Organized Crime in Russia, West Africa, and East Asia


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20141016


Political instability is the fertilizer that allows criminal groups to grow. One such example is the triple surge in Russian criminal groups between 1992 and 2002 after the communist system disintegrated (Bakowski 2011). When the state was unable to protect new business owners, the criminal groups committed to the undertaking, and thereby, shared in profits (Bakowski, 2011).

According to Bakowski, “During this period boundaries were blurred between criminals, private business, corrupted officials and members of law enforcement and security services” (2011, 6). Still further, groups such as the Solntsevo Brotherhood from Mascow, the Tambov gang of Saint Petersburg and the Uralmash from Yekaterinburg has been involved in aluminum production, banking, drugs and arms trading, cybercrime, money laundering, and more (Bakowski 2011).

These groups have utilized militarily acquired intelligence and technology to strengthen their position. Moreover, the geopolitical influence of these groups is especially significant throughout Europe affecting several areas including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and others (Bakowski 2011).

The level of cooperation and partnerships that exist amongst these organized groups threatens the core of legitimate economies and governments around the world.

As these groups intensify their operations, their influence on the legitimate economy forces governments to make compromises as evidenced by the increased international cooperation, strategic partnership between the U.S. and Russia, and consolidated police powers in the United Nations (Grigg, 1996).

Western Africa

Western Africa’s geographical significance in regards to organized crime is seen in the percentage of cocaine production and shipments to Europe from Colombia, Venezuela, the Guyanas, Brazil, and Latin America (Wyler & Cook, 2010).

Key Western African regional entry points have included Senegal, Guinea-Biassau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ghana with transiting destinations entailing key European entry points including Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, and Italy (Wyler & Cook, 2010, 15).

The volume of cocaine transiting West Africa has been estimated at approximately 40 tons with estimated profits of $450 million (Wyler & Cook, 2010). West African criminal operations span more than 80 countries and have a diverse history including financial fraud and drug trafficking (historically heroine and increasingly cocaine) (Wyler & Cook, 2010).

According to Wyler and Cook,  “West Africans have long been associated with trafficking of diverse drugs through south and southwest Asian countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, China, the Philippines, and India” (2010, 31). West African criminal groups are more cooperative when seeking profit partnerships and are less centralized and turf dominating than traditional organized crime groups such as the Italian mafia (Wyler & Cook, 2010).

Western African criminal groups have been suspiciously linked to international terrorist groups such as the FARC, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) (Wyler & Cook, 2010). Further, these groups undermine U.S foreign policy goals, could jeopardize legitimate economic growth, threaten the loss of peackeeping donations, and aid the corruption of politcal leaders (Wyler & Cook, 2010).

East Asia

East Asia offers yet another exemplary case of how criminal enterprise rivals legitimate commerce and threatens the international community. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conducted and offered a threat assessment entitled Transnational Organized Crime in East Asia and the Pacific (2013).

Contained therein, 12 illicit trafficking flows are categorized into four groups: Human trafficking, illicit drugs, resources, and products (UNODC 2013, III). Together, these criminal actitivites accumulate an estimated annual income of US $90 billion which radically exceeds the GDP of countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia, and Lao PDR (UNODC 2013, 1).

Smuggling of migrants and trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of labor and sexual exploitation occurs heavily within the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (UNODC 2013). These flows occur primarily from East, West, South, and Southeast Asia to the United States, the European Union, Australia and Canada. Regarding drug trafficking, opiates flow Myanmar and Afghanistan and methamphetmines flow from Myanmar and China (UNODC 2013).

Illegal trade in resources (wildlife, wood-based products, electrical and electornic waste, and ozone depleting substances) flow throughout the world (UNODC 2013).

Finally, counterfeit consumer goods flow to the United States and the European Union while fraudulent medicines flow to Southeast Asia and Africa (UNODC 2013).


As evidenced by the organized crime in Russia, West Africa, and East Asia, the geopolitical influence, skill levels and reach of ICOs constitute an alarming challenge to global governance. Despite the largely national origins of ICOs, international crime must be viewed in a context where political instability and political corruption are threat multipliers and impediments to progress in terms of international security. Therefore, weak governmental capacity to combat these issues must be strengthened through interregional and transnational frameworks and institutions. Effective responses must allow for “…collaborative efforts on border control, mutual legal assistance, extradition and similar efforts that require a vision that transcends national boundaries” (UNODC 2013, 4).



Bakowski, P. (2011, April 03). Russian Organized Crime. Retrieved from European Parliament :

Wyler, L. S. and Cook, N. (2010, February 26). Illegal Drug Trade in Africa: Trends and U.S. Policy.Congressional Research Service.

Grigg, W. N. (1996). Dirty cops in the former Soviet Union run both sides of the law. Retrieved from Orgnanized Crime Registry:

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2013). Transnational Organized Crime in East Asia and the Pacific. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.


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