Gangs of Russia: From the Streets to the Corridors of Power
By Svetlana Stephenson
Cornell University Press, 2015, 288 pp.
Russia distinguishes itself by the scale of corruption plaguing its economic and political systems. Street gangs are the entry point, and as in other countries, their roles extend beyond mere criminal activity. Stephenson plunges deeply into the world of Russian gangs, focusing on Tatarstan, a region where they have flourished. She examines neighborhood gangs of teenage street toughs; “entrepreneurial” Mafia-like groups that control business empires; and, in between those two types, vigilantes who commandeer territory, shaking down local businesses and managing illicit activities. She attributes the surge of such groups in the 1990s to the voids and stresses created by the collapse of the Soviet Union. But she also reveals the evolution that Russian gangs have undergone during the last 20 years. Many street gangs have gone from offering something akin to protective refuge to focusing on more predatory activities, and the more serious criminal groups have shifted from prosaic racketeering and extortion to big business. Stephenson’s analysis is informed by the fieldwork of others and by her own interviews with current and former gang members, law enforcement officials, teachers, school psychologists, and local residents.