The “Russian Mafiya” is something of a misnomer. There is no overarching criminal organization linking all of Russia’s various criminal societies; rather, there are several thousand independent groups scattered all over Russia and the world that share a common past. The Soviet prison system bred a hardened aristocracy, the vory v zakone, or “thieves in law.” The vory ran criminal gangs all across the USSR from inside the gulag, gangs that included various black- market operations in their smuggling activities. Something like 80% of the banks in Russia are mafiya-owned, and two-thirds of Ukraine’s economic activity likewise. The Russian mafiyas used this tsunami of cash (and those Afghan veteran killers) to buy and murder their way into the major criminal enclaves all over Europe, especially the French Riviera, fighting with the Italian Mafia for the right to take the French Connection from the Unione Corse.
The various bratva, or “brotherhoods,” of the Russian mafiya operate independently, coming together on an ad hoc basis for operations and then dissolving again: a true multicellular network.