Top Russian Gangsters

Russian gangsters, often referred to as “Bratva” or the Russian Mafia, emerged as a powerful criminal enterprise in the late Soviet era and gained even more prominence in the chaotic years that followed the USSR’s dissolution. Operating both in Russia and internationally, Russian organized crime syndicates engage in a wide array of illegal activities, including drug trafficking, arms smuggling, human trafficking, extortion, and financial crimes.

The power vacuum and economic turmoil of the 1990s allowed these groups to expand their influence by forging corrupt relationships with business leaders and government officials. Russian gangsters are known for their strict codes of conduct, ruthless tactics, and complex hierarchies.

Aleksandr Solonik

Aleksandr Solonik, also known as Sasha the Macedonian, was a notorious Russian hitman connected to the Russian criminal underworld during the tumultuous 1990s. His reputation was built on his purported ability to kill with precision and his daring escape from prison in 1987.

After his escape, he became a contract killer and was believed to be responsible for the assassination of numerous high-profile targets in the Russian gangland wars. Solonik’s life ended in 1997; his body was found in Greece, a sign that he had not only enemies in Russia but perhaps also international connections that ultimately led to his downfall.

Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov

Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, nicknamed “Taiwanchik” due to his Asian features, is a Russian businessman and suspected international crime figure. His notoriety grew from allegations of involvement in organized crime, specifically in illegal gambling operations and sports fixing, including accusations of rigging the figure skating competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Tokhtakhounov has survived legal scrutiny on numerous occasions, escaping serious consequences despite international attention. Like others, he has been indicted by U.S. authorities, but has managed to avoid extradition by living in Russia, where he maintains he is a legitimate businessman and not a criminal authority.

Konstantin Tsiganov

Konstantin Tsiganov was a reputed criminal authority in St. Petersburg, Russia, associated with the so-called Tambovskaya gang, one of the influential criminal organizations in the region. Tsiganov was said to be involved in a range of illicit activities, including extortion, loan sharking, and protection rackets.

His gang’s influence reportedly extended into various business sectors, political circles, and even the law enforcement apparatus. The power struggles within the underworld and with other gangs are believed to have led to violent confrontations.

Leonid Bilunov

Leonid Bilunov, sometimes referred to as Leonid “Bee” Bilunov due to the translation of his last name, is recognized as one of the prominent figures in the Russian organized crime scene. He has been associated with the infamous Solntsevskaya Bratva and is known for his involvement in various criminal activities, including illegal gambling and racketeering, as well as having business ventures that are allegedly fronts for money laundering.

Notable for his ability to blend with legitimate business and alleged criminal enterprises, Bilunov has faced arrests and detentions in multiple countries but has adeptly managed legal challenges to remain a free man.

Ludwig Fainberg

Ludwig Fainberg, also known as “Tarzan,” is a colorful figure within Russian organized crime. Notorious for his expansive criminal activities, Fainberg was born in Ukraine and made his way to the United States via Israel. His most infamous venture was the floating strip club he operated aboard a decommissioned Coast Guard cutter in Miami during the 1990s.

Fainberg gained notoriety for his involvement in a plot to purchase a submarine for a Colombian drug cartel, an endeavor that led to his arrest and conviction. His flamboyant lifestyle and audacious criminal schemes made him a subject of fascination in the media, and following his arrest, he was deported to Israel.

Monya Elson

Monya Elson, also known as “Monya the Belly,” emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1970s, establishing himself as a formidable mobster in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn, New York.

His criminal ventures included narcotics trafficking, extortion, and armed robbery. Elson was among the early Russian-speaking gangsters who set the precedent for criminal activities within the emigre community in the United States. After surviving an attempt on his life, he was eventually imprisoned, where he penned an autobiography detailing the inner workings of the Russian mafia.

Semion Mogilevich

Semion Mogilevich is often dubbed “the most dangerous mobster in the world” and is said to be a key figure in the Russian mafia. Born in Ukraine in 1946, he has a degree in economics, which he has reportedly used to mastermind sophisticated white-collar criminal enterprises, including money laundering, securities fraud, and drug trafficking.

Mogilevich’s criminal activities have extended beyond the former Soviet Union, reaching into the United States and other parts of Europe. Despite being on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for a period, he has managed to evade capture by living in Russia, where he is alleged to enjoy certain protections from powerful patronage.

Sergei Butorin

Sergei Butorin, also known in the criminal world as “Osya,” rose through the ranks to become a prominent Russian gangster and a key figure in the Orekhovskaya gang, one of Moscow’s most infamous criminal groups. During the 1990s, the Orekhovskaya gang was involved in violent turf wars with rival gangs, multiple murders, racketeering, and other illicit activities.

Butorin’s criminal career led to his imprisonment; he was sentenced to life for a series of murders, including the assassination of a rival criminal leader. His life story is a testament to the violent struggle for power and control within the shadowy world of Russian organized crime.

Sergei Mikhailov

Sergei Mikhailov is a name often associated with Solntsevskaya Bratva, considered one of the most powerful criminal organizations in Russia. Mikhailov is reputed to be a leader or “pakhan” of this group, which has been involved in various illegal activities ranging from drug trafficking to arms smuggling, money laundering, and human trafficking.

Allegations have been made about his connections to high-level political figures in Russia, offering him a layer of protection. Mikhailov’s criminal career includes periods of imprisonment, though these stints have not significantly hindered his standing in the criminal underworld.

Vyacheslav Ivankov

Vyacheslav Ivankov, also known as Yaponchik or “little Japanese” due to his Asian-like features, was a notorious Russian mobster, believed to have been a high-ranking figure in the Russian mafia’s global operations. After spending several years in Soviet prisons, Ivankov was released and emigrated to the US in 1992 where he spearheaded Russian organized crime activities, especially in New York City.

His criminal involvements spanned extortion, arms dealing, and drug trafficking. Ivankov was arrested in 1995 and after serving a prison sentence in the United States, he was extradited to Russia, where he was again jailed and later assassinated in 2009.

Vyacheslav Tsepovyaz

Vyacheslav Tsepovyaz is a name associated with one of Russia’s most notorious and powerful gangs, the “Tsapok” gang named after its leader Sergey Tsapok. Tsepovyaz was one of the key figures in the gang, which operated in the Kuban region in southern Russia and was involved in numerous criminal activities, including extortion, fraud, and murder.

The gang came under a national spotlight after the 2010 Kushchevskaya massacre, where 12 people, including children, were brutally murdered. Following a highly publicized trial, Tsepovyaz was convicted and sentenced to prison, a case that underscored the pervasive corruption and brutality of some Russian criminal enterprises.

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