Chechen Mafia

 

 

Introduction

The Chechen mafia, or Obshchina (Russian: Община, meaning "community"), is one of the largest and most important organized crime (OC) groups operating in the former Soviet Union next to established Russian mafia gangs, which consist of ex-KGB, spetznaz and criminals with wide access to arms caches, and other high profile criminal activities. However, Russian language media reports on the influence and nature of Chechen OC have been the subject of much controversy and an unbiased analysis has yet to be provided. What exactly defines Chechen "organized" criminal activity and its relationship to politics, Islamic fundamentalism, and the ongoing conflicts in the Caucasus, continues to be a subject of debate.

Origins and History

According to the documentary The Making of a New Empire directed by Jos de Putter, the group originated in 1974 after a Chechen student at Moscow State University named Khozh-Ahmed Noukhaev founded an underground opposition movement, which later became known as the widely feared Obshina. To many Chechens however, it was regarded as the cradle of the liberation movement, with Noukhaev embodying a persistent Chechen tradition of the bandit-warrior. By 1987 Chechen criminals had developed into a well-organized community under Nukhayev and Nikolay Suleimanov, the group forced the most influential local OC gangs (the Lyubertsy, Solntsevo, and Balashikha) out of Moscow which allowed the Chechens to occupy the dominant position. Recent reports estimated that the groups sphere of influence extends from Vladivostok to Vienna, with members involved in various areas of criminal activity ranging from automobile theft, money laundering, trafficking Chinese illegal immigrants to Japan, narcotics smuggling, and the illegal sale of plutonium. Unlike other Russian OC groups, the Obshina was considered a hybrid criminal-political entity, which used illegal proceeds to finance and arm separatists fighters during the Chechen Wars. This unique characteristic has resulted in a trend towards blurring the distinction between organized crime and terrorists groups and has confused many observers as to the Obshina's overall motivations. It is still not entirely clear whether they are more interested in creating an independent nation-state or in perpetuating regional instability so that they might continue to profit from the drug trade and other criminal activities. The group was last rumored to be led by Nikolay Suleimanov, who is currently trying to expand his way into the lucrative East European cigarette smuggling racket.

 

Drug Trafficking

Chechen criminal groups and guerrilla factions reportedly play a significant part in the narcotics trade in Central Asia, Russia and the Caucasus region. In the First Chechen War guerrillas used funding from a variety of rackets as well as the sale of oil. However in the Second Chechen War the fighters received huge financial backing from Jordanian militant Ibn Al-Khattab, who joined with guerrilla leader Shamil Basayev and became a prominent figure in the war. This marginalized some figures such as Ruslan Gelayev, who turned to the drugs trade full time.

The Chechen mafia appears to dominate the traditional Russian mafia organizations in the drugs trade. One Tajik drug trafficker stated he preferred to sell his product to Chechen gangs rather than Russians, because of the Chechen's high-reaching contacts in both the underworld and police force. The Chechen influence runs even so far as to Murmansk, where starting from 1997 the head of the province's Internal Affairs Administration was actually a puppet for a Chechen named Vaskha Askhabov, who brought with him large-scale heroin trafficking that dominated the local underworld. Eventually Askhabov was arrested but freed in Moscow shortly afterwards, apparently thanks to his connections in the Ministry of Internal Affairs

 

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