Press release: Putin’s Russia is weaponising the underworld
There is growing evidence of connections between criminal networks and the Kremlin’s state security apparatus.
Russian intelligence agencies are routinely using organised crime groups in Europe as instruments of intelligence activity and political influence, according to a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Crimintern: How the Kremlin uses Russia's criminal networks in Europe describes how Russian-based organized crime groups have developed strong links as allies, facilitators and suppliers with some of their European counterparts, creating a valuable resource for the Kremlin in its asymmetric war against a richer and more powerful West.
Organised crime groups are in some cases paid, in other cases coerced, into carrying out activities for the Russian state. These include cybercrime; raising untraceable funds for supporting European populist parties; smuggling weapons and people across borders; and even assassinations.
The report gives many examples of these activities, from the 2010 hack of the NASDAQ’s central systems, to the murders of Chechen militants in Istanbul in 2009-2011.
The author, Mark Galeotti, recommends that European governments and institutions should consider Russian-based organized crime a security problem as much as a criminal one, and adopt measures to combat it accordingly. This means targeting the criminal groups’ assets and their capacity to launder, move and secrete their funds through schemes like the ‘Russian Laundromat’, uncovered in March by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
Unfortunately, European policing is behind the curve in tackling this threat. The European authorities responsible for financial supervision recently warned the European Commission that the Union’s defenses against money-laundering were in danger of becoming “less robust”, in part due to a lack of willingness in the financial sector to address the problem.
The report concludes that the Russian security services-organised crime nexus is likely to become an even greater problem as Russian’s campaign to undermine Western unity and effectiveness continues. It is crucial that Europe develop sharper and more effective responses to the threat.