Paul Goble reports:
Small and mid-sized Russian businesses are now twice as likely to suffer from illegal actions by government officials — including those responsible for enforcing the law — than they are from the activities of ordinary criminals, according to a new survey of Russian entrepreneurs. Fifteen percent – or nearly one in six – of Russian businessmen in this category told OPOR pollsters that they had been subject to illegal actions by law enforcement agencies especially as a result of raids on their businesses, while only seven percent said they had felt similar “pressure” from ordinary criminals.
Put in its simplest terms, “Novyye izvestiya” journal Nikolai Dzis’-Voynarovsky said in reporting these findings today, “law enforcement personal are [now] interfering with business twice more than are bandits,” a reflection of a rise in illegal actions by the former and a more or less constant number of attacks by the latter. Given all the other problems Russian businesses are suffering during the current economic crisis – including falling demand, increasing unpaid accounts receivable, and difficulties in getting credit — this particular one has largely passed under the radar screens of most Moscow commentators.
But it may prove to have more long-lasting consequences than any other the others. On the one hand, such official interference in the economy and especially in this sector which is less involved in raw materials extraction and processing may make it far more difficult for Russia to recover economically, especially if petroleum prices remain low. And on the other, this evidence of the increasing criminalization of Russian law enforcement bodies flies in the face of Russian government efforts and claims to be building a law-based state, something that will inevitably corrode both public support for the authorities and for a regime seemingly incapable of bringing them to heel.
Another poll whose results were released yesterday suggests why this is such a danger, and an another article in a Moscow paper this morning not only provides new details on the way in which the criminalization of official structures is developing but also on why it is proving so difficult for the current Russian government to address this problem. In December, the Public Verdict Foundation and the Levada Analytic Center conducted a poll concerning Russian attitudes toward law enforcement bodies of all types. Among its many findings, two are especially important as an indication of why such illegality may be so dangerous for Moscow .
On the one hand, the poll found that Russians are already inclined to blame the law enforcement agencies for the rise in crime. And on the other, it showed that from a third to three-quarters of them lumped together the militia with the procuracy and the FSB, a pattern that suggests Russians could come to blame a central prop of the regime for the actions of the militia. Meanwhile, the “Moscow Post” reports today that many in the Russian media have assumed that the “force structures are struggling with criminal activity in their own ranks” without noticing that “all these stories concern only two regions close to the center – Moscow and St. Petersburg.”
And Russian observers have concluded, the paper says, that the either officials are engaged in the same struggle elsewhere or that there are no such problems in other places. But those reassuring notions, the paper says, are unwarranted as an examination of the situation in Primorsky kray shows. There, the Moscow paper’s Peter Oklichko adds, “a criminal grouping consisting of several sectors connected one with the other but including the judiciary, the procuracy, the militia, the tax authorities and all other force structures continues to flourish and engage in illegal actions throughout the region,” a pattern that is far from unusual.
Indeed, it suggests, “the further a region is from the center,” the worse the situation may be. In the Russian Far East, this criminal grouping has been functioning “over the course of many years” and has involved both former officials and currently serving ones in a wide variety of corrupt activities.
And as evidence of just how bad things are, the paper continues, some of these criminals have been involved in the creation of the Primorsky Foundation for the Struggle with Crime, a body that would seem to be interested in law enforcement but which in fact serves as a money laundering front for the criminal enterprises of its supporters. Several days ago, Oklichko notes in conclusion, President Dmitry Medvedev noted that many officials were engaged in criminal activities and that “now the state will not close its eyes to this.” But given the extent of the problem, the journalist adds, that will hardly be enough to ensure that the Kremlin leader’s words will not prove to be an empty promise.