The Black Sea Region is no stranger to the political criminal nexus nor to organized, transnational crime and corruption (henceforth, transnational crime). Following the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the Newly Independent States in the BSR (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, henceforth NISBSR) inherited political and social networks.Footnote 1 They emerged with a common “legacy of a lack of respect for the rule of law, absence of civil society, a large criminal underworld and shadow economy, endemic corruption and a demoralized law enforcement and legal apparatus. This legacy established the necessary preconditions for the development of a serious and sophisticated organized crime problem” (Shelly 1999).
The Post-Soviet space contains a group of states in transition and a particularly fertile environment for the development and use of the political criminal nexus (Godson 2004:1). Their “fluid and complex conditions” and “lack of functioning state structures” are conducive to the battle over the redistribution of power (Godson 2004:16). Lupsha identified this form of political–criminal cooperation as the “In-Flux: Emergent” transnational organized group (Lupsha 1996:33). The ‘In-Flux Emergent’ transnational organized criminal groups materialize from the absence of civil society, insurgence or conflict and the groups and their members are usually linked to prior state institutions such as the intelligence, military or totalitarian bureaucratic and economic sectors (Lupsha 1996:33).
The transition from one system to another creates an “extremely favorable environment for former and current state officials to work with criminal opportunists” (Godson 2004:11). However, to understand the Post-Soviet political criminal nexus as an existential threat to Newly Independent (western leaning) states in the Black Sea Region, it is necessary to be familiar with the specifics of the society in which a large layer of their political criminal nexus merged.
The Post-Soviet political criminal nexus in the Newly Independent States in the Black Sea Region has its origins in the Soviet era (Godson 2004:11; Shelly 2004:200). The “unholy troika” of the mafia, nomenklatura and current and former members of the government, military and security services is not a phenomenon that suddenly appeared with the fall of the Iron Curtain (McCauley 2001:75). Rather, it is a result of a dynamic process captured by the stage-evolutionary theory of organized crime.
In the predatory stage, organized criminals aggressively move to gain territory and power against the state (Lupsha 1996:31). The oldest known organized criminals in Russia are the Vory-v-Zakone (thieves in law). Dating back to Russian Empirical times, the original nature of this organization was that of ‘predator’ against the state. The state was perceived as the enemy and any “Vor” (thief) who would act to the benefit of the state was punished by death.
The parasitic stage is where the organized criminals feed off the state, penetrating the establishment (Lupsha 1996:32; Naylor 1993:21). Progressing to the parasitic stage, anti-state Vory-v-Zakone transformed into an unofficial instrument used by the state against the political enemies of the Soviet regime. At this level, even though organized criminals fed off the formal structures, the Soviet regime still controlled the political–criminal relation.
In the symbiotic stage, the relationship between the upper world and organized criminals enters the level of symbiosis where the two sides feed off each other (Lupsha 1996: 32). It was after Stalin’s death in 1953 that political–criminal relations transformed. This transformation was marked by the sponsoring of the black market in which apparatchiks offered protection from the law in exchange for bribes (Sokolov 2004:69). Their [Vory-v-Zakone] leaders or “shop managers” were paid an illicit 30 percent margin for acquiring scarce consumer goods and diverting raw materials and finished goods from production lines to the benefit of the Nomenklatura, or the educated elite, and criminals (FBI 2008).
Symbiotic political–criminal relations became inherent to the communist culture, which rewarded party members with status and access to informal structures and the shadow economy. This “reward system” legitimized the shadow economy and was, ironically, partially responsible for keeping the Soviet economy afloat. At this level of political–criminal relations, the political no longer merely used criminals for its purposes; it became dependent on them infesting the Soviet state and economy with corrupt and criminal elements (Schulte-Bockholt 2006:164).
Usually, the stage evolutionary theory is applied to political–criminal analysis within a single nation state: the fall of the Russo-Soviet Empire allows it to be extrapolated to the international level. The USSR was a highly centralized political amalgamation of states, nationalities and cultures. Among the remnants of the centralized Soviet machine are the “ties among members of successor governments that give the government in Moscow strong influence over most of the former Soviet Union” (Roeder 1997:243).
These ties help explain the existence of the Russian sphere of influence beyond its territory (Roeder 1997:229–230). Today part of the ‘old network’ has converted itself into an international security problem. The networks or “sviaszi” now transgress international borders, stretching across the former Soviet Union and forming the region’s Post-Soviet “contemporary political–criminal nexus” (Shelly 2004:209).
Importantly, the focus here is on the upper crust of organized criminals,” the political and financial power of organized criminals of the Soviet establishment” that “strongly influenced the economic and political structures that emerged in the Commonwealth of Independent States since 1991” (Schulte-Bockholt 2006:168). Soviet elite, nomenklatura and intelligence networks were also partially preserved by the fact that much of the formerly state-owned property has been appropriated by them (Shelly 2004:200). This, in light of claims that the influence of organized crime in Russia has waned when compared to that of rent-seeking oligarchs, large corporations, and the state security services (Sokolov 2004:68).
The Russian Federation continues to perceive Western democracy and presence (through NATO) in the Black Sea Region as a threat. In this context, it is possible to understand how Russia’s “controlled criminalism” could serve as a weapon against the proliferation of democracy in the Newly Independent States in the Black Sea Region (Story 2000: 97). The United States recognizes these networks of influence and, “going back to the Kremlin, the existence of that knowledge helps one understand certain motivations, activities and tools the Kremlin will and can use to exercise their political and commercial ambitions” (Merkel D., personal communication 12 June 2008).
Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic States have broken free from the former communist or Supreme Soviet grip and have successfully entered the Euro-Atlantic integration process. However, Moscow’s influence on the strategic territories of its former empire should not be underestimated. Importantly, parts of the former Soviet nomenklatura have been linked to separatism and transnational crime in the BSR (Shelly 1999).