Sunday

4th Jun 2023

EU neighbours are 'mafia states,' US cables indicate

Belarus, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine are already or are swiftly becoming 'mafia states' according to a senior Spanish prosecutor cited in US diplomatic cables.

The appraisal, given by Spanish prosecutor Jose 'Pepe' Grinda Gonzalez to US diplomats in Madrid in February this year, noted: "He considers Belarus, Chechnya and Russia to be virtual 'mafia states' and said that Ukraine is going to be one. For each of those countries, he alleged, one cannot differentiate between the activities of the government and OC [organised crime] groups."

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  • Medvedev (c) arrives in Italy: the cables are an embarrassment to the Kremlin ahead of the EU-Russia summit on 7 December (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Mr Grinda added that Georgian citizens play key roles in criminal gangs in post-Soviet Europe and "described OC as 'very powerful' in Georgia" with "intertwined ties there between the government and OC" despite attempts by Tbilisi to clean up its act.

The Spanish jurist, who has worked in the sector for over 10 years and who voiced fears over his personal safety, elaborated on the Russia situation: "Grinda said that he believes the FSB [the Russian security services] is 'absorbing' the Russian mafia but they can also 'eliminate' them in two ways: by killing OC leaders who do not do what the security services want them to do or by putting them behind bars to eliminate them as a competitor for influence."

He cited as examples of the destabilising international role played by mafia bosses - known as "vor v zakone" or "thieves in law" - two cases of political protection for arms smugglers.

The first was the Arctic Sea case of 2009, in which a Russian-crewed freighter was intercepted in the Baltic Sea smuggling Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. The second case concerned Georgian-born vor v zakone Zahkar Kalashov who sold guns to Kurds in order "to destabilize Turkey" under the protection of Russian military intelligence.

A separate cable from the US embassy in Moscow in February this year detailed the crime scene in the Russian capital in a portrayal of the recently-ousted Moscow mayor Yuriy Luzhkov.

"The Moscow city government's direct links to criminality have led some to call it 'dysfunctional,' and to assert that the government operates more as a kleptocracy than a government. Criminal elements enjoy a 'krysha' (a term from the criminal/mafia world literally meaning 'roof' or protection) that runs through the police, the Federal Security Service (FSB), Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), and the prosecutor's office, as well as throughout the Moscow city government bureaucracy," the cable said.

An unidentified source went on to tell the US mission: "People often witness officials going into the Kremlin with large suitcases and bodyguards, and he speculated that the suitcases are full of money. The governors collect money based on bribes, almost resembling a tax system, throughout their regions."

The cables do not make a direct link to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, even though the US believes him to have amassed a seven-figure personal fortune through the Swiss oil-trading firm Gunvor, or to President Dmitry Medvedev.

But the highly embarrassing revelations come just days before an EU-Russia summit in Brussels in which Moscow will try to make the case for EU help with modernisation of its economy and a future free-trade zone.

Meanwhile, a 2008 cable from the US embassy in Kiev, shows the extent to which the Ukrainian gas business has roots in Russian organised crime and casts in a shady light some key figures in President Viktor Yanukovych's administration.

The cable, based on an interview between the US ambassador and Ukrainian gas and media tycoon Dmitry Firtash, sees Mr Firtash admit that the notorious Russian mobster, Semion Mogilevich, launched his career.

Mr Firtash in January 2002 attended a dinner with gas-sector competitors and Mr Mogilevich "not knowing if he would be beaten up or even killed." Mr Firtash went on to say that in the 1990s: "It was impossible to approach a government official for any reason without also meeting with an organized crime member at the same time." The cable added that "Firtash acknowledged that he needed, and received, permission from Mogilievich when he established various businesses."

The Firtash interview exposes the extent to which Ukrainian oligarchs play a role in politics, with Mr Firtash boasting that he helped to make and break government coalitions in the post-Orange Revolution years and used his TV channel, Inter, to sway public opinion.

The cable also notes that the current Ukrainian energy minister, Yuriy Boyko, in the past helped to cover up the size of Mr Firtash private fortune.

Mr Firtash was ousted from the gas business by his nemesis, former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko in 2009, but a Stockholm arbitration tribunal recently gave him back his stake in the gas game, indicating that he will once again become an important intermediary in the Russia-Ukraine-EU gas transit business.

Amid lingering EU fears of another gas crisis based on non-transparent deals between Kiev and Moscow, Gazprom and Ukraine's state-owned gas firm Naftogaz on Wednesday announced two new joint ventures which could pave the way for a full-scale take-over by Russia of the Ukrainian gas transit sector.

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A decade after launching it, the EU is trying to bring new life to its Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which has been rendered largely irrelevant by developments in Ukraine and around the Mediterranean.

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If the EU wants to make a positive mark on Russia, it should close its banks and borders to the criminal elite robbing its people blind, writes Ben Judah.

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