Organized Crime in Western Siberia (Part 3)

Posted: April 26, 2012 at 2:58 pm, Last Updated: September 7, 2012 at 1:53 am

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

Parts 1 and 2 of this series provided a snapshot of organized crime in western Siberia by describing the most significant regional criminal group, the Bratsk criminal society, and depicting the constellation of ethnic criminal groups active in western Siberia, including Chinese, Central Asian, Ingush, and Chechen formations.  It follows that the strength of regional organized crime has presented serious challenges to law enforcement.  Echoing conclusions from Irkutsk-based criminologist Anna Repetskaya, this blog post outlines some of the problems that the Russian state faces in combatting organized crime.  This post also suggests two criminological approaches for addressing organized crime and describes a few legislative and policy changes that would improve anti-organized crime efforts in Russia.


Taking into account local conditions

The Russian state has long concerned itself with how to effectively combat organized crime.  Specifically, authorities have sought to identify the best methods and tactics for investigating crimes commited by organized criminal groups as well to assess the societal conditions and individual motivations that facilitate these crimes.  Officials have also worked to improve methods of preventing and detecting criminal acts as well as to enhance the effectiveness of operative-investigative cadres.

However, the centralizing impulse of the Russian federal state has limited its ability to combat organized crime.  Repetskaya argues that the fight against organized crime in Russia’s regions depends significantly on regional policies, which are largely derived from the center and thus ignore local specificities.  By taking into account local and regional conditions, policymakers can improve the effectiveness of anti-organized crime measures.


Criminological approaches:  uncoupling and re-orientation 

For Repetskaya, Russia’s fight against organized crime would benefit from a conceptual shift away from a purely criminal/legal approach to one that more prominently features aspects of criminology.  Put otherwise, the goal of combating organized crime should not be the complete liquidation of organized crime, but the implementation of maximum social control over this problem.

In order to increase social control over crime, Repetskaya suggests two possible strategies:  uncoupling and re-orientation.  Uncoupling refers to the dissolution of organized crime groups and the liquidation of opportunities for direct contact among the group’s members.  On one hand, uncoupling can be complete: all or a majority of an organized crime group’s members are denied opportunities for direct contact.  Alternatively, uncoupling can be partial, such as when the isolation of the group’s leaders and most active participants takes place (through jail terms or other methods).

Although re-orientation is a relatively rare occurence, it remains a useful strategy for extending social control over organized crime.  In essence, re-orientation acknowledges the continued existence of the organized group as a social formation, but facilitates the movement of the group away from its original, negative social purpose.  As such, re-orientation may be full or partial.  In certain cases, it may be possible to re-orient particular factions of an organized crime group, but not the group in its entireity.

Uncoupling or re-orientation of organized crime groups provide only short-term effects, however.  These measures should not merely facilitate the removal of organized crime groups from state databases, but need to be aimed at the actual elimination of criminal formations.  Practice shows that after uncoupling or re-orientation efforts take place, recalcitrant or excluded organized crime group members ultimately join other criminal groups.  Moreover, new groups rise in place of uncoupled or re-oriented ones and these new groups are quick to apply new methods and violence in the service of accumulating ill-gotten wealth.


Legal and policy changes

The fight against organized crime should not be waged only by identifying and punishing the guilty.  Instead, attention must be paid proactive measures of prevention, which implies the revision of key laws and policies.

Broadly, changes should be focused on addressing economic and financial crimes, which are particularly problematic across Russia, as well as on laws and policies that take into account regional conditions.  For example, natural resources are a major focus of organized crime activities in western Siberia, which means that legislation should be adopted to address these region-specific problems.  In addition, national and regional legislation should be revised to include rules regulating the seizure of financial and physical property belonging to proven representatives of organized crime.  It is thought that leaders and members of organized crime groups are less fearful of criminal prosecution and jail than they are of the state confiscating criminal property.  By avoiding punitive sanctions in the form of property confiscations, the state essentially preserves the economic foundations of criminal groups.  This enables criminal groups to effectively resist the state’s anti-crime efforts inside and outside of jail.

Finally, additional resources should provided to law enforcement agencies.  The lack of funding and logistical support for law enforcement severely curtails operational capacity.  Anti-organized crime units, in particular, have been seriously underfunded.  Additionally, the absence of trained investigators in many regional police departments has led to ineffective investigations and a dearth of prosections.


Concluding thoughts

While the Russian government remains aware of the problems posed by organized crime, ineffective strategies, resource deficits, and weak legislation continue to present roadblocks.  This post has suggested that consideration of local and regional specificities, inclusion of criminological approaches such as uncoupling and re-orientation, and adjustment of legislation and policy, particularly with respect to criminal finances, will improve the Russian government’s efforts to combat organized crime.

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