Russian organized crime groups, which often have ties to Kremlin, have varied their activities in Europe, including Latvia. This is why European institutions should consider them more of a security, not crime problem, as concluded in a study by British researcher Mark Galeotti* published by European Council on Foreign Relations.
The study mentions different criminal directions employed by Russian organized crime groups. Latvia and Cyprus are outlined on the map as money laundering centres. These countries also have Russian-speaking communities which representatives of Russian organized crime groups often infiltrate.
As for Estonia, it is mentioned in the study that representatives of Russia organized crime had cooperated with Russian state institutions in the kidnapping of Estonian Security Police officer Eston Kohver. Other examples of cooperation between Kremlin and the criminal world also mentioned Cyprus, where a Russian agent went missing, and Montenegro, where a coup was attempted. Turkey and Austria are also mentioned in the study. In both those countries assassinations took place that served Russia’s state interests.
Galeotti mentions in his study that Russian criminal elements often hide behind legal businesses and most often prefer to settle in countries that have large Russian-speaking communities. Kosta del Sol in Spain, Cyprus and the Russian-speaking community in Riga are mentioned as the prime examples of such locations.
The researcher has concluded that in the past twenty years activities of Russian organized crime groups in Europe have changed significantly. Russian criminals no longer act in the open. Instead they more often participate in different grey activities as supporters and suppliers for different European criminal groups.
At the same time, he admits that «the Russian state is highly criminalised, and the interpenetration of the criminal ‘underworld’ and the political ‘upperworld’ has led the regime to use criminals from time to time as instruments of its rule.»
In the current situation, the researcher says, Russian organized crime groups are used in Europe to accomplish different goals: illegal money inflow, organization of cyber-attacks and political influence, human and goods contraband, and even hired assassinations in Kremlin’s interest.
This is why Galeotti recommends European countries and institutions to consider Russian organized crime groups as a security problem and perform appropriate measures to combat their activities, as well as exchange information and allocate political and financial capital for this problem’s resolution.
Analysing certain aspects of activities performed by these criminal groups, Galeotti has concluded that crimes is also well-organized on the Finnish-Russian border. At the same time, it is mentioned that Finland is not the final destination, especially not for smugglers. This country serves as a gate to the rest of Europe. The border is also used to smuggle illegal goods to Russia on land or using ships travelling between St Petersburg and Nordic and Baltic ports, especially Stockholm and Riga.
Latvia and Cyprus are mentioned as prime examples of countries frequented by Russian organized crime groups for money laundering. UK, Switzerland, Greece and Bulgaria are also often used for such crimes.
The researcher also mentioned examples of European authorities revealing and dismantling entire criminal networks headed by Russian criminal groups. Examples include the dismantling of the illegal gambling business in Portugal, Austria, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Moldova and UK, as well as the dismantling of cocaine-smuggling business that was based in Latvia.
Latvia’s and Estonia’s experience successfully combating such criminal groups are mentioned as examples of proper cooperation of inter-governmental institutions with local communities.
*Crimintern: How The Kremlin Uses Russia’s Criminal Networks In Europe