TOGLIATTI, Russia - A mafia war has broken out following the collapse in the black market for new Lada cars.
The highly profitable trade in stolen Ladas all but ended when the Russian government sent militia troops into AvtoVAZ's huge Togliatti plant at the end of last year.
One of Russia's most powerful mafia gangs, the Afghan War Veterans, had dominated the distribution of stolen Ladas, according to sources in Togliatti.
When the gang lost control of the Togliatti plant, it tried to infiltrate the local oil and gas distribution industry.
That move sparked the war.
Oil and gas distribution in the Volga region around Togliatti is already controlled by the Urals mafia, based in Omsk, say the sources.
Its local affiliate, called the Togliatti Group, is blamed for assassinating five local leaders of Afghan War Veterans on 13 April.
The Afghans started as a legitimate veterans organization after the Russian army withdrew from Afghanistan. The government gave it immunity from taxes.
But the association grew into one of Russia's biggest criminal gangs.
Much of its wealth came from bartering Ladas for valuable commodities. The cars were stolen from the Togliatti plant, where the gangsters bribed workers and managers to supply Ladas to mafia-controlled distribution companies.
Since the militia expelled the gangsters from the plant, security has been tightened. Workers need a passport to enter and leave the plant. The parking area for assembled cars resembles a fortress.
But the mafia gangs still have a high profile in Togliatti.