Transnational Crime: The Case of Russian Organized Crime and the Role of International Cooperation in Law Enforcement

By Shelley, Louise | Demokratizatsiya, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Transnational Crime: The Case of Russian Organized Crime and the Role of International Cooperation in Law Enforcement


Shelley, Louise, Demokratizatsiya


In the twenty-first century, the handling of transnational crime will become a more important element of international foreign policy. With the end of superpower conflicts at the close of the cold war, international relations are increasingly being affected by the crime issue--whether it be trafficking in drugs, arms, or people or international money laundering. (1) The militarization of the antidrug war, the increasing intelligence emphasis on analysis of nonstate actors such as criminal organizations, and the staffing of embassies with a range of law enforcement personnel all point to this shift in foreign policy. (2)

The Russian-American foreign policy dialogue is still very much focused on nuclear and military questions, but since the latter half of the 1990s, the crime issue has become increasingly important. (3) The Russian-American law enforcement relationship is much more complicated than it appears at first glance. It is not simply an American reaction to the globalization of Russian organized crime. It involves a paradigm shift in the conduct of foreign policy requiring attention to new issues that diplomats have not been trained to address. Their focus is still on traditional security issues. Furthermore, combating transnational crime requires much more informal cooperation than the bilateral relationships of the cold war era. This different approach is very difficult for many traditional diplomats to accept.

Congress has pressured the American ambassador to accept more law enforcement personnel within the American embassy in Moscow. The House International Relations Committee has sought to increase the number of FBI agents in Moscow and expand the capacity of the Moscow mission to conduct investigations. (4) The government has authorized and spent millions to help train Russian law enforcement personnel in criminal investigative techniques in Russia, at the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest, and in the United States. (5) The purpose of the training sessions is not only to impart information but to establish the cooperative relations that are so crucial to effective international law enforcement. With serious differences in the legal systems and capacities and in the financial resources available to fight crime, personal connections in international crime fighting assume increased importance. Criminals have developed strong cross-border cooperation, and the law enforcers need to mirror that. (6)

The growth of a Russian-American law enforcement relationship reflects the broader development by the United States of bilateral law enforcement relationships with many countries since the 1980s. Initially, this was a response to drug trafficking, but the agenda has broadened to include counterfeiting, arms trafficking, money laundering, and many other organized crime-related offenses. (7) Liaisons from many U.S. law enforcement agencies have been posted in many embassies overseas. The United States has created a complex variety of legal, policy, and operational structures to guide police and prosecutorial cooperation with foreign countries. (8)

Just as the military issues of the cold war era were characterized by distrust, issues of verification of information, and lengthy negotiations over treaties, so is the Russian-American relationship in dealing with crime affected by the same problems. Addressing strategic military questions in a bilateral manner requires formal negotiations and routinized inspection trips. Some of the cooperation on the crime issue requires the same formal procedures, such as negotiations over mutual legal assistance agreements and requests for case and bank information. Yet cooperation rather than rivalry is needed to address transnational crime. Many Russian officials are pressured not to cooperate with foreign law enforcement on key cases involving high-level officials. Therefore, the same problems exist as in the military arena, including unreliability of information, issues of corruption, and problems verifying crucial evidence. …

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Transnational Crime: The Case of Russian Organized Crime and the Role of International Cooperation in Law Enforcement
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