We have all heard of the Russian Mob, with their strict codes, symbolic tattoos and nuclear submarines. But have you heard of the Chechen Mafia?
Also known as the Obschina, these are the ultra-nationalistic criminals of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. A landlocked territory of southwestern Russia close to the Georgian border which has become best known to the west as a hotbed of Islamic extremism. As one might expect, we see this budding in the Chechen Mafia as well, but the group isn't all Islamists, and draws in a variety of differing ideologies and ambitions. Though they all seem united in their despising of Russia.
For example, they are closely linked to Chechen separatism, and many Chechen Mafia clans have been reported as giving monetary and weapons support to separatist insurgents if they are not one among them themselves. This was a commonality prior to the First Chechen War of 1994 - 1996, which was fought as a result of Chechen separatists pushing for independence from the Russian federation. A war which the Chechen's won; though at a loss of nearly 40,000 of their own in a siege which saw Grozny all but razed to the ground.
Important Mafia leaders were thought to be connected to Dzhokhar Dudayev, first President of a newly independent Chechnya. Whom supplied his militants with arms, ammunition and funding - as well as personnel, given the Mafia's strong nationalist leanings.
Though the Chechen's had gained what they wanted in independence, problems began to brew. The war and utter devastation of Chechnya's capital, Grozny, left the republic in tatters. Lawlessness, corruption, and flagrant civil abuses were rife. With reports of weapons markets being opened in downtown Grozny and criminal groups resorting to the kidnapping of locals to re-fill their coffers; which had been stretched thin during the armed conflict.
It was this situation, combined with Dudayev's death in 1996 after foolishly using his satellite phone to take a phone call (which led to two laser guided missiles dropping onto his location,) that resulted in the Second Chechen War of 1999 - 2000.
In a way this too was a war of independence, though more one of Islamic independence. Once more we hear rumours that varying families of the Chechen mob were responsible for either helping to fund or sell weapons to groups that would later be cutting the heads from Chechen police, Russian military figures and insubordinate locals. Many of whom were veterans of the Russian conflict in Afghanistan and who brought desperately needed expertise to the table.
There is a strong possibility of Mafia involvement given that Chechnya was invaded by the Umayyad Caliphate in the 8th century, which has resulted in a persistence of hardline Islamic faith and culture in the region ever since. Though Salafi thought wasn't widely introduced until Shamil Basayev returned to fight in Chechnya & Dagestan from the war in Abkhazia.
To this extent however, one might consider that any 'good Chechen' would also be of Muslim faith - and whom, as ultra-nationalists would be sure to support organizations such as those which began declaring caliphates and independent republics throughout the Caucasus; more specifically neighbouring Dagestan.
One can further consider this idea when we see that these Mafias believe in adhering to traditional Chechen and Ingush tribal values. They reject the codes and ethics of their Russian mob peers as thieves-in-law and instead construct their organizations at least partially via the living of an 'Abrek' lifestyle, meaning one who rejects earthly pleasures in favour of fighting for the sake of God.
There is a certain irony in this, given that many videos and pictures posted online show them driving in massive convoys of Mercedes, BMW and other luxury vehicles despite all their claims of foregoing a hedonistic lifestyle.
Beyond this we have Chechen Mafia ties to the militias of Ramzan Kadyrov, current leader of the Chechen Republic who has installed sharia law within the region and who has openly supported violent Islamic endeavours against the Russians and his own populace.
Today, the Obschina, like so many organized crime groups throughout eastern Europe and central post-Soviet Asia are alive and well. Terrorizing Chechnya's locals through extortion, kidnap and murder when not warring with various Russian Bratvas.
Are they still funding extremists in the region though? More than likely.