When Vladimir Putin appeared on television surrounded by his silent stony-faced generals as he threatened to unleash terror on Ukraine I was reminded of a quote by Bill Browder – an anti-corruption campaigner and financier.
“Imagine that Russia is like The Sopranos. In The Sopranos you had the Philadelphia mafia, the New Jersey mafia, the Manhattan mafia and the Brooklyn mafia and then you had the head capo who is above all of them. Vladimir Putin is the head capo.”
While the criminal underworld is thriving in Europe nobody really paid much attention as the “Bratva” – various organized crime groups who originated in the former Soviet Union – rose to become the largest in the world.
These are well-funded, highly organized groups who are responsible for everything from money laundering, murder and cyber terrorism.
Street gangsterism moved on to state-approved kleptocracy and so the underworld thrives under Putin’s regime.
High levels of corruption are always helpful for organized crime, allowing it to flourish while the West adopted a do-nothing attitude to the relationships between the elite and the gangsters.
The money was flowing, the oligarchs got richer and crony capitalism prospered. Blind eyes were turned to where the fortunes came from and London became a favorite hub for “dirty money”.
The UK is supposedly clamping down on Russian cash due to the escalating violence in Ukraine.
Putin must pay a heavy price for his aggression so the news the International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched a war crimes investigation seems like a step in the right direction but dig a little deeper and the reality is he’s unlikely to ever see the inside of the court let alone spend time in a prison cell.
The ICC does not prosecute in absentia so to put Putin on trial for one of their four crime types – genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes – he would need to be handed over by Russia or arrested outside of its borders.
Even if such a move was possible, ICC investigations can take years. The war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia, lasted from 2002-2006.
Milosevic faced 66 charges of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes committed during the Yugoslav wars of the 90s. Milosevic was found dead in his cell on March 11, 2006, in the UN war crimes tribunal’s detention center, in The Hague, Netherlands, and because of this the court returned no verdict.
The ICC goes after individuals so Putin – as the head of state – would be held responsible for any crimes committed by Russian military, state agencies or security services.
Any evidence of his guilt will be investigated and collated for such a day in the future that Putin will face a trial.
Shortly before his horrific death from radioactive polonium-210 poisoning, former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who specialized in tackling organized crime, pointed the finger of blame at Putin.
Litvinenko also alleged that Putin had a “good relationship” with the head of the Russian Mafia, Semion Mogilevich.
Mogilevich, according to the FBI, has spent decades running rackets of drugs, prostitution, contract murders and trading nuclear material.
Described as the “boss of bosses” he lives freely in Moscow despite being one of the world’s most wanted men.
While the likes of Boris Johnson and 38 other heads of state are calling for Putin to be dragged before a court, the Russian leader and his cabal will never face justice. Any demise ultimately remains within his own gang of him, if and when they believe he has become a liability in protecting their interests of him.
And we have to hope that whoever replaces him will be less inclined to embark on similar wild foreign policies.
In the meantime we might, at best, hack off the odd tentacle of his corrupt empire, but expect him to merely retreat to the security of his criminal cave. Till the next time.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.