Russia is Hopelessly Corrupt

Jonas Bernstein, writing for Voice of America:

President Dmitri Medvedev has made fighting a corruption a top priority and has vowed to remove the bribe-taking officials and bureaucratic barriers that make life so difficult for Russia’s small and medium-sized businesses. But independent observers point to the entrenched, systemic nature of Russian corruption and are skeptical Mr. Medvedev’s anti-corruption drive will succeed where others have failed.

President Medvedev assembled top officials, Wednesday, to discuss the red tape and corruption plaguing Russia’s small and medium-sized business sector.

Mr. Medvedev told the meeting that such businesses devote a significant portion of their annual revenues to overcoming bureaucratic hurdles.  He says removing what he calls “administrative barriers” is a key goal of his reform drive.

The Russian president noted that Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika recently reported that the number of arbitrary inspections of small businesses is decreasing. Chaika says his office prevented about 4,200 unscheduled checks of small and medium-size businesses from May through July. Mr. Medvedev says such inspections are often an excuse to extract bribes.

Indeed, Mr. Medvedev told Wednesday’s meeting that the country’s small and medium-sized businesses remain targets of “common extortion” by officials – something he calls “especially disgusting.”





Uphill battle

Since becoming president in 2008, Mr. Medvedev has made fighting corruption and establishing rule of law the centerpiece of his administration. In addition to ordering an end to arbitrary business inspections, he has decreed mandatory income and property declarations for top officials.

Late last month, Mr. Medvedev’s interior minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev, announced that officials who appoint senior police officers will be held personally responsible for those appointments.

Yet, despite such measures, the fate of earlier anti-corruption campaigns in Russia suggests Mr. Medvedev – assuming he sincerely seeks reform – faces an uphill battle.

In 1997, then-President Boris Yeltsin ordered top officials to submit yearly income and property declarations and decreed other measures, including competitive bidding for government contracts.

Just two years later, Mr. Yeltsin stepped down, amid allegations of large-scale corruption involving his administration. During each of his last two years as president, the Berlin-based anti-corruption group Transparency International gave Russia a rating of 2.4 on its Corruption Perceptions Index – with a rating of 10 meaning no corruption and a rating of 0 meaning total corruption.

Transparency International gave Russia slightly worse ratings for 2007 and 2008, the last two years of the presidency of Vladimir Putin, Mr. Yeltsin’s successor. Mr. Putin is now Russia’s prime minister.

Corruption entrenched

Independent observers say corruption in Russia is entrenched and extremely difficult to uproot without systemic changes.

Georgi Satarov, a corruption analyst with Moscow’s Indem think tank, says that, because of the systemic nature of Russian corruption, individual measures, like holding senior Interior Ministry officials responsible for those they appoint, will not work.

Satarov says that, even if this step represents a kind of “innovation”, it is an “internal bureaucratic control” that will have “little significance” because it does not change the essence of Russia’s law enforcement system.

As for Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika’s claim that his office prevented 4,200 unscheduled checks of small and medium-size businesses in three months, Satarov says the claim is impossible to verify and that, in any case, the number is “very small” for a country of Russia’s size.

Yelena Panfilova, head of Transparency International’s Russian branch, says a real fight against corruption is possible only if five conditions are met.

Panfilova says those conditions are the existence of genuine political competition, laws that take precedence over informal “understandings,” a true market economy, genuine media freedom and a strong civil society. She says none of these conditions exist in Russia today.

Kirill Kabanov, head of the non-governmental National Anti-Corruption Committee, gives President Dmitri Medvedev high marks for admitting that there is “extreme corruption” in Russia. But he says Mr. Medvedev has failed to take steps crucial to fighting corruption in the country.

Kabanov says Mr. Medvedev should have removed the senior officials appointed during Vladimir Putin’s eight years in the Kremlin, who he says is responsible for what he calls the current “corrupt situation” in the country – especially the Russian security service veterans known as the “Siloviki.”

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