Archive for April 26th, 2012


Organised crime, Ukraine and the region

April 26, 2012

OK.  I thought about the final paragraphs of yesterday’s blog entry and I would like to ponder them a little more.

Specifically of the questions at the end, which were posed to nobody in particular, let’s think about the organised actors involved and what they are involved in.  This post would be far too lengthy to mull over some broad, rather than specific, strategies to help address the situation, so I won’t.  At least not today.

Before doing so, it is necessary for me to point out that I have had no involvement in being on “The Crown” side of the efforts with serious and organised crime, paramilitaries or groups legally recongised as “terrorists” for what is almost 20 years.  Time change.  Structures change on both sides.  Tactics and strategies change.

In fact what I once knew as cutting edge will now mostly be obsolete, with the possible exception of human intelligence gathering, informants (and informant protocols). handlers, controllers etc and the models of collecting, collating, verifying  and classifying of any intelligence gathered for operational or profiling reasons.  All of that experience comes from the UK mainland and only occasionally did it involve other nations (such as Eire for obviously reasons at the time, and Turkey when I stumbled across unexpected PKK involvement in something, leading to months and months of ad hoc liaison with Special Branch, Regional Crime Squads et al).

Suffice to say, what experience I have, is probably now comparable to caveman etchings on a dank and wet wall verses a modern day Picasso.  There was a beauty and a skill involved at the time, but not a patch on how things are done today I suspect.

So having made a declaration that I probably no longer know what I am writing about, I will continue regardless, otherwise this post would be pointless.

I have no intention of going into street crime or domestic policing abilities in Ukraine.  That would be a different post should I venture down that very uneven road.  I will stick to the organised criminality, be it genuinely organised crime for the sake of personal/group gain, or groups with other ideologies who involve themselves in organised crime to fund other activities, as was the case when I stumbled upon the PKK issue in the UK back in the mid 1990s.

One of the first things we must recognise is that there are certain actors within Ukrainian agencies who are easily bought off to either turn a blind eye or possibly take a more active role.  Passive or active involvement are obviously debilitating factors when the State makes any attempts to fight the good fight.

Now there will be some readers who will say that combating drug trafficking is a pointless exercise and we, globally, would be better off legalising drugs, taxing them, subjecting them to quality controls etc.  There is a good argument for that, certainly economically, but organised crime is not just about drug trafficking.  Who would want their government to ignore the abhorrent issue of human trafficking for example?  What of money laundering or illicit domestic sex and gambling trades?  There is more than one good fight to be had with serious and organised crime.  A wide lens is required when looking at this phenomenon.

So, what of organised crime in Odessa and Ukraine?  Firstly it is important to recognise just how fluid it is.  I know only two players in what can genuinely be identified as the “Odessa mafia”.  We will call them Mr A and Mr V.  Ignoring their foot soldiers and the numerous black shinning BMW X5’s and X6’s they tend to drive around in convoy everywhere,  their nefarious activities and profiles are otherwise very low key to the likes of you and me.  Minnows are never much interest to sharks and even though sharks are interesting to minnows, they are not always easily identified as being a shark and often it is too late if you do.  How I know these two individuals is really rather irrelevant, it is enough you know that I do.

Mr A in particular, spends more time doing “things” in Crimea, Kyiv, Donetsk and Moscow than Odessa.  Mr V is much more homely when it comes to time spent in Odessa.  Both are very shrewd, occasionally they work together or recommend each other for different “issues” but for the most part, they act completely independently of each other.  Yet they are both part of the same very fluid band of like-minded people.

The days of the family Don or the 1990s mafia boss in the post Soviet space are not as clear cut and identifiable today as they once were.  Whilst they may exist, the structure is much more fluid and entrepreneurial for those involved unless there is a need to rally around a cause.

It may seem concerning from a rule of law perspective that both Messers A and V are very well known to all branches of law enforcement and are on good terms with them.  That is not as unusual as we may like to think and is not exclusively a “Ukrainian thing”.   Many a career criminal in the UK was/is on cordial terms with “the law”.  Familiarity when it comes to who you meet regularly in your profession and all that.  Such things are never always black and white until circumstances force them to be so, particularly as you climb the tree on either side of the line.

So aside from the Odessa mafia, which other recognisable criminal elements with regional reach are to be found here.  Well, last year there was a major shoot-out between some Russian criminals and the police.

Russian and Moldavian criminals (be they of the organised type or of the street) regularly decide on Odessa as a place to go to let the matters calm down in their home nations.  Part of the city known as Moldovanka is notorious for accommodating such people.

More recently we have the alleged plotters relating to assassination attempts on Mr Putin basing themselves in Odessa.  Irrespective of whether Mr Putin was the target or whether what happened here was spun to his advantage during his electioneering, one Russian and two Chechen’s did manage to blow up an apartment in Odessa with a home made IED.

The PKK are in Odessa and do shake down the resident Turks to fund the PKK back in Turkey.

Organised criminality from China is now apparent at 7KM market.  Particularly so with massive illegal currency exchange at a market that works strictly with cash, turns over $millions in a day.  It is not in your face, you do need to know who’s who and what’s what, but it is there and it is Chinese run (at least at the coal face) and we are talking about a lot of money.

There is also a small but solid organised criminal fraternity amongst the Georgians, the Albanians and the Armenians in Odessa.  One would expect that similar activities amongst the same and other groups exist all over Ukraine.  Kherson, for example, has an up and coming reputation for a Korean criminal enterprise from what I have been told.

None of this includes the fluid Slavic brotherhood with Bulgarians, Romanians etc regularly making “arrangements” in Odessa.

Leaving the nationalities aside, there is the small but powerful Jewish community in Odessa who can always find “solutions” for their fellow Jew regardless of the issue posed.  My good lady is a Ukrainian Jew.  I know.

This is before we consider what is in some cases the organised criminality amongst the agencies of the State.   Odessa is home to three very active ports.  Odessa, Illychovsk and Yushni.  It is not easy to simply wander into any of these docks.  Security is  fairly tight and is everywhere.  The bureaucracy involved to open a container that has legitimately been sent to you containing completely legal contents is immense.  And yet……

To put this into perspective however, we are not talking about the issues on a scale that Latin America or the US face.  Every nationality of organised criminal I have thus far mentioned and more will be present in the US and operating.  The physical human insecurity of massive numbers of murders, kidnappings and carnage that can be seen across Latin America and the Caribbean fortunately does not happen in Ukraine.

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, Ukraine is much more of a transitory logistical hub than the end market for much of the organised criminality that occurs in Ukraine, particularly for external actors and to a lesser extent, of what the internal actors do as well.

However, there is still what is possibly an intangible cost when it comes to human security even if there are not the heaps of bodies associated with trafficking in Mexico or Latin America more generally.  There is the social and economic marginalisation of these minority groups who are shaken down to fund the PKK or who are expected to provide a roof over a trafficked human before these unfortunates are moved on again etc.  There are the unfortunate women duped into traveling to the EU who end up in the sex industry there.  (Yes some are volunteers in the industry and that is a personal choice, but there are those who are not which is the issue.)

Keeping such secrets and automatically reverting to a minority language whenever the law is in sight or could hear, creates a disconnect from integration and an economy and rule of law within the national economy and national rule of law (such as it is).  That can only be a strategic weakness when attempts are made to combat serious and organised crime, whatever the ideology for involvement in it.

Ukraine cannot effectively address its own massive every day domestic illicit black economy, so it has a very long way to go before it takes the time and effort to look at that of international/regional serious and organised crime without the robust encouragement of external law enforcement agencies.

To be fair, when that encouragement is there and the intelligence is solid and can be moved upon, Ukraine does actually act competently and aggressively.  Whenever an external law enforcement actor assists in one way, shape or form, Ukraine can be relied upon to act.  Unfortunately, unless that mountain will come to Mohamed, Mohamed rarely goes to the mountain for want of a better analogy, and little if anything is actually done that relates to actual decisive results otherwise.

It was therefore pleasing to write yesterday’s post and the proactive stance by Ukraine towards Afghanistan post 2014.  Unfortunately I am not convinced that domestic action will be as robust or overt as the announcement of Ukrainian continued participation in Afghanistan relating to trafficking.

It is a fairly safe bet more, rather than less, Afghan heroin will be transited through Ukraine heading West come 2014 and beyond, and I doubt there will be an adequate plan or resources within Ukraine to meet that challenge.  This is something our UK SOCA man sat behind the ramparts of HM Embassy Kyiv will no doubt have on his future threat assessments.

So, in a nation where North Africa (via a few hours in a boat from Turkey), Central Asia, Russia and the EU all meet, trade and use as a logistical hub, it is unsurprising that serious and organised crime is here and is likely to remain.  How Ukraine and the region should address it are thoughts for another day and yet another exceedingly long post.

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