siberia becomes increasingly complex.  In addition to the ethnic Russian dominated-Bratsk criminal society, research by criminologist Anna Repetskaya identifies ethnic Chinese, Tajik, Uzbek, Roma, Ingush, Chechen, Georgian, Azeri, and Armenian groups as being active in the region.  A majority of these groups are known to contribute funds to the Siberian obshchak, but some have fallen under the influence of powerful Ingush and Chechen groups in the region.  This entry will focus specifically on the activities of ethnic Chinese, Tajik, other Central Asian, as well as Chechen and Ingush groups.

Chinese Organized Crime:  Keeping it in the Family

Extensive Chinese migration to western Siberia and the Russian Far East has been accompanied by an influx of organized crime groups.  By and large, these groups have engaged in blackmail and extortion of Chinese traders and businessmen.  Russian entrepreneurs in the timber exports sector, one of the most criminalized foreign trade sectors in western Siberia, have also been subject to the machinations of Chinese organized crime groups, who extort an estimated 10-15% of the export value of timber products.  In addition, Chinese organized crime groups negatively impact the regional economy through illegal mining of precious metals.  Due to the fact that Chinese organized crime in western Siberia lacks a single leader, some organized crime profits flow to the Bratsk criminal society-controlled Siberian obshchak, while other funds go to Ingush criminal groups, which are the Bratsk criminal society’s major rivals.

The Tajik Connection

Tajik organized crime groups, according to Dr. Repetskaya, present a significant threat to law and order in western Siberia, particularly due to their heavy involvement in drug trafficking.  Tajik groups have a presence in every population center in the region, usually in groups of 5-15 individuals.  Tajik organized crime groups are by and large under the control of Ingush and Chechen groups as well as the Bratsk criminal society.

While Tajiks usually serve as narcotics couriers, ethnic Uzbeks have reportedly been increasingly involved in this aspect of the supply chain.  Drugs are transported by rail, air, and truck (usually in shipments of onions) in large amounts before being distributed in smaller amounts to different ethnic organized crime groups.  Besides controlling the supply of drugs from Tajikistan to Russia, Tajik organized crime groups engage in extortion of Tajik traders throughout the region.  Because roughly 80% of Tajiks in the region are living in Russia illegally, such crimes are drastically underreported.  Unsurprisingly, there is also evidence that Tajik organized crime groups are involved in illegal migration schemes to and from Central Asia.

Uzbek and Kyrgyz Presence

In 2007, Tajik and Uzbek migrants were banned from selling goods in local markets, which was their main legal source of income.  Forced to turn to the black market, a number of Uzbeks have fallen under the control of Tajik criminal organizations.  As such, there have more reported instances of Uzbeks engaging in extortion and kidnapping of their compatriots.

While the number of Kyrgyz nationals in the region has steadily increased in recent years, their influence has been minimal.  Dr. Repetskaya predicts that it is only a matter of time before ethnic Kyrgyz make their mark on the regional criminal world.

The North Caucasus in western Siberia:  Ingush and Chechen Criminal Structures

Besides the Bratsk criminal society, the largest and most powerful criminal groups in western Siberia are composed of ethnic Ingush and Chechens.  Using kinship networks stretching across major Russian cities, such as Moscow, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Vladivostok, Ingush and Chechen groups are engaged in a wide range of criminal activities.  Ingush organized crime groups, in particular, are known to be involved in the illegal drugs and weapons markets, as well as theft of petroleum products and document falsification.  It has also been reported that Ingush groups specialize in stealing cars from Russia, which are transported to Kazakhstan in exchange for heroin to be transported back to Russia.  The biggest source of profit for many regional Chechen criminal groups has been casinos, which ultimately serve as money laundering apparatuses for proceeds from the drug trade.  Both Chechen and Ingush groups are involved in the illegal trade of gold and other precious metals and have been know to hide their illegal activities behind officially registered cultural centers and organizations.

Final Thoughts:  Bratsk Criminal Society vs. the Ingush and Chechens?

The biggest Ingush organized crime group, Clan K, is based in Irkutsk.   Clan K can be divided into several small groups, which are involved in the extortion of Tajik migrants, the organization of illegal Tajik migration, as well as contract killings among other things.  In recent years, this group has only grown in strength, constituting a serious threat to the regional supremacy of the Bratsk criminal society.  Ingush and Chechen criminal authorities have attempted to unite Clan K with the numerous Chechen criminal groups in the region in order to create a more powerful criminal organization, but have yet to succeed.  Some regional criminal leaders from the North Caucasus maintain that the Irkutsk oblast is in need of its own “thief-in-law” to effectively consolidate control.  This has yet to occur, perhaps in part due to opposition from the Bratsk criminal society.

Regional law enforcement is aware of several open conflicts between Ingush groups and the Bratsk criminal society, involving the drug trade and in one instance, the control of a meat packing plant.  If the unification of Chechen and Ingush groups were to take place, tensions between them and the Bratsk criminal society may very well turn into open war.

Write to traccc at traccc@gmu.edu