The Vory Russia's super mafia

Mark Galeotti

Book - 2018

"The first English-language book to document the men who emerged from the gulags to become Russia's much-feared crime class: the vory v zakone Mark Galeotti is the go-to expert on organized crime in Russia, consulted by governments and police around the world. Now, Western readers can explore the fascinating history of the vory v zakone, a group that has survived and thrived amid the changes brought on by Stalinism, the Cold War, the Afghan War, and the end of the Soviet experiment. The Vory-as the Russian mafia is also known-was born early in the twentieth century, largely in the gulags and criminal camps, where they developed their unique culture. Identified by their signature tattoos, members abided by the Thieves' Code, a... strict system that forbade all paid employment and cooperation with law enforcement and the state. Based on two decades of on-the-ground research, Galeotti's captivating study details the Vory's journey to power from their early days to their adaptation to modern-day Russia's free-wheeling oligarchy and global opportunities beyond"--Publisher's description.

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New Haven ; London : Yale University Press [2018]
Main Author
Mark Galeotti (author)
Physical Description
xii, 326 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 302-316) and index.
  • List of illustrations
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • A Note on transliteration
  • Introduction
  • Part 1. Foundations
  • 1. Kain's land
  • 2. Eating Khitrovka soup
  • 3. The birth of the vory
  • 4. Thieves and bitches
  • 5. Thief life
  • Part 2. Emergence
  • 6. The unholy trinities
  • 7. Gorbachev's gangsters
  • 8. The 'Wild Nineties' and the rise of the avtoritety
  • Part 3. Varieties
  • 9. Gangs, networks and brotherhoods
  • 10. The Chechen: The gangster's gangster
  • 11. The Georgian: The expatriate vor
  • 12. The gangster - internationalist
  • Part 4. Future
  • 13. New times, new vory
  • 14. Mafiya evolutions
  • 15. The criminal wars
  • 16. Bandit Russia: The theft of a nation?
  • Glossary of commonly used terms
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

Galeotti (Institute of International Relations, Prague) has produced a well-written history of Russian organized criminals from the 18th century to the present. From the Soviet Gulag labor camps that developed criminal subcultures to the present day of Putin, in which "gangsterism on the streets has given way to kleptocracy in the state," Galeotti explains how the values and practices of the Vory (as Russian organized crime became known in early 20th century) have become mainstreamed in an "interpenetration of organized crime, business, and politics." Using many interesting case examples of crime figures and interviews conducted in Russia, Galeotti demonstrates the difficulty in distinguishing a legitimate businessperson and a "gangster-entrepreneur" in Russia. Though Russian organized crime is not highly organized, the modern Russian state has absorbed the criminal underworld and uses it to carry out its will. A fascinating look at the complete blurring of the distinctions among organized crime, corruption, politics, and the rule of law in which they all use each other for personal gain, resulting in the state's becoming "the biggest gang in town." Puts recent work on Putin's Russia (Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? CH, Jun'15, 52-5562) into an organized crime context. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through faculty. --Jay S. Albanese, Virginia Commonwealth University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Galeotti, a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague and author of Spetsnaz: Russia's Special Forces, provides an expansive historical overview of organized crime in Russia from the 18th century to the present. The book's earliest sections follow the exploits of Vanka Kain, "the scourge of Moscow in the 1730s and 1740s," who became a Russian folk hero-a so-called "'honest thief'" who made no pretense about who he was. Galeotti draws clear parallels between Kain and the modern underworld, contending that the essential arc of Kain's career-a criminal who ends up corrupting the officials who think they control him-is one still being played out in post-Soviet Russia. This arc is exemplified by Dmitry Zakharchenko, the former head of Russia's anti-corruption agency, who was arrested in 2016 after police found $120 million in cash in his Moscow apartment. Unlike the Italian mafia, Galeotti writes, the vory (as the Russian mob became known in early 20th century) are "often not especially organized" and have no real traditions. Rather, Galeotti sees "coercion, corruption, and compliance" as key characteristics of a distinctly Russian way of crime that can be traced through the centuries. This is a cogent and accessible history that anyone interested in organized crime in general, and the Russian variety in particular, will want to pick up. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.