By Lidia Kelly and Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Police raided a restaurant near Moscow and arrested four alleged crime bosses and 19 others as they met to plan strategy after the killing of a criminal godfather known as Grandpa Hassan, the interior ministry said on Saturday.
The police swooped on the Family Elite-Club restaurant in the town of Nikolina Gora after learning that suspects from Russia and Belarus would meet there to discuss "a series of questions of a criminal character," a ministry statement said.
"During the secret meeting, held under the cover of a celebration of the birthday of a senior so-called 'criminal authority,' the plan was to discuss next steps after the recent assassination of the head of the Aslan Usoyan 'clan'," it said.
Usoyan was the real name of Grandpa Hassan, 75, considered one of the most influential kingpins of organized crime in the former Soviet Union. He was shot dead on a Moscow street on January 16 in what authorities said was a contract killing.
Giving only nicknames, the ministry said those arrested included two senior crime figures from Russia - Timokha and Kostyl, which can mean crutch, nail or spike - and two Belarussians known as Medvezhonok (Bear Cub) and Pashtet (Pâté).
It said participants had planned to "coordinate the work of organized groups subordinate to the criminal 'clan' of Tariel Oniani", whom Russian media have identified as a rival of Usoyan. Both were born in Georgia.
During the chaos which accompanied the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, killings across Russia were commonplace as criminal gangs battled to gain control of lucrative businesses and carve up territory.
According to Russian media reports, Usoyan established a network involved in illegal gambling, drugs and weapons sales, and natural resources extraction, with stakes in former Soviet republics and beyond.
President Vladimir Putin has claimed credit for bringing order since he rose to power in 2000, but Kremlin critics say corruption has worsened and accuse government authorities of ties to organized crime.
Russian news agency Interfax identified the four main suspects arrested in the restaurant as Alexander Bor, Konstantin Borisov, Alexander Medvedev and Pavel Alexiyevich. It said the birthday they were celebrating was Bor's.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)