Ukraine was the center of the international cybercrime scene until the Russian invasion in February 2022. Many online brokers and boiler room scams were based in Ukraine. The Russian mafia had also established its network in the West through Ukraine. Russian and Ukrainian organized crime had established a powerful criminal ecosystem within Europe and controlled a profitable transnational smuggling network between Russia and Western Europe.
A new report of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime highlights the changes in organized crime activities in Ukraine since the Russian invasion. The organized crime rackets in Ukraine dealt with various illicit goods such as gold, timber, tobacco, counterfeit/untaxed items, humans, and drugs.
Corrupt officials and criminal bosses from both countries exploited Ukraine’s role as a transit country for Russian gas, siphoning off millions of dollars. Ukraine’s oligarchs significantly influenced the country’s economic, political, and information spheres.
Following the 2014 Maidan Revolution, Kyiv tried to combat organized crime and corruption, but the results were mixed, particularly in judicial reform.
The Russian invasion has had a profound impact on this criminal ecosystem. The political situation made collaboration between Russian and Ukrainian criminal interests impossible, and the contested front line hindered smuggling operations. Many Ukrainian crime bosses and pro-Russian sympathizing oligarchs left the country. Martial law and curfews initially restricted criminal activities, leading to declining armed robberies and homicides.
The impact of the conflict on organized crime in these areas and Russian organized crime more broadly will be discussed in a separate report, which will analyze trends in sanctions evasion, money laundering, changes in trafficking patterns east of Ukraine, and the response of Russian organized crime groups to the conflict.