The Kremlin’s Long Shadow: Countering Russian-Based Organized Crime in Europe

Written by | Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

Over the past two decades, Russian organized crime has been considerably taking grip over Europe. Nowadays, Russian criminals operate in shadows as facilitators, allies and suppliers for European gangs and continent-wide criminal networks. Russia itself is highly criminalized and the interpenetration of the criminal “underworld” and the political “upperworld” has led the regime to use criminals from time to time as instruments of its rule.

Russian-based organized crime groups operating in Europe have also been used as tools for a variety of purposes, such as launching cyber attacks, wielding political influence, trafficking people and goods or even carrying out targeted assassinations on behalf of the Kremlin. The European Union and individual member states are aware that the issue of organized and transnational crime needs to be addressed. In fact, both of them will best be fought, and the implementation of its security and covert actions mitigated, by simply reinforcing the fight particularly against organized and transnational crime.

To make a progress, Europe needs to establish truly effective and cooperative institutions that will be able to reveal the ultimate beneficiaries of the corporate structures and to track money flows. In February 2017, the three European Supervisory Authorities – the European Banking Authority, the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority, and the European Securities and Markets Authority – admitted in a joint statement to the European Commission that the EU’s defenses against money-laundering by criminal and terrorist organizations were in jeopardy due to becoming less robust because of the lack of a common European approach and lacking awareness and skills (and sometimes, by implication, inclination) on the part of the financial sector to play its role.

Therefore, particularly EU countries where money from Russia has a significant presence, such as the Baltic states and Cyprus, need to address this issue. All in all, European countries and institutions simply need to address security as much as a criminal problem and introduce measures to combat it, including concentrating on targeting assets, sharing information among agencies and accepting the need to devote political and economic capital to the challenge.

Moreover, Europe will need to formulate a common approach to combat money laundering and build cooperative relationships between intelligence agencies and vulnerable local communities. Other measures, such as fostering increased exchange between national intelligence agencies and police forces, providing for better inclusion of the European Union Intelligence and Situation Centre in all activities and leveraging diplomatic ties, wherever possible, would be useful as well. All of this won’t, however, be possible without the right budget.

‘Crimintern: How the Kremlin Uses Russia’s Criminal Networks in Europe’ – Policy Brief by Mark Galeotti – European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

(The Policy Brief can be downloaded here)

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