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The countries of Eastern Europe were among the first targets of Russian mafiya expansion after 1991. Such major networks as the Moscow-based Solntsevo grouping, Tambovskaya from St Petersburg and Chechen gangs were soon active across the region and in some cases seemed to be taking over local underworlds through violent turf wars and leveraging their greater financial resources.
However, the feared Russian 'criminal conquest' did not materialise, in part because of effective policing and in part because of a tacit determination by indigenous criminals and law-enforcement agencies alike to concentrate on controlling this external threat. Nonetheless, the Russians are active throughout Eastern Europe.
Hungary was an early victim of Russian criminal penetration. Indeed, Hungary became regarded as a particular hub for Russian money-laundering operations, so much so that in 2003, fearful of the impact this might have upon its bid to join the EU, the authorities introduced draconian measures. Many money-laundering rings have now shifted their operations elsewhere. Now, Hungary's main value for Russian-based gangs is as an entry point into the EU - which it joined in May 2004. Drugs, people and other criminal commodities are brought into Hungary, especially across the Ukrainian border, generally for further distribution. Likewise, while Hungary is no longer regarded as such a safe haven for dirty Russian money, it is considered a good place to invest funds that have been laundered elsewhere.