The resilience of the Russian mafia: An empirical study

Criminal organizations constantly face challenges that could threaten their existence. What makes an organization survive amidst such threats and confrontations? The paper discusses the effects that state repression and state transformation might have on a criminal organization, and how such an organization might respond. Then we turn to the case of the vory-v-zakone criminal fraternity. We identify the key challenges faced by the vory, namely the 1930s Stalinist purges, state repression after WWII, the transition to post-Soviet Russia and the Putin era. We then examine how the Russian mafia adapted to such threats. We conclude that the most significant threat occurred at the end of the Soviet Union and show that the Putin era has not been as damaging to the criminal fraternity as some observers have argued. The Russian mafia adapted to new circumstances, and changed elements of its admission ritual without changing significantly its organizational structure. The paper is based upon a new and unique dataset we constructed containing biographical information of more than 5,000 members of the vory fraternity. The paper contributes to the study of organizations, the history of the Russian mafia, and policy measures aimed at fighting organized crime.