The Russian mafia (Russian: Pусская мафия, Russkaya mafiya) is a term used to refer to the collective of various organized crime syndicates originating in the former Soviet Union. Although not a singular criminal organization, most of the individual groups, known as Bratva ("brotherhood") or Brigada ("brigade"), share similar goals and organizational structures that define them as part of the loose overall association. They are also referred to as Organizatsiya (Организация, "the organization") or the Red Mafia (Красная мафия, Krasnaya mafiya).
Organized crime in Russia began in its imperial period of Tsars, but it wasn't until the Soviet era that Thief in law emerged as leaders of prison groups in gulags (Soviet prison labor camps), and the Thieves' Code became more defined. After World War II, the death of Joseph Stalin, and the fall of the Soviet Union, more gangs emerged in a flourishing black market, exploiting the unstable governments of the former Republics, and at its highest point, even controlling as much as two-thirds of the Russian economy. Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI, had once said the Russian Mafia posed the greatest threat to US national security in the mid-1990s.
In modern times, there are as many as 6,000 different groups, with over 200 of them having a global reach. Criminals of these various groups are either former prison members, corrupt Communist officials and business leaders, people with ethnic ties, or people from the same region with shared criminal experiences and leaders. However, the existence of such groups has been debatable. In December 2009, Timur Lakhonin, the head of the Russian National Central Bureau of Interpol, stated, "Certainly, there is crime involving our former compatriots abroad, but there is no data suggesting that an organized structure of criminal groups comprising former Russians exists abroad," while in August 2010, Alain Bauer, a French criminologist, said that it "is one of the best structured criminal organisations in Europe, with a quasi-military operation."