Nikolai Zlobin, director of Russian and Asian programs at the Institute for World Security in Washington, writing in the Moscow Times:
During his perfunctory election campaign, President Dmitry Medvedev made no mention of the need to modernize Russia, nor did he promise to become a popular video blogger or to set any world records for compassion by providing apartments to World War II veterans. No, Medvedev called for a battle against corruption and promised to do so much in establishing law and order that everyone would understand that he was not just keeping the presidential seat warm until Prime Minister Vladimir Putin returned to it in 2012.
Russians — tired of small-scale corruption that has become a way of life and daily injustice on the part of government officials — were ready to believe the anti-corruption pluck of the young leader who promised to “finally put an end” to the problem.
However, Medvedev’s call to battle corruption has gone unheeded. All surveys, statistics and personal observations indicate that, during Medvedev’s 18 months in office, corruption has actually increased. Now the question is: Will Medvedev continue just talking about the problem or is he prepared to finally take action?
After all, Medvedev is not only the president of all Russians — he is the leader of all bureaucrats, who act as his representatives at every level government. He is the only person in the country who has the power to remove anybody at any time. Why, then, doesn’t Medvedev change the criteria for measuring success from governors’ and mayors’ ability to finagle high election results for United Russia to their ability to control corruption? He could fire a dozen or so local leaders as a signal to the others. Many ministries suffer from high levels of corruption. The fact that Medvedev has yet to remove any of the most flagrantly corrupt officials speaks volumes.
Russia should not follow the Western model for fighting corruption. In those countries, corruption is the exception, and is dealt with by the criminal justice system like any other crime. In Russia, corruption has become so widespread that it is undermining both the state and the economy and is creating a deep distrust toward all authorities, including the president. In Russia, corruption is not a criminal but a political program, with rigged elections being the clearest example. A single party’s monopoly on power coupled with the absence of a free media is a classic breeding ground for corruption.
Any official who attempts to influence a judge’s decision should be considered a state criminal. A country in which corrupt officials channel their illicit wealth into their wives’ bank accounts to escape punishment and where entire families are listed on the payrolls of ministries is incapable of developing or modernizing. It is impossible to overcome the legal nihilism of the Russian people as long as the only law that the president, prime minister and the people generally obey is the need to stop at a red light.
Medvedev’s comment regarding Soviet leader Josef Stalin that “the ruling authority should be honest” would be better applied to his own conduct and that of his subordinates. Any unfettered corrupt official instantly makes the president appear dishonest in the eyes of the people. Are we to believe that Medvedev is honest and incorruptible and that he will fulfill his promise to modernize the country just like he has fulfilled his promise to fight corruption and establish the rule of law?