How big and how real is the Russian mafia? I propose to treat it as a sociobiological object that occupies a place in food chains, with its proper morphology and metabolism. This theoretical approach allows us to understand, for example, how the tough habitat of a glacier lake might sustain a Loch Ness monster–but only as an elusive and small population.
How do we study the Russian gangsters who are mostly secretive creatures, arguably many of whom are man-eaters? Very much like the hypothetical Nessy–by applying theoretical tools to circumstantial evidence: the numerous published accounts of sightings (by journalists, lawyers and policemen), by interviewing the people with whom they are or were in direct contact (dissidents who spent time in prisons with common criminals, businessmen who pay protection rents, friends and neighbors), and overall by reconstructing the dynamically evolving institutional environment–the food base and the ecological niches, if you wish. […]