Essel on Russian Corruption

Corruption: Don’t We All Just Love Greasing the Wheels?

by Dave Essel

In a recent translation of mine published in LR, Russia was referred to as a swamp. The following news item is descriptive of one aspect of this swamp. Corruption is a strange thing, enmiring as it does both the corrupt official and the bribe giver, for both of whom it is a convenience. For the bribe-giver it is also a burden, but by the nature of the transaction a lesser burden than the alternative. I don’t really see how it can be stopped except by radical surgery, like amputation to prevent the spread of gangrene.

Consider this story from Novaya Gazeta sourced from Ekho Moskvy radio:

Rashid Nurgaliev: Up to Two-Thirds of Businessmen are Involved in Corrupt Activities in Some Parts of Russia. According to MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs = Police etc] Head Rashid Nurgaliev in a speech in Chelyabinsk, up to 70% of entrepreneurs allocate half of their grey income to bribing civil servants.

Said Nurgaliev at a coordination seminar on the struggle against corruption and cleaning up the energy sector of the Urals Federal Region: “Investigations have shown that in some parts of the country, up to two-thirds of business people engage in corruption. Organised crime spends up to 50% of its income from criminal activities on paying off bureaucrats.The minister went on to say that a government plan for countering corruption has been drawn up and distributed.

Anyone who reads LR knows (or soon learns) that words in neo-nazi Russia mean nothing. As in Soviet days, two things are far more important and useful: reading between the lines and a bit deconstruction.

So it is interesting to note the mental slide from “businessmen” involved in corruption (presumably the bribery of taxmen, fire safety inspectors, allocators of operating licences etc), swiftly and without any feeling of awkwardness to “organised criminals” in the very next sentence. Nurgaliev displays his truly frozen Soviet thinking process: to a Commie there is no difference between a businessman and an organised criminal. (Sadly, this gets past Ekho Moskvy, too.)

And I don’t – and I shouldn’t imagine any Russian does either – think that the bribe-taking bureaucrats are going to be working very hard to implement measures that will deprive them of income. It ain’t human and Russia’s civil service gets all the humanity there is going in Russia today.

So my between-the-lines reading is that civil servants are feeling the pinch during this crisis, that Russia still doesn’t like entrepreneurs (who are in fact its only lifeline), and that consequently Nurgaliev is announcing a price rise.

PS. Streetwise Professor has a piece on corruption in Russia today which expands on the above more professorialy:

[…] The second feature is the spectacular increase in corruption schemes and channels in the emergency situation of siphoning off hard-currency reserves that still amount to half a trillion dollars, which is approximately equal to the corporate debt. The decisions about rescuing banks that are known to be “close” to certain officials and opening credit lines to companies with unknown ownership structures are so opaque that the international financial services company Standard & Poor’s revised its outlook on Russia’s sovereign credit rating from “stable” to “negative” last week (, 23 October). Corroborating this was Transparency International, which gave Russia its worst mark in eight years, so that in the Corruption Perception Index it now shares 147th place (out of 180) with Bangladesh, Kenya, and Syria (Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 24).

Medvedev quite possibly feels the need to add more substance to his anticorruption initiatives and provide some explanations for the apparent lack of results from the much-advertised interventions.

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