Daily Archives: June 6, 2008

EDITORIAL: Annals of Russia’s Neo-Soviet Hypocrisy

EDITORIAL

Annals of Russia’s Neo-Soviet Hypocrisy

“What galls is how together with America we defeated Hitler, and how we sympathized when Bin Laden hit them. But they go ahead and scare kids with Communists. These people have no shame.”

Those are the words of Russian Communist Party member Victor Petrov, quoted in a story we reported last week about the Russian reaction to the new Indiana Jones movie. It seems Mr. Petrov is miffed because the movie depicts Russians as being the evil enemies of freedom and democracy during the Cold War. Apparently, he thinks we should just forget about all that now, notwithstanding the fact that Russia is ruled by a proud KGB spy.

Interesting, isn’t it? Suddenly now, when Russia wants to attack Indy, we’ve become the country who “together” with Russia “defeated Hitler.” One would like to ask Mr. Petrov where he got that information, because it certainly wasn’t from a Russian history book. Try as you may, you will not find one that gives us any credit at all for defeating Hitler, which according to such texts was 100% the work of valiant Russians. America and the West just came along for the ride.

This is neo-Soviet hypocrisy displayed at its most stomach-wrenching. We’re Russia’s ally when it’s convenient, and its mortal enemy the rest of the time. Who do these Russians think they are fooling, anyway?

An encyclopedia-length treatise would be necessary to chronicle the subject of Russian hypocrisy.

Take foreign policy. How is it possible for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to visit France and declare that America is a “frightening monster” and lecture the French president about his own people, saying “this is in the nature of French people, they don’t want their country tied down, and any French leader will have to respect that.” What would Putin say if George Bush went to Warsaw and called Russia a “frightening monster”? What would he say if Bush gave a lecture to Dimitry Medvedev in St. Petersburg about what the people of Russia really want from their leaders? How dare Putin demand that the U.S. stay out of Russian affairs and stop leading NATO expansion even as he provokes the U.S. at every conceivable opportunity in the most incendiary and unstatesmanlike manner he can think of?

Do you dare to imagine, dear reader — do you dare — how Vladimir Putin would have reacted in 2001 if, during the height of the second Chechnya war, NATO had announced it would send European troops into Chechnya to repair a railroad connection? Can you imagine how Putin would have shrieked and screamed about the violation of Russian sovereignty? Given that, how does Putin justify giving exactly such an order in regard to Georgia? Simply put, he can’t: but that doesn’t stop him from doing it anyway, just as his Soviet ancestors did.

Or take the issue of Russian “patriotism.” If Russians love their country so much, why is it necessary to bribe Russian athletes to perform their best at the summer Olympics in Bejing? If Russians are full of desire to serve their nation, why is it necessary to bribe Russian parents to have babies? If Vladimir Putin is so popular and Russians so overflowing with affection and respect for their country and their countrymen, why can’t Putin simply ask for these things to happen?

The reason, of course, is hypocrisy. Because there’s no such thing in Russia as “patriotism” or selfless love of country these days. Instead, there’s just virulent hatred of outsiders that some mistake for patriotism. There’s no widespread support for Putin, just as there wasn’t for communism, only jury-rigged elections and lies. When you’re working in a factory for $1.86 an hour, a wage that isn’t even being paid, forcing you on a hunger strike to collect it, and when (as we reported in an editorial earlier this week) you know that your young son will be involuntarily drafted into the army and subjected to brutal, barbaric hazing rituals that may well lead him to suicide, it’s hard to love your country much.

And there’s nothing wrong with that lack of patriotism, it’s logical. What’s not logical is to pretend otherwise, to act as if such love is present when it isn’t, to live in a world of self-delusion and hypocrisy. That’s the world of the USSR, the world that destroyed a superpower.

And Russians are doing it all over again. Guess they didn’t get it wrong enough the first time to satisfy them.

Russians who truly love their country, like Oleg Kozlovsky and Yulia Latynina, are doing all they can to warn it away from the precipice towards which it is hurtling. They risk their lives (and, like Anna Politkovskaya, give their lives) for their cause. They do not utter empty rhetoric about patriotism, they let their actions speak for themselves. Meanwhile, cloaking themselves in rhetoric, Russia’s true enemies toil away in the corridors of power, risking and suffering nothing, sleeping on golden beds. Russians claim to love their country, but they elevate their enemies from the KGB to positions of authority and respect and show nothing but contempt for their true heroes — as they have always done, from the time of Pushkin through the time of Solzhenitsyn right up to the present day.

And meanwhile, Russians stand around looking at each other in confusing, wondering why the country keeps denigrating and dissolving before their eyes.

And so it goes with the tragedy that is Russia.

The Putin Purge Begins

The New York Times reports that Putin’s opponents are being made to vanish from Russian TV, a neo-Stalinist purge that ought to send chills down the spine of any reasonable person. The Times has published a translation of the article on its Russian blog as part of an ongoing series, and generated a number of comments from Russian which it has also translated. One Russian reader wrote:

There is room on TV only for those who work to strengthen the country. If your actions are destructive, i.e. you do not support the unidirectional progression of your country, then there is no place for you there. I really want to say: write in newspapers and on the Internet, but TV is too strong a tool to hand over to everyone. TV should be for propaganda.

On a talk show last fall, a prominent political analyst named Mikhail G. Delyagin had some tart words about Vladimir V. Putin. When the program was later televised, Mr. Delyagin was not.

Not only were his remarks cut — he was also digitally erased from the show, like a disgraced comrade airbrushed from an old Soviet photo. (The technicians may have worked a bit hastily, leaving his disembodied legs in one shot.)

Mr. Delyagin, it turned out, has for some time resided on the so-called stop list, a roster of political opponents and other critics of the government who have been barred from TV news and political talk shows by the Kremlin.

The stop list is, as Mr. Delyagin put it, “an excellent way to stifle dissent.”

It is also a striking indication of how Mr. Putin has increasingly relied on the Kremlin-controlled TV networks to consolidate power, especially in recent elections.

Opponents who were on TV a year or two ago all but vanished during the campaigns, as Mr. Putin won a parliamentary landslide for his party and then installed his protégé, Dmitri A. Medvedev, as his successor. Mr. Putin is now prime minister, but is still widely considered Russia’s leader.

Onetime Putin allies like Mikhail M. Kasyanov, his former prime minister, and Andrei N. Illarionov, his former chief economic adviser, disappeared from view. Garry K. Kasparov, the former chess champion and leader of the Other Russia opposition coalition, was banned, as were members of liberal parties.

Even the Communist Party, the only remaining opposition party in Parliament, has said that its leaders are kept off TV.

And it is not just politicians. Televizor, a rock group whose name means TV set, had its booking on a St. Petersburg station canceled in April, after its members took part in an Other Russia demonstration.

When some actors cracked a few mild jokes about Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev at Russia’s equivalent of the Academy Awards in March, they were expunged from the telecast.

Indeed, political humor in general has been exiled from TV. One of the nation’s most popular satirists, Viktor A. Shenderovich, once had a show that featured puppet caricatures of Russian leaders, including Mr. Putin. It was canceled in Mr. Putin’s first term, and Mr. Shenderovich has been all but barred from TV.

Senior government officials deny the existence of a stop list, saying that people hostile to the Kremlin do not appear on TV simply because their views are not newsworthy.

In interviews, journalists said that they did not believe the Kremlin kept an official master stop list, but that the networks kept their own, and that they all operated under an informal stop list — an understanding of the Kremlin’s likes and dislikes.

Vladimir V. Pozner, host of “Times,” a political talk show on the top national network, Channel One, said the pressure to conform to Kremlin dictates had intensified over the last year, and had not eased even after the campaign.

“The elections have led to almost a paranoia on the part of the Kremlin administration about who is on television,” said Mr. Pozner, who is president of the Russian Academy of Television.

In practice, Mr. Pozner said, he tells Channel One executives whom he wants to invite on the show, and they weed out anyone they think is persona non grata.

“They will say, ‘Well, you know we can’t do that, it’s not possible, please, don’t put us in this situation. You can’t invite so and so’ — whether it be Kasparov or Kasyanov or someone else,” Mr. Pozner said.

He added: “The thing that nobody wants to talk about is that we do not have freedom of the press when it comes to the television networks.”

Vladimir R. Solovyov, another political talk show host, said Mr. Pozner was complaining only because his ratings were down and he was looking for someone to blame if his program was canceled. Mr. Solovyov, a vocal supporter of Mr. Putin, said he had never been bullied by the Kremlin.

Yet last year, his show, “Throw Down the Gauntlet,” regularly featured members of opposition parties. This year, the only politicians to appear have been leaders of Mr. Putin’s party, United Russia, and an allied party.

Asked why he had not invited opposition leaders lately, Mr. Solovyov said: “No one supports them. They have nothing to say.”

Vladimir A. Ryzhkov, a liberal and former member of Parliament who used to appear on the show, said Mr. Solovyov was covering up for the Kremlin.

“He lies, of course,” Mr. Ryzhkov said. “My programs with him were among the highest rated programs of any in the history of his show.”

Mr. Ryzhkov said he was usually allowed to appear in lengthy segments on only one major channel: Russia Today, the English-language news station, which the Kremlin established to spread its viewpoint globally.

“I can go on Russia Today only because they want to make it seem that in Russia, there is freedom of the press,” he said.

After the Soviet Union’s fall, several national and regional networks arose that were owned by oligarchs. Though they operated with relatively few restrictions, their owners often used them to settle personal and business scores. One network, NTV, garnered attention for its investigative reporting and war dispatches from Chechnya.

Mr. Putin chafed at negative coverage of the government, and the Kremlin effectively took over the major national networks in his first term, including NTV. Vladimir Gusinsky, NTV’s owner, was briefly arrested and then fled the country after giving up the network. From that point on, executives and journalists at Russian networks clearly understood that they would be punished for resisting the Kremlin.

All the major national and regional networks are now owned by the government or its allies. And since the presidential election in March, neither Mr. Putin nor Mr. Medvedev has indicated any interest in loosening the reins.

“Our television is very often criticized,” Mr. Medvedev said in April. “They say it is boring, it is pro-government, it is too oriented towards the positions of state agencies, of those in power. You know, I can say that our television — in terms of quality, in terms of the technology used — is, I believe, one of the best in the world.”

Valery Y. Komissarov, a former host on a state channel who is now a governing party leader in Parliament, said television coverage was a convenient scapegoat for opposition politicians and antagonistic commentators.

“These are people who are not interesting for society, who are not interesting for journalists,” Mr. Komissarov said. “But they want publicity and perhaps they want to explain away their lack of creative and political success by the fact that they are persecuted, that they are included on the so-called stop list.”

While the Kremlin has focused on TV because it has by far the largest audience, many radio stations and newspapers also abide by the stop list, either ignoring or belittling the opposition.

There are exceptions: a few national and regional newspapers regularly publish critical news and commentary about Mr. Putin and comments from those on the stop list. In addition, the Internet is not censored, and contains plenty of criticism of the government.

A small national network, Ren TV, pushes the boundaries, as does a national radio station, the Echo of Moscow, which has become the voice of the opposition even though Gazprom, the government gas monopoly, owns a majority stake in it.

The Kremlin seems to tolerate criticism in such outlets because they have a limited reach compared with the major television networks. The nightly news on Channel One, for example, is far more popular than any of its counterparts in the United States. It regularly is one of top 10 most-watched programs in Russia.

Mr. Delyagin, the political analyst edited out of the talk show last fall, said he was surprised to have been invited in the first place. He said he last appeared on a major network several years ago, before he began attacking the Kremlin and supporting the opposition.

“I thought that maybe she forgot to look at the stop list,” he said, referring to the program’s host, Kira A. Proshutinskaya.

(Last week, after a Russian-language version of this article was posted on a blog run by the Moscow bureau of The New York Times, Mr. Delyagin was invited to appear on a show on NTV.)

Ms. Proshutinskaya’s program, “The People Want to Know,” had been censored before.

Mr. Ryzhkov, the liberal former member of Parliament, went on the show last year, but its network, TV Center, refused to broadcast it.

In an interview, Ms. Proshutinskaya conceded that Mr. Delyagin had been digitally erased from the program. She said she had been embarrassed by the incident, as well as the one with Mr. Ryzhkov, explaining that the network was responsible. The Kremlin had so intimidated the networks, she said, that self-censorship was rampant.

“I would be lying if I said that it is easy to work these days,” she said. “The leadership of the channels, because of their great fear of losing their jobs — they are very lucrative positions — they overdo everything.”

The management of her network would not comment. But the network’s news director, Mikhail A. Ponomaryov, said journalists and hosts of talk shows had no choice but to comply with the rules.

“It would be stupid to say that we can do whatever we want,” he said. “If the owner of the company thinks that we should not show a person, as much as I want to, I cannot do it.”

Russia the Slave State

Paul Goble reports:

More than a third of all migrant workers in the Russian Federation are subject to significant restrictions on their freedoms, with one in every eight illegal immigrants there living in conditions of slavery and one in every seven illegal female immigrants forced to provide sexual services, according to new data presented to the Duma.

These figures, Moscow commentator Mikhail Delyagin argues in an article published recently, show that Russia today faces not only an “external” threat arising from “uncontrolled migration” but also an “internal” threat of the degeneration of Russian society because of the criminal exploitation for profit of such people. “Alongside us in Russia live and even work for many of us millions of people who are completely without any rights, people who in essence are slaves,” Delyagin says, and the acquiescence of Russians in this situation “makes us not only victims of the new regime” of capitalists interested in profit above all but their co-conspirators. “We must understand what is taking place precisely in our country,” he continues, and to that end, he offers the results of a sociological study that E.V. Tyuryukanov, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Social-Economic Problems of the Population, recently presented to a hearing of the Duma Security Committee.

The statistics Tyuryukanov offered are truly disturbing. Legal immigrants in Russia work an average of 65 hours a week; illegal ones, 79 hours per week. Only seven percent of illegal immigrants have a contract. Legal migrants receive 228 U.S. dollars per week; illegal ones, only 175. Two-thirds of illegal immigrants have given up their passports to employers. Forty-three percent of illegal immigrants — but only seven percent of legal ones — have had to work at least part of the time for no pay. Twenty-three percent of the illegals, although only four percent of legal ones, do so, Tyuryukanov found, all the time, meaning that they take home to pay at all. Forty percent of illegal immigrants — but only four percent of legal ones — are subject to significant limitations on their freedom. Twelve percent of the illegal immigrants are effectively slaves, although only two percent of legal ones are. And among female immigrants, 15 percent of the illegal ones are forced to provide sexual services.

In his commentary, Delyagin draws attention to the fact that “if you exclude the part of illegal migrants who are in fact in the status of salves, the situation of legal and illegal migrants is not so strongly different” as many advocates of legalization as the solution to all these problems routinely insist. Moreover, he points out, these figures show that Russian employers need only about a third of the migrants who come to fill jobs. They need the rest to depress the salaries they pay to other Russians, something that means migration casts a far larger shadow over the life of the country than many suspect. But perhaps the most damning comment Delyagin makes is this: The Russian government, for all its talk about law and order has refused “even to sign the basic conventions of the European Union for the Struggle Against Trade in the Human Person, an indication that when there is a trade-off between people and profits in today’s Moscow, the people lose.

Dear President Medvedev

Other Russia reports:

In 1999, a series of apartment bombings shook Russia and propelled the country headlong into the Second Chechen War. Nearly nine years after the attacks, which claimed 292 lives, many Russians remain unconvinced by the official version of events, which holds that Chechen separatists were responsible.

Two sisters, who lost their mother in the attack, have written an open letter to President Dmitri Medvedev, urging him to mount a fully open, independent investigation. The sisters, Tatyana and Alyona Morozov, currently reside in Missouri. Their appeal (below) was published in the Wall Street Journal newspaper on May 30th.

Dear President Medvedev

In three coordinated bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk in September 1999, 292 people were murdered, including our mother Lyubov Morozova. We are writing this open letter to call on you, Dmitry Anatolyevich, to order an independent, open and full investigation of these attacks.

Although these crimes were blamed on Chechen terrorists and used to justify the resumption of a full-scale war against Chechnya later that month, there are numerous indications that Russian security services may have been involved. There is also clear evidence of a cover-up by the authorities. We do not consider this case solved.

Let us remind you of some of the facts:

  • On September 23, 1999, police arrested three Federal Security Service (FSB) agents who had planted a detonator and RDX – the same explosive used in the earlier bombings – in the basement of a residential building in the city of Ryazan. The FSB explained the agent’s activities as a “training exercise,” claiming the sacks of explosives actually contained only sugar. The investigation was dropped and all evidence classified “top secret.”
  • At about the same time, a Russian soldier discovered RDX in sacks labeled as “sugar” at his army base near Ryazan. The incident was never investigated and the evidence classified.
  • On September 13, 1999, the Speaker of the Duma, Gennady Seleznev, announced that an apartment house in Volgodonsk had been blown up – three days before the attack actually occurred.
  • Mark Blumenfeld, the property manager of our house on Guryanova Street in Moscow that was blown up, told our lawyer and several journalists that FSB agents had “talked him into” changing his testimony. The agents showed him a photo of Achemez Gochiyayev, a Chechen he had never seen before, and under pressure he “identified” him as the man who had rented storage space in the basement.
  • The composite sketch based on Mr. Blumenfeld’s initial description of what the real suspect looked like disappeared from the police file and was replaced with the photograph of Mr. Gochiyaev. Meanwhile, our attorney Mikhail Trepashkin, himself a former KGB agent, told reporters that he had recognized FSB agent Vladimir Romanovich from the police sketch. Romanovich was subsequently killed in Cyprus in a hit and run incident that was never solved.
  • In November 2003, on the eve of the trial of two Chechens later convicted for transporting the explosives used in the Moscow bombings, Mr. Trepashkin was arrested after a gun had been planted in his car. This prevented him from submitting Mr. Blumenfeld’s statement to court that the FSB agents had pressured him to give false evidence. The trial of the two Chechens was not convincing to us or the world as it was held behind closed doors and human rights groups noted numerous violations of due process. Mr. Blumenfeld’s statement and the replacement of the police sketch with the photo of Mr. Gochiyayev was never reviewed by a Russian court.
  • Four people investigating the FSB’s possible involvement in the bombings were assassinated. Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov was shot dead in Moscow in April 2003 and his colleague Yuri Schekochihin died of apparent poisoning three months later. Journalist Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in October 2006 in her Moscow apartment block and a month later, former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko died of poisoning in London.

Many Russians have come to the conclusion that the bombings may have been the work of Russian security services. As for our family, our initial trust in the official version of a “Chechen trail” is long gone. We have come to believe that our mother and neighbors were sacrificed for a political end: To justify the war in Chechnya and help Vladimir Putin become president the following year. Only an objective investigation could make us change this view.

Mr. President, we are writing this open letter because we would like to believe that your ascent to the presidency will end this dark period in Russian history. You were not involved.

We realize that you owe the previous regime a debt of loyalty and gratitude. But the powers of the state were entrusted to you not to protect possible murderers. You are now in control of Russia and your position imposes a higher responsibility. Before history, the people and the memory of innocent victims, you have an obligation to find and tell the truth about these crimes.

Golts on the Georgia Nightmare

Other Russia reports:

Foreign relations between Russia and Georgia have plummeted to all time lows in recent weeks, with Georgian authorities claiming that Russia is inciting a military confrontation over two breakaway republics.

One major point of contention in the conflict is the destruction of a Georgian unmanned spy drone in late April. While Russia claims to have no connection to the event, a report by the UN found that a Russian fighter plane was responsible, backing Georgian assertions that a ceasefire accord had been broken. Aleksandr Golts examines this incident in an editorial in the Yezhednevny Zhurnal online newspaper (below).

Since the article was published on May 28th, Russia has announced that it will move more troops into Abkhazia, for “humanitarian aid” purposes. Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, meanwhile, called the move “an aggressive act, which is aimed against Georgia’s territorial integrity.”

On the art of choosing ones enemies
Aleksandr Golts
Yezhednevny Zhurnal
May 28, 2008.

When a mission of UN observers in Georgia presented their report, asserting that it was exactly a Russian fighter jet that shot down an unmanned Georgian drone, I immediately felt pity for the most intelligent and kind Vitaly Churkin, who currently serves as Russia’s representative to the UN. I immediately imagined him in the place of Soviet representative Valerian Zorin, who fiercely denied the presence of rockets in Cuba at a [UN] Security Council session forty-five years ago. At a certain moment, State Department employees brought in boards with glued-on photographs of Soviet rockets. And this allowed the American representative, Adlai Stevenson to run Zorin in to a corner: “Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R. has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no—don’t wait for the translation—yes or no?” To which the the ambassador of a superpower found nothing better to say than: “I am not in an American courtroom, Mr. Stevenson.”

I’m not even referring to the fact that Moscow was caught telling blatant lies. In 1962, at least the opponent was worthy. But today, the representative of tiny Georgia will drag us face-down along the table. It must be said that both now and forty-five years ago, Moscow was let down by a colossal underestimation of the opponent’s political will and technical capabilities. In 1962, after the Americans didn’t use force to topple the Berlin Wall, Khrushchev counted them incapable of adequately responding to the deployment of rockets. And even the military promised to safely hide the rockets from reconnaissance aircraft. Today, [Moscow] clearly misjudged Georgia’s readiness for political conflict, and most importantly—its technical capacity to substantiate its charges in detail.

The UN mission’s report gives the impression of an extremely tested and painstaking work. Before anything else, the UN writers underscore the qualifications of the specialists, [who they] draw upon for expertise (specialists on radar and unmanned aircraft and aerial photography, as well as fighter pilots). The authors of the report meticulously explain why they regard the Georgian video as authentic. Here you have a both a clear matching of on-the-ground features and terrain, completely corresponding to the radar data and witness testimonies (including those presented by the headquarters of the [Russian] peacekeeping forces). Furthermore, it is underscored that the video recording does not have any changes of color rendition or skipping in the image, which could point to a falsification.

The same can be said regarding the Poti [, Georgia] radar data. [The authors] meticulously explain to us why falsification is impossible in this case. It turns out that the recording of the flight paths of both the drone and the fighter jet are replete with slight changes of course. And an attempt to make a forgery would necessarily show up as an unswerving straight line. We are even told why the fighter flew so close to the drone, as to allow itself to be caught on film. It turns out that this air battle was started practically inside an air corridor constantly flown by civil aircraft. Thus, the fighter pilot had to see his target, so as to, God forbid, avoid hitting a passenger liner.

In order to refute all this, firm statements from representatives of the [Russian] air force that on April 20th, our war planes didn’t fly near the Russian-Georgian border won’t quite suffice. Disputing the Georgian data can only be done by presenting our own data – and I hope that our air defense radar watches this region. After all, information can be obtained from the civil dispatchers, who were guiding planes through the above-mentioned corridor.

Instead of this, [the authorities] have decided, it seems, to once again stigmatize Georgia, as America was stigmatized in 1962. Then, after the embarrassment in the Security Council, the Soviet newspapers wrote that “V. A. Zorin exposed the assertions of US State Department employees, pulled from a heap of all sorts of of rubbish, about the so called “establishment of Soviet rocket bases” in Cuba.” Now, the Foreign Ministry has put on a semblance that the naïve UN investigators have been fooled by the cunning Georgians: “The point at issue is not to cast doubt on the competency of the UN Mission’s specialists. Rather, the question is in the biased and unobjective materials, on which this investigation was built –the video recording and the readings of certain radars. This video tape, which has long been discussed, and which the Georgian side has broadcast on television, but had not risked showing the UN or giving to the Russian side, raises serious doubts, as we have already noted. And the radar data, used by the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, does not correspond with [the data] we have.” It follows, that they have decided to play dumb in Moscow. To pretend that there is in fact a report, but at the same time to consider that the arguments it raises do not exist at all. “Let them slander, the bastards.”

As if the UN authors didn’t dedicate nearly their whole report to explaining how they came to such distasteful conclusions for Russia.

All that happened in distant 1962 was of course humiliating for the Soviet representatives – it’s not very pleasant, when the government whose interests you represent is caught red handed. But then one could write everything off to the stand-off of two systems, to the uncompromising confrontation, by way of which the fate of the country was decided.

Now, when Georgia has managed to incriminate us in lies, Russia stands not only in a humiliating, but in a downright laughable position. And the inability to give any credible explanations at all makes it doubly so.

Corruption Rules Russia

Paul Goble reports:

Corruption in the Russian Federation is so extensive that it rather than a rational calculation of national interests is determining the outcome of many decisions, a situation that promises large if short-term benefits for some but even larger and longer term costs for the country as a whole, according to a Moscow commentator. In a speech to an Interior Ministry conference on combating corruption that was posted online recently, Mikhail Delyagin, the director of the Moscow Institute of the Problems of Globalization, argued that now “even the most important and strategic decisions” in Moscow are taken on the basis of “corrupt interests.”

A harsh critic of the Putin administration, Delyagin argues that three major government projects provide clear support for his argument. The Pacific Oil Pipeline (VSTO) would never have been slated to go through such seismically active areas had certain regional interests and companies not had to be paid off. The Sochi Olympics is a second case of corruption trumping national interests, he suggests. Indeed, it appears that this project is little more than an opportunity to funnel government money into private pockets. And the third case involves the reform of the country’s housing stock. In the last case, Delyagin points out, “the basic discussion” about government funding of these reforms “has developed not around how to better and more quickly fulfill its goals – the capital reconstruction or old and dangerous housing – but around which financial instruments and over what period should be best invested ‘temporarily free’ means.”
Indeed, it has gotten to the point, the Moscow analyst says, that “Russian bureaucrats, who have a bank account, property or other shares abroad simply cannot defend the interests of Russia where their interests do not correspond to the interests of the development of the country since they are simply afraid for their property” much of which has been acquired “corruptly.”
Russian society “is paying a colossal price for corruption in practically all spheres of life,” Delyagin continues, arguing that the current upsurge in inflation could be curbed if the state had the ability to limit the “arbitrariness” of monopolies, something it does not have because of the corruption that ties officials to these businesses.

Some people are beginning to recognize this problem, he argues, but unfortunately, many people currently accept notions about how to fight corruption that do little but make the problem worse. Some believe, for example, that raising the salaries of bureaucrats will help, but in general, such moves only increase the appetites of those receiving more money. Indeed, Delyagin suggests, the only effective ways to deal with corruption involve acting in the same way that the authorities promise to do in fighting organized crime, something corruption is intimately interconnected with. Other means include improving transparency and new means to protect whistle blowers, steps the bureaucracy appears certain to continue to resist.

In the short term, there may be no way out, but as Russian officials sacrifice the national interests of the country in order to protect their corrupt personal ones, the community of those who will be prepared to oppose such actions is certain to grow, a trend that will either force those in power to change or lead those whose interests are now being sacrificed to revolt. While the former is far preferable given than it would lead to fewer dislocations across the political and social system, it is clear that Delyagin himself thinks that the latter outcome is more likely, something that points to the kind of radical, ratchet-like change that has so often marred Russian history in the past.