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Why Russian Organized Crime has Flourished in the United States

Updated on April 21, 2010

There is much speculation about why Russian organized crime has flourished in the United States. Numerous reasons, such as the Russian criminal background offer explanation. “They typically have military experience, and many are college-educated: ‘Many of today’s foremost Russian mobsters have Ph.D.’s in mathematics, engineering, or physics, helping them acquire and expertise in advanced encryption and computer technology’” (Abadinsky, 2003, p.200). These reasons for the influx of Russian criminals and their success within the United States are bogus. The reasons Russian organized crime has flourished within the United States are easy immigration laws, a weak justice system, and a lack of trained Russian-speaking law enforcement agents.

Russian criminals come to the United States because immigration laws are lax and background checks on Russian immigrants were virtually nonexistent. Vyacheslav Ivankov, one of most infamous Russian criminals, flew into Kennedy Airport from Russia and easy built his empire:

"Shortly after his arrival at Kennedy Airport, Ivankov was given a suitcase with $1.5 million by Armenian vor. He established his headquarters in Brighton Beach and recruited Russian combat veterans with a $20,000-per month retainer. They were sent out to extort money from legitimate businesses worldwide and to assassinate his rivals." (Abadinsky, 2003, p.203)

Vyacheslav Ivankov, escorted by FBI agents after arrest in 1995
Vyacheslav Ivankov, escorted by FBI agents after arrest in 1995

Ivankov had a high profile criminal background in Russia as a result of his murderous campaign against Moscow’s powerful Chechen crime groups (Abadinsky, 2003). Did the United States immigration process simply overlook his background or does the United States allow known criminals free passage into the country? The United States can reduce Russian organized crime by stopping known Russian criminals from immigrating into the country.

Russian criminals think the justice system in the United States is a joke. “Many group members are professional criminals; after their experience of criminal life in the Soviet Union, where police were feared and treatment of lawbreakers harsh, they view the United States as a haven” (Abadinsky, 2003, p.200). Russian criminals simply make smart decisions where to base their criminal operations. They choose to base criminal activity in the United States, a country with a weak justice system. Harsher punishments and sentences would deter Russian organized crime within the United States.

Russian criminals take advantage of the lack of Russian-speaking law enforcement agents within the United States. “The New York police department has been handicapped in dealing with the protection rackets and loansharking activities in the community by a lack of Russian-speaking officers” (Abadinsky, 2003, p.204). This solution to this problem is simple – increase the number of Russian-speaking law enforcement officers within the United States. If the supply of Russian-speakers within the United States is low, immigration, with proper background investigations, can be used to bring in Russian-speaking law-enforcement agents.

Russian organized crime has flourished in the United States not because of the excellent training ground the former Soviet Union provided for criminals, but due to the United States’ lack of serious efforts in criminal justice. Tougher immigration laws, harsher penalties for criminals, and more Russian-speaking law enforcement officers would fix the Russian organized crime problem in the United States. The United States must take action that sends a message to the world that criminals are not desired and punishment is severe for crime in the United States.


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