The Godfather: Russian Edition

While the collapse of the Soviet Union shook Russia’s economic foundations and government infrastructure as a whole it also created an open window for a new kind of leadership within the weakened Russian government: Russian Organized Crime (ROC). Also, known as the Russian Mafia of Bratstvo (the brotherhood), the Russian Mafia quickly made their presence known in a time of uncertainty and insecurity. Though the mafia itself existed during the communist ruled Soviet Union, it lived through deals and “hush hush” transactions. The Soviet government allowed the mafia to exist as long as the organization did not effect communist rule. Though the Russian Mafia was present during communist’s rule, the organization did not thrive but only survived. It was the fall of the Soviet Union and communism that consequently led to the downfall of government infrastructure that welcomed the Russian Mafia and other organized crime organizations to the beginning stages of the Russian market economy.

In a struggle to consolidate and systematize a new working government, Russian government officials fell into the traps of the corrupt who often worked hand-in-hand with organized criminals, the mafia. Soon after gaining a hold on government officials and politicians, the mafia began to expand their reach to more profitable and dependable resources. Their first stop to power was the purchasing of state-owned assets including communication, energy, gas, and oil and various other industries that would help the mafia cause: control and cash intake. Secondly, the mafia began to sell its goods to the public: protection and security for those who performed well in the eyes of the mafia. These tactics were used to intimidate and control the Russian population both civilians and political persons.

The rise of Russian Organized Crime led to the creation of numerous oligarchs alongside the rise of the Russian Mafia that would rule in the chaotic post-Soviet era. These oligarchs came from all backgrounds, businessmen, political and criminals but they all used organized crime to their advantage and to push their agendas forward in a new Russia. After the fall of the Soviet Union many government functions failed to last: social security, pensions and property protection are only a few. The Russian people were in peril and at the time the Russian Mafia wore the red cape.

Jumping forward, once Vladimir Putin came to power he recognized the potential threat that organized crime as a whole could present: it was easily more effective than the current ruling state and it owned all assets valuable to the Russian government. Power therefore did not rest with the state but rather than these numerous organized crime organizations. Since 1999, Putin has made numerous adjustments to gain the upper hand and to put an end to organized crime within the Russian government.

Consequences of the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Norwich University. October 2017. Accessed April 26, 2018.

Utrata, Alina. Russian Organized Crime. Stanford Model United Nations Conference. 2014. Accessed April 26, 2018.

Organized Crime in Russia. Stratfor. April 16, 2008. Accessed April 26, 2018.


Honey, The New Neighbors are Moving In!

The Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti or KGB served as the main security agency for the Soviet Union beginning in 1954 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Unlike other security agencies, the KGB was ultimately an independently run government body with little oversight from Soviet Unions leaders.

The KGB maintained many roles: gathering intelligence both domestically and abroad, patrolling Soviet borders and promoting communist propaganda. The more controversial role of the KGB involved members participating in what was dubbed as the “secret police”. The Soviet Union employed over half a million spies within Soviet borders and 1000s of spies working abroad. Domestically, the KGB would investigate individuals believed to be against communism or those who threated Soviet ideology, which often led to house searches, arrests, interrogation and even execution.

Often the KGB employed domestic citizens in order to conduct surveillance and observation amongst neighbors and were ordered to report suspicious activity or radical behavior. Additionally, citizens were trained to travel abroad and to spy on countries of interest to the Soviet Union. The United States and the Soviet Union at the time were at each others throats in response to the Cold War and the use of nuclear weapons. Soviet spies, trained by the KGB, were sent to the United States in order to gain intelligence and information. On the higher level, individuals were sent to the United States with occupational disguises and if caught claimed international immunity. On the local level, individuals were sent to small towns within the United States. Imagine a Soviet spy as your neighbor!

Special training was provided for these individuals who were sent abroad in order to blend in American society without suspicion. In a more modern text, KGB ALPHA TEAM TRAINING MANUAL published in 1993, chapters are highlighted and were mandatory to complete (pages 2-4). Additionally, in order to prepare Soviet spies for the small towns of the United States and to experience an actual American lifestyle, training camps were constructed. In 1959, a small American town was built in Vinnytsia, Ukraine and was used throughout the 1960s to train Soviet spies. These small towns were based off of released American movies or TV shows. Living within these towns for a period of time, spies in training were to conduct themselves as they would in the United States. Greeting and speaking amongst one another, driving cars, cooking Americanized dinners, attending church, and purchasing American goods from the grocery store. Retired KGB officers and spies were hired to play the roles of various individuals one would find within a small town: neighbors, police officers, businessmen, and bankers are only a few disguises.

Preparation and training was taken seriously by the KGB and the Soviet Union and during the years of the Cold War when tensions were high between the United States and the Soviet Union espionage was key in gathering intelligence on the enemy.


“Is FSB Trying to Rewrite History.” Current Digest of the Russian Press, 2017. Accessed April 5, 2018.

“KGB Alpha Team Training Manual.” Issuu Inc, October 27, 2016. Accessed April 5, 2018.

Flemer, Sherman W. “SOVIET INTELLIGENCE TRIANING.” CIA, 1994. Accessed April 5, 2018.

“1960 Soviet Spy School Training: Small Town Espionage and Surveillance.” YouTube, May 23, 2012. Accessed April 5, 2018.

Loveland, Mariel. “Fake American Towns Built by the Soviets to “Understand America”.” Weird History: In Soviet Russia. Accessed April 5, 2018.

Germany’s Mistake is a Soviet Success

Soviet Union success during The Great Patriotic War can easily be associated with modifications within the military and political world: the improvement of military strategies and the extreme centralization which allowed the state to better mobilize its people and resources. While keeping in mind the improvements and corrections made by the Soviet Union one must also account for the failures of the German army. Operation Barbarossa, the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union by the Germans, was ultimately a disaster for the German regime. Time, resources, and soldiers were sacrificed for a cause that in the end would lead to German misfortune and Soviet Union achievement.

Countless military strategists and historians have examined the workings behind the mission and have identified multiple explanations for its failure:

First we find that the German intelligence of the USSR was often misleading or completely incorrect. The intelligence acquired allowed the German’s to completely underestimate the actual number of USSR soldiers and military equipment. Additionally, logistics were again often incorrect and did not prepare the German’s for unpaved roads and the railway conversion.

Secondly, the incorrect intelligence led to the German’s misjudgment of the duration of the invasion as well as a shortage of equipment brought. Operation Barbarossa was meant to be a swift, unproblematic mission and without failure but ultimately all of that became false hopes. Ammunition, vehicles and proper clothing was often scarce which would lead to countless defeats and a decrease in morale throughout the German ranks.

Lastly, we find that the Soviet Union defeated the Germans with the help of weather, an unforeseen ally. “Mud Season” or Rasputitsa is a period during the year in the USSR where heavy rains make it difficult to travel and for the Germans to advance. Additionally, the harsh in northern Asia reduced the German numbers greatly:

The ghastly cold of that winter had the strangest consequences. Thousands and thousands of soldiers had lost their limbs; thousands and thousands had their ears, their noses, their fingers and their sexual organs ripped off by the frost. Many had lost their hair… Many had lost their eyelids. Singed by the cold, the eyelid drops off like a piece of dead skin… Their future was only lunacy.

Though the Soviet Union worked diligently to preserve their Fatherland, the various errors made by the Germans was advantageous in the grand scheme. Victory over Germany provided the Soviet people with a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction which ultimately increased the awareness of Soviet nationalism.

Colorized photo of Soviet soldiers using snow to their advantage:

Carter, Ian. “Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Failure in the Soviet Union.” Imperial War Museums. January 9, 2018. Accessed March 24, 2018.

Robert, Andrew. “Second World War: Frozen to Death by the Fuhrer.” The Telegraph. July 25, 2009. Accessed March 24, 2018.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2009), 383-392.


Off With Their Heads!

It took almost five years (October 1917-October 1922) for the Bolshevik Red Army to finally defeat and trump their rivals, the former officers of the Tsarist state, the White Army and interested foreign countries. However, the Bolsheviks prevailed in a civil war that in hindsight was inevitable that they would win. The first advantage of the Red Army was their strong organization structure and overall nearness of supplies and necessary provisions including, access to communication lines, control cities and capitals, and railways. The White Army contained a weak organizational structure and in respect to invading foreign countries, they were often far from home and were put at a disadvantage. The Red Army other advantage included a strong feeling of nationality and national preservation. Many fighters were communists and believed that what they were fighting for was worth it which gave them strength and enthusiasm to fight, while the participants of the White Army were often being ordered/forced to fight.

The Soviet Union strived to educate and persuade its people, the Russian population to fully support and care for the wellbeing of their state. Propaganda, new revolutionary laws and the increasing strength of the Red Army made it easy for citizens to follow the Soviets blindly. Bolsheviks and the church were always on edge with each other. Bolsheviks who would later form the Soviet Union believed that the church was in fact working against them. Lenin’s newly enforced NEP’s (New Economic Policy) soon gave way to the quick dissolution of relations between church and state. In order to strengthen the state and weaken the church, Lenin and his adamant followers set out to divide the church from within while also draining the Orthodox Church of their wealth. The 1921-22 famine was the perfect opportunity for their plans to unfold. With a starving population, the Lenin decided to place blame on the church: “demanding that the church surrender the rich collection of gems and precious metals represented by its ceremonial implements, and blaming the church for the starvation” (Geldern). This accusation was the last push that the Bolsheviks needed in order to separate them from the church, while also causing the population of Russia to take sides as well.

With the rise and assumed power of the Bolsheviks, Russia soon became the most progressive nation in the world in relation to genders, women and men. In the realm of women, they achieved many victories in the beginnings years of Bolshevik rule. One victory was that of divorce, as discussed on class on Thursday during our movie of Bed and Sofa, we recognized that at this time in Russia women could file for a divorce without negative backfire. The recognized importance of women gave way to a new holiday in Russia: International Women’s Day, which would ultimately lead to the February Revolution.

Towards the end of Lenin’s rule came the term Komsomol club for young girls and boys. However, this organization brought to light “Revolutionary Manliness”. This is a concept that described the transformation of young girls to better fit into these often anti-female clubs. Male members of the Komsomol often took up a more mature/adult behavior: drinking, fighting, smoking, gambling. Though this was organization open to girls as well they struggled to fit in. Because of this, many young girls shed their femininity in order to fit in properly and to be treated with respect.

The New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced by Lenin in 1921. These new policies introduced new approaches to running the country such as the tax-in-kind policy. This tax, rather than paying taxes with money, it was to be paid with services or goods. Lenin’s choice of Russian “kindness” was in the form of food and provisions. Under, the new policies, Russia did experience a comeback in relation to economic difficulties but with a price: the loss of individual and small-scale industry.

“Card Soldiers.” Disney Wiki. Accessed February 23, 2018.

Clare, John D. “Why Did the Bolsheviks Win the Civil War?” Bolshevik Civil War. Accessed February 23, 2018.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2009), 309-312.

Geldern, James Von. “Confiscating Church Gold.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. WordPress. January 4, 2016. Accessed February 23, 2018.

Geldern, James Von. “The New Woman.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. WordPress. December 29, 2015. Accessed February 23, 2018.

Guillory, Sean. “Revolutionary Maniless.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. January 4, 2016. Accessed February 23, 2018.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “The New Economic Policy.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. January 4, 2016. Accessed February 23, 2018.

Lenin’s Soviet Children

“…We need that generation of young people who began to reach political maturity in the midst of a disciplined and desperate struggle against the bourgeoisie. In this struggle that generation is training genuine Communists; it must subordinate to this struggle, and link up with it, each step in its studies, education, and training.”

-V.I. Lenin, Tasks of the Youth Leagues (Bourgeois and Communist Morality)

After the Bolsheviks achieved total power within the Russian government many things began to change. Apart from internal matters, the the biggest question was how to maintain and extend soviet power over a vast empire. Though this question circled within Lenin’s mind, Russia was still involved externally with the Great War and internally with a violent civil war. Allies demanded that Russia continue their presence in the war, while many Russian citizens demanded that they abandon. Questions and demands were still being asked by the public and the Bolsheviks were expected to deliver answers and solutions. To resolve these problems, Bolshevik officials utilized two methods: ideology and tradition. Bolshevik ideology was the “obsessive determination to build socialism as the historical antithesis of capitalism” (Freeze, 292) and tradition was drawn from the former bureaucratic power. The fusion of these two methods led Bolsheviks to victory and winning the majority over the Russian population.

In regards to Soviet expansion, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, was interested in producing a new generation, the generation of Soviet children. Children were being born and they had little to no knowledge or understanding of the revolutions that had just recently been put down. Education and training would not be left to just the parents, therefore the Soviets took control. The new generation of Soviet children would not experience harsh working environments for long hours and low pay, they would not experience a never ending need for food, and they would not witness the killings of innocents, this generation would be better.

Instead, they would attend schools for education and participate in after-school events, like the Pioneers, an organization for younger children and the Young Communist League that was designed for teenagers and young adults. More than anything, the introduction of education and organizations was to promote the Socialist cause and create a feeling a national pride and community. Lenin understood that some of the older generation would not be easily swayed, so he started on the youth and began to grow and nurture his Soviet children.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2009), 292.

“Raising Socialist Youth.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. December 29, 2015. Accessed February 9, 2018.

“The Soviet Cult of Childhood.” Guided History. Accessed February 9, 2018.

Ilnitsky, Sergei. “Vasily Kafo Old Photo Young Pioneer Organization.” The Young Pioneer Organization of the Soviet Union. Accessed February 9, 2018.



Community Within a Divided Country

In 1861, Tsar Alexander II, Alexander the Liberator, had liberated the serfdom population of Russia. The once reigning feudal system had come to a halt and was replaced with the idea of equality. However, serfdom reform was not about a moral obligation but rather political gain. Alexander justifies his decision with a blunt statement, “It is better to begin abolishing serfdom from above than to wait for it to begin to abolish itself from below” (203).

Now free, the former serfs found themselves asking the redundant question, now what? Russia remained an agrarian state for their industrial revolution hadn’t quite peaked and was primarily found in largely populated areas, cities. While the peasantry, typically remained in a rural setting, they continued a life of sustained living and farm work.

In 1909, traveling the Russian countryside, photographer Sergia Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii brought color to a communal farming ground north of the city Cherepovets. A photograph titled Haying Near the Resting Place, most likely depicts former serfdom families working together to harvest hay for communal usage.

Setting the geographic scene for this photograph is challenging being that an exact location is unknown. However, it is believed to be photographed near the city Cherepovets, in Vologda Oblast, Russia. According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), currently the exportation of wheat constitutes 15% of Russian exports. Wheat during the early 20th century was largely produced for its contribution to diet and for the production of hay.As depicted, the working individuals are in the process of “haying”, which is the process of harvesting dried grains or grasses (oat, barley, and wheat) to make hay. This activity took place in the autumn seasons, which provided favorable climate for the workers as well as the crop.

Just at a quick glance, the picture depicts a diversified workforce in terms of gender and age. Men, women and children are all pictured in this photo and are doing their part in order to complete the task at hand. A sense of community is conveyed within this photo, a rare sight in what is at the time a divided Russian state.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. New York: Oxford University Press         Inc., 2009), 203.

Prokudin-Gorskii, Sergia Mikhailovich, photographer. “[Haying Near the Resting Place.]” Photograph. Washington D.C.: From Library of Congress: The Empire that was Russia, 1909-1915. (accessed January 20, 2018).

Trueman, C.N. “Russia and Agriculture.” History Learning Site. March 5, 2015. Accessed January 20, 2018.

Nafziger, Steven. “Russian Serfdom, Emancipation, and Land Equality: New Evidence.” Department of Economics, Williams College 24-25, (May 2013): accessed January 20, 2018.

Dennison, Tracy and Steven Nafziger. “Micro-Perspectives on 19th-century Russian Living Standards.” Williams College 1-50, (November 2007): accessed January 20, 2018.