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The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia (Yale University Press, 2018) by Mark Galeotti is an engrossing read about a topic mainstream scholarship has largely ignored:...

The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia (Yale University Press, 2018) by Mark Galeotti is an engrossing read about a topic mainstream scholarship has largely ignored: Russia’s criminal underworld. With Galeotti as our guide, we delve into the colorful world of the vory v zakone or “thieves of the code,” with their flamboyant nicknames, esoteric rituals, and vibrant body tattoos, which Galeotti explains are very much a gangster’s CV.

The Vory traces the development of the Russian underworld  from the horse bandits and bank robbers of the nineteenth century, through the chaos of the Revolution and the Civil, when, as Galeotti says, “… the Bolsheviks won the war but lost their souls.”  Galeotti’s scholarship shines through the section on the vast sea change that takes place when during The Terror as the gangsters are co-opted by the State to help regulate the Gulag system.  The resulting “turf war” creates a new post-war type of gangster, the “avtorityet,” who adapt to service the needs of a society in chaotic transition.

The Vory also looks at the ways the Putin administration has tamed the underworld, but also the ways in which the State and the underworld are now intrinsically linked; the government even outsources unseemly tasks to the underworld, as is clear in both the 2014 Annexation of Crimea and the ongoing frozen conflict in Donbas.

Galeotti first became interested in Russian organized crime while interviewing veterans of Russia’s war with Afghanistan for his doctorate research.  He noted that many of the Afgantsy were drifting into ranks of the vorovsky mir or “thieves world.”  Since that time, he has delved into the topic with a unique methodology that fuses scholarship with personal encounter.  It takes a special researcher to ride around Moscow’s dodgy neighborhoods in a rickety squad car wearing a well-used bullet-proof vest, but Galeotti’s time has certainly not been wasted.  “The Vory” is a thrilling and gripping read filled with larger-than-life, compelling characters and spot-on historical analysis.  It is marvelous window into a secret world that is constantly evolving.

Mark Galeotti is one of the world’s leading experts on Russian politics and security affairs and transnational crime.  He is an Honorary Professor at University College London School of Slavonic & Eastern European Studies and a Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, London.  He received his PhD in Government (Politics) the London School of Economics.  The Vory was short-listed for the 2019 Pushkin House Prize.  Mark maintains an informative blog, In Moscow’s Shadows, an authoritative and informative Facebook Page, Mark Galeotti on Russia, and is very active on Twitter.


Jennifer Eremeeva is an American expatriate writer who divides her time between Riga, Latvia, and New England.  Jennifer writes about travel, food, lifestyle, and Russian history and culture with bylines in Reuters, Fodor’s, The Moscow Times, and Russian Life.  She is the in-house travel blogger for Alexander & Roberts, and the award-winning author of  Lenin Lives Next Door:  Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow.  Follow Jennifer on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook or visit jennifereremeeva.com for more.