chapter  8
7 Pages

Impolite people

Militias and gangsters
WithMark Galeotti

The Russians, especially through the Main Intelligence Directorate, have been assiduous in using deniable irregular forces, from the militias of Ukraine, Transnistria and Georgia, to criminals. Of course, such non-state instruments have been used by many other countries, from time to time. Auxiliary forces can provide disruption, political cover, cannon fodder and muscle for local proxy regimes. These kinds of forces fall broadly into three categories, each with their own distinctive strengths, weaknesses and modalities of use: autonomous local militias; mercenaries and volunteers; and gangsters. The Russian state is especially willing to use organised crime as a source of resources, operational capacity and intelligence. Russian-based criminal networks are responsible for around one-third of the heroin on Europe’s streets, a significant amount of non-European people trafficking, as well as most illegal weapons imports. People smugglers can help move agents across borders, as likely happened when the wanted Russian agent known as Christopher Metsos dropped out of sight in Cyprus.