The September 14th issue of the Moscow Times quotes newly-appointed Russian
Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov (pictured) as announcing “corruption is the major issue in our efforts to increase the effectiveness of the state administration.” The Times stated that “Duma Deputy Gennady Gudkov, who sits on the Duma’s anti-corruption commission, said Zubkov was ready to ‘seriously tackle’ the issue.”
Yet, according to the Times, many analysts were skeptical. It reported:
“Corruption is ubiquitous in Russia. It is the very texture of Russian life,” said Masha Lipman, an expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “It would need a deep restructuring of the whole political system and the process of policymaking. What drives corruption is the large-scale involvement of the state.”
“Everything here is rotted by corruption. I don’t think Zubkov is going to position himself as a reckless warrior against corruption,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, head of the Council for National Strategy and a former Kremlin adviser. “[His appointment] is just a public relations campaign. It is designed to concentrate people’s minds on the problem of corruption and distract them from other issues.”
Kirill Kabanov, head of the nongovernmental National Anti-Corruption Committee, said he did not see any efforts by the government to address corruption other than at the lowest levels. “I would like to see issues such as systemic corruption and the independence of the judiciary tackled,” he said.
So it’s possible that when Zubkov says he’s going to launch a war on corruption, he’s just blowing neo-Soviet smoke.
But there’s another possibility. A source with knowledge of the proceedings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, tells me that just about the time Vladimir Putin came to power, the United States was helping many of the former Soviet republics set up what are generically called “Financial Intelligence Units” (FIU’s). In the case of Russia, Putin called his newly-formed unit the “Committee for Financial Monitoring” (Komitet po Finansovomu Monitoringu – FMC). Even in Russia, the use of the word “komitet” (it’s the “k” in KGB) was provocative, and true to form, Putin loaded it with ex-KGB guys.
My source tells me that everyone who was working with Russia on setting up their FIU, including the people from the international Financial Action Task Force (“FATF”) (the enforcement lever U.S. personnel worked with to ensure compliance with FATF standards and recommendations), was somewhat surprised by the zeal with which Putin set up the FMC, but it wasn’t long before they learned why: He cleverly turned all the tools they gave him for monitoring illegal financial flows into the best weapon imaginable against his political opposition. All he had to do was label them “extremist” if not “terrorist” organizations, and the rest quickly fell into place. Massive financial levers could be used to squeeze the victim, with the tacit approval of the Western powers — who could hardly object to his using a weapon designed to combat terrorist financing against only slightly less dangerous “extremists.”
So there you have it: the U.S. helped Putin create a new dimension to traditional Russian autocracy, helped bring it into the modern world, so to speak. The U.S. almost did the same in Ukraine, too, except that there the opposition was a little better developed, and they managed to seize power before the Russian-backed Kuchma/Yanukovych team was able to use the Ukrainian FIU against them.
And Viktor Zubkov was intimately involved in this process, ultimately being appointed by Putin to head the agency. So it’s quite possible that by elevating Zubkov to an even higher position now, Putin is setting the stage for a major escalation in the growth of what can only be called a neo-Soviet state, crushing the last gasp of life out of dissident politics and rival centers of commercial power. In other words, it’s possible Zubkov is quite serious about launching a war within Russia’s financial systems, but one which would in effect make the country more corrupt, not less.
This tactic has already been used in regard to freedom of expression. Putin’s government rammed through a so-called “Anti-Extremism Law” ostensibly to crack down on racist violence by skinheads against ethnic minority groups, but just as the law’s opponents had feared no sooner did the law come into effect than it was immediately turned against opposition political groups, driving many out of business. In Putin’s Russia, criticizing Putin is viewed as dangerously extreme.
My source had a number of personal meetings with Zubkov during the phase-up of the Russian FMC program, and refers to him as “an interesting guy.” When he headed up meetings, he was much more prone to genuine smiles than a typical soviet aparatchik, and he usually had a mischievous twinkle in his eye when he smiled, as if he were letting everyone in on a good joke — maybe like he was aware that the group’s assignment was a silly, politically-motivated exercise in futility and wanted everyone to know that he was aware of it too, but “let’s all pretend we’re taking it seriously, okay?” My source characterizes him as “by far the most likeable ex-sov I’ve ever met to this day.”
However, throughout their dealings my source always assumed that Zubkov was KGB, basically because every single staff member on the Russian side was too. After dealing with Zubkov for some time, my source was actually quite surprised and impressed that the KGB could produce such a person. Zubkov’s staff was found to be extremely cold to the idea of assisting other former Soviet republics to develop their own FIUs, and instead attempted to lobby for having Russia’s entity perform umbrella functions “as if Ukraine was still part of Russia, or someday would return to that status.” Later, my source realized there was another dimension to this as well: The Russians were openly (among themselves) planning to use the FMC and Anti-Money Laundering laws to disrupt the financing of the Russian opposition parties, and were afraid that if power changed hands in Ukraine (which it finally did, in the Orange Revolution), this weapon might be used against the pro-Russian parties.
Obviously, a slick experienced operator like Zubkov would be the perfect choice to spearhead a renewed effort to adopt a “final solution” on the Russian opposition groups; combined with the empowerment of a thug like Sergei Ivanov, and the tactics of physical liquidation that we have already seen applied to dissidents like Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, this could give the Kremlin a powerful one-two punch that might lay the last vestiges of civil society in Russia firmly in its tomb. If Zubkov is a deep-cover KGB mole and the Kremlin intends to conceal this fact (rather than bragging about it, as it often does), that would be a still further ominous indication of how bleak things may rapidly become in Russia.