The ”Russian” Mafia in Americarnby Wayne AllensworthrnIn October 1996, during testimony before a congressionalrncommittee, FBI Director Louis Freeh spent a good part ofrnhis time discussing international organized crime. Freeh,rnpointing to the FBI’s arrest of one Vyacheslav Ivankov—the reputedrn”godfather” of the Russian mafia who is now serving arnten-year sentence in a federal pen in New York—emphasizedrnthe threat that organized crime from the Former Soviet Unionrn(FSU) posed to American security. Nezavisimaya Gazeta,rnprobably the most widely read newspaper among Russianrnelites, reported that “this theme”—the global threat representedrnby the Russian mafia—was “gleefully developed” by Westernrnmedia, which publishes and broadcasts “more and morernmenacing details about crimes committed by Russian mafiosi.”rnThe paper’s Aleksandr Sharev further claimed, probably correctly,rnthat the firestorm over the Russian mafia had been ignitedrnby a study published in the United States in 1996 by thernCenter for Strategic Studies (CSS), which “blew the Russianrnmafia threat up to almost worldwide dimensions.”rnThe Russians, ever sensitive to the West’s alleged Russophobia,rnreacted sharply. Former Minister of Internal Affairs (thernMVD, responsible for police and internal troops) Anatoli Kulikovrnblasted Freeh and the CSS study, claiming that the exaggeratedrnaccounts of Russian Al Capones were being spread inrnorder to “isolate Russia politically and economically.” Freeh,rnin deference to Kulikov, thereafter softened his remarks. Butrnthe question of just what, exactly, the “Russian mafia” is, andrnhow big a threat it represents, were never adequately addressed,rnand the best way to answer these questions is to backtrack alongrnthe trail of Ivankov himself—better known, in the FSU underworld,rnas the ‘Yaponchik” (“the Jap”).rnAccording to the MVD Directorate for the Fight Against OrganizedrnCrime, there are over 4,000 organized crime groupsrnoperating in the FSU. The organizations vary greatiy in sizernand type. Many are ethnically organized: a Russian, or morernWayne Allensworth writes from Purcellville, Virginia, and is thernauthor of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization,rnand Post-Communist Russia {Rowman & Littlefield).rnexactly. Eastern Slavic (including Belorussians and Ukrainians)rnmafia does exist, as does a primarily Jewish mafia, an Azerirnmafia, a Georgian mafia, and a Chechen mafia (similar in originsrnand organization to the Sicilian Cosa Nostia). Other gangsrnare organized operationally: some specialize in trafficking narcotics,rnothers in racketeering, still others in contact murders,rnmoney laundering, or arms smuggling. In this milieu, it mayrnbe more accurate to call the “Russian” mafia a “Russian-speaking”rnmafia, whose constituent members sometimes belong primarilyrnto one group but interact and cooperate, either as an organizationrnor as individuals, with other gangs and gangsters.rnTaken as a whole, the “mafia” is more like a network of criminalrnorganizations than a tightiy organized monolith.rnAccording to the MVD, some 174 of these FSU organizationsrnare operating abroad, mainly in the United States, Israel,rnand Europe. The leader of a gang is called the vorv zakone, anrnuntranslatable term that signified senior status in the age-oldrnloosely organized Russian brotherhood of thieves {vor meansrn”thief” in Russian), and it was into this brotherhood that thernyoung Ivankov was initiated some years ago.rnBorn in 1940 in Moscow, the child, who would acquire thernmoniker ‘Taponchik” because of his narrow, slanted eyes, displayedrnathletic talent and a violent temper. Constantly in troublernas a result of his fighting, the young Ivankov, who had earlierrnbeen trained as an acrobat, took up boxing. (It is a peculiarityrnof the Soviet era that criminal gangs were often organized in thernstate-sponsored sports clubs.) The young gang members mightrnfirst cut their teeth on simple theft, then graduate to higherrnforms of the criminal arts after a stint in prison, where they oftenrnwere initiated in the ancient Russian thieves’ brotherhood,rnwhere status is determined by the willingness of the young initiaternto kill. Ivankov began his criminal career in the 1960’s andrnserved time in the Irkutsk, Magadan, and Tulun prison campsrnand the dreaded Vladimir Cential prison where he acquiredrnthe status of vor v zakone, relentlessly enforcing the brotherhood’srncode of conduct (the Yaponchik was reportedly the mostrnfeared member of the thieves’ brotherhood) and via corruptrnprison officials maintaining contacts with his gangland patronsrn24/CHRONICLESrnrnrn