Transnational Organized Crime in the Commonwealth of Independent States: a Brief Characterization

Official statistics on Transnational Organized Crime (hereinafter – TOC) in the Commonwealth of Independent States (hereinafter – CIS) does not exist. According to some experts, more than 300 organized groups and criminal organizations in the CIS have international connections, i.e. accomplices, divisions or isolated groups in other states.[1] Most of these connections, however, are limited to the CIS countries themselves.

This phenomenon is conditioned by the nature of the respective types of TOC, with the following being the most dangerous in the CIS:

  • Terrorism;
  • Drug trafficking;
  • Trafficking in weapons and ammo;
  • Smuggling of alcohol, oil, gas and securities;
  • Smuggling of motor vehicles;
  • Laundering;
  • Counterfeiting.

TOC in the CIS does not differ that much from the TOC throughout the world, except for it has its own arguably unique features:

  • A fairly successful infiltration into the highest governmental bodies;
  • Intense association as to both effectively counter criminal prosecution and to crowd out the leading criminal structures from their markets in Europe and in the United States;
  • Focus on long-term export of illicit assets outside the CIS;
  • Frequent resort to assassinations and extortion as a means of redistribution of influence;
  • Focus on securing transport routes for drug trafficking from the Asian and Caucasian regions to the Western Europe;
  • A critically high number of criminal associations having strong connections with corrupt authorities including police, local governmental authorities and their bodies;
  • Centralization on the Moscow region as a financial bridge between criminal organizations of the CIS and the rest of the world.[2]

The development of TOC in recent decades might be considered as a process of rational reorganization of criminal enterprises on the international plane analogous to that of legal enterprises in the economic market. Besides, national and international criminal organizations’ structures are very similar to those of big corporations: both have labor division aimed at extracting maximal profits and ensuring minimal risks. TOC entities in the CIS, however, did not appear spontaneously: they were growing in numbers in proportion to the growth of political and social instability caused by rapid and erroneous changes in the economy and politics.

CIS criminals act coordinately in single criminal zones of their countries. The growth trend of TOC which is common to many countries around the world will be common to the CIS at least for a couple of decades. One can hardly believe that TOC entities will not exploit such favorable conditions as the simplified procedure for crossing the border, the establishment of free economic zones, the weakness of the legal framework governing the fight against TOC and inadequate border and customs control.

The development of international relations simultaneous to the increase of crime entails the growth of the criminal environment activities on establishing new transnational connections and the growth of the number of transnational crimes, with one of the indicators that proves such merging of criminal entities across the CIS being human trafficking.

Studies on TOC in the CIS show that there are peculiarities in the geography of criminal activities: Central Asia is favorable for drug trafficking, the Far East – for smuggling cars and extortion.

Current practices suggest that the main features of TOC entities in the CIS are:

  • Regular acquisitions of goods in countries where some members of a criminal group reside and their subsequent export to countries of other criminal members where the goods are in a higher demand;
  • The presence of mixed organized groups whose primary focus is smuggling and illegal export of large quantities of goods;
  • A large network of goods marketing operating under single leadership;
  • A network of currency exchange for illicit financial assets;
  • Export channels for illicit assets.[3]

Written by Jan Guardian


[1]     Bekryashev A., Belozyorov I., Shadow Economy and Economic Crime. Moscow: Open Society Institute (2000), chapter 3 [online][accessed: June 26, 2013].

[2]     Erkenov S., Transnational Crime: State and Transformation, Bilenchuk P. (ed.) K: Atika (1999), chapter 1 [online][accessed: June 26, 2013].

[3]     Gevorgyan G., State of transnational organized crime in the CIS, “Black Holes” in Russian Legislation 1 (2003), p. 276 [online][accessed: June 26, 2013].

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