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Feature Articles


March 2018
Russiya Mafiya

      By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus


Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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Russia is a mafia state whose leaders ignore the crimes of their underlings in exchange for absolute loyalty. Additionally, the Kremlin itself benefits from such crimes. It has an immense parallel budget of black funds from tax reimbursements and kickbacks from state contracts. A history of corruption is embedded in the very soil and soul of the Russian state. Over the decades mafia gangs have increased into the 1OO0s with an army of active members plus the involvement of millions more. Mafiya as a criminal concept penetrates the society. If the USA was like Russia it would be necessary to have massive corruption of the federal government plus half of the United States, and other institutions. Bribery is the cost of doing business. This species of criminal culture can be found elsewhere, the difference being the phenomenon permeates several layers of everyday life.

The concept of mafiya is a misnomer. There is no unified criminal conspiracy. Mafiya, unlike Cosa Nostra, has no hierarchical organization, permanent membership or induction rituals. The actors are not unified through familial ties, and operate with flexible network structures, nor are they standard underworld criminals. Rather, they are overworld entrepreneurs or high-ranking officials. Mafiya is unimpeded because no political will exists to stem its growth or punish its leaders. Mafiya is both an economic and also potent political force as contrasted to the concept of mafia.

“Mafiya is like a government except it works,” so goes a Russian saying. Out of the turbulent Russian history has arisen a business culture that to the few goes the gold. The economics of the society is locked up. From the outside it appears as one colossal criminal conspiracy, to a greater extent than any comparison, where wealth and power reside inside the confines of untouchable elite. Decades back when American businessmen sought contracts with Russian businessmen, they were shocked, shocked to encounter the venerable “Pay to Play” upfront, under-the-table cash before negotiations could commence. Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, by all accounts, has amassed a considerable fortune. Who is there to stop him? Certainly not the oligarchs and the politicians in Putin’s inner circle.

FOOTNOTE: Russia has different types of mafia groupings. Many of the gangs have formal structures. The traditional mob rackets contain “Gangs within gangs,” meaning corruption of military and police. At another level white-collar criminals, gangster businessmen, and also major wheeler-dealers, men who infiltrate the highest levels of the society, the political and social spheres. In cities like London dirty money is washed on a large scale, mixing dirty with clean for legitimate investments. Mafya has extended its reach abroad, with a notable presence in the USA.


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