The Russian Mafia

[ A secret criminal society known as the Thieves World or in Russian, Vorovskoy Mir ]

Given the history of Russia, I have a hard time feeling sympathetic to the notion that the citizens of Russia and the Near Abroad were victims of circumstance. It has always been my opinion that one of, if not the worst, atrocities to befall humanity was the Holocaust. History is plagued with economic, political, ethnic and geographical crisis. Since the beginning of time man has been challenged to survive against all odds. The point that I am trying to make is that there are a number of other ethnic groups and nations who have faced similar, even worse, conditions without resorting to the treachery of the Russian Mafia. What concerns me is that research lends itself to the suggestion that due to circumstance corruption was the only option for Russia and the Near Abroad.

In the USSR power changed hands thirteen times, beginning with Vladimir Lenin and ending with the current Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Lenin was a Russian revolutionary and the founder of Bolshevism. He came to power as the major force behind the Revolution of 1917 ( In 1917, Russia finally reached the end of centuries of imperial rule. Political and social changes erupted that would lead to the formation of the Soviet Union. Nicholas II reigned as emperor from 1894-1918, and he would be the last Russian czar. Civil unrest and constant food shortages flared into open revolt, forcing the abdication of Nicholas II. The newly installed provisional government, within a few short months, was then itself overthrown by the more radical Bolsheviks under the charge of Vladimir Lenin ( From the death of imperial czarism, Bolshevism or Soviet communism was born. To the naked eye it would seem that the former Soviet Union’s communist regime was destined to collapse, throwing the Russian Republics to the wolves, the Russian Mafia. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union is but a contribution and catalyst to the surfacing of an Old World secret society.

The roots of the Underworld can be traced back centuries to a secret criminal culture that survived both czarist terror and Soviet treachery, the Thieves World. In 1991 after more than 70 years of communist rule the Soviet Union collapsed. The world’s most heavily armed police-state looked as though it had given birth to the Red Mafia. The collapse of the Soviet Union was not the cause of the organization of the Russian Mafia, nor is the history of its roots an excuse for criminal activity. From my standpoint, most actions for any man are a personal choice. Countless other nations suffered under imperialism, poverty and despair. For example, the African Slave Trade is a brutal side of African-American and African native history alike. After many years slavery was abolished and replaced with segregation in America. For the African natives there was the apartheid. Certainly the physical geographies, state policy of regional development, natural history and circumstances of past regional development are similar to the conditions and history of Russia. No one can deny the crime that flourishes in the African-American community, however, it simply can not compare to the wide-scale treachery and exploitations of organized crime groups such as the Russian Mafia.

The Russian Underworld dates back centuries to a secret criminal society. The organization managed to outlive the czars and outlast the communists. It is known as the Thieves World or in Russian, Vorovskoy Mir. The origins have been traced to Imperial Russia at a time when most of the population were peasants living in obscure poverty. In Imperial Russia, since everything in the country was the property of the czar, stealing was more than criminal it was a means of rebellion against the State. The people praised these popular heroes and dubbed them Russian Robin Hoods. Rebel criminals were even immortalized in songs and stories. Eventually, criminals themselves started to band together. Developing their own outlaw culture and along with it a strict code of conduct. Membership was based on loyalty to one another and opposition to the czar. Rule number one: do not inform on any member of the gang. Rule number two: you do not cooperate with the government. Rule number three: share all the profits made among everybody.

It would soon become very apparent, by the time of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Vorovskoy Mir was well established. It is said that Vladimir Lenin experienced this first hand. Within months of seizing power Lenin was robbed by a gang of highway men. Lenin’s reaction was swift and fierce. A brutal new police force was created and given orders that all bandits be executed on sight. Although, It would be Joseph Stalin who would try to eradicate the Thieves World for good. Sadly, Stalin and his habitual backstabbing only succeeded in adding fuel to the fire and ultimately caused chaos in the ranks of the Vorovskoy Mir. Stalin had shattered the honor and loyalty of the Thieves World code of conduct. It may seem miniscule, but for an already embittered and vicious group of criminals the breakdown of the honor and loyalty within the code of conduct made them a force to be reckoned with. Essentially, wild beasts capable of any and everything.

Joseph Stalin seized power after Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924. It would only be fair to assume that this new government would somehow take part in the new enterprise of organized crime, welcoming it. However, it was not until the 1960s and 1970s under the regime of Premier Leonid I. Brezhnev would corruption become a way of life within the Soviet system. Communist Party bureaucrats eagerly trafficked in whatever they could make a profit from. As for Stalin, he happily locked the Soviet Union in his iron grip. The Russian Police executed hundreds of thousands. Millions more criminals, dissidents, political enemies and Jews disappeared into a wide range of prisons and gulags. Even within the walls of prisons like the one on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, Russia’s criminal underworld thrived. High ranking powerful thieves who are known as vory v zakone or thieves in law (“thieves of the code”) quickly lorded over the prison hierarchy with ease.

Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Stalin became desperate for reinforcements so he offered freedom to prisoners who enlisted. Oddly enough, many of these extreme anarchist criminals took Stalin at his word. Members of the Thieves World joined, even though, working with the government was synonymous with treason in the Underworld. Stalin did not keep his word and when the war was over they were sent right back to prison. Indeed, fighting for the country would cost them. They returned to prison and paid a huge price, falling to the bottom of the prison hierarchy. Now considered traders to the Thieves World, they became known as suki, the Russian word for bitch. In the aftermath of WWII the secret society of the thieves was almost completely wiped out by a hidden war that overwhelmed the Soviet prison system and forever changed the Russian Underworld. Those who were strong enough to survive the prison wars were now different from the old Thieves World. Approximately an estimated 8 million inmates were released from the gulags and prisons after Stalin’s death. No longer obligated to the laws of the old Thieves World, a new breed of Russian criminal was born and he looked out for himself only. Even if it meant going to the extent of cooperating with the government. Corruption began to eat away at the Soviet machine and before long the criminal bosses and the communist bosses started to look the same.

This resemblance and intermingling between bureaucrats and hardened criminals goes to support my disregard for any sympathy. When you are hungry and cold with children who don’t know when their next meal will be, this is what drives a man to commit a crime. Provided that crime will benefit him or his family. The pitiful part is that to many the Russian Mafia is powerful and deadly. In my opinion, they are weak. People all over the world suffer unspeakable atrocities, and they also feel geographically and economically imprisoned. They do not resort to crime, they endure. They rally, protest and band together. In researching, “Economic Geography of Russia”, the standard by which Russia is examined consists of three main factors. Physical geography, policy of the state and historical circumstances are the factors used to determine what shapes a nation’s economic geography (New Economic School). Which, I believe, further proves that Russia’s economic geography does not make it any more or any less vulnerable to large scale corruption, organized crime and high crime rates.

Uploaded on Feb 12, 2011

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia switched to a free market economy, opening the doors for the Red Mafia to take control of an estimated 40% of the nation’s economy. As one of the most fearsome, violent, creative, and well-educated criminal organizations in the world, the Red Mafia has been difficult to locate and shut down.


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