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Putin and corruption - the president must win, says expert

September 12, 2013, 18:24 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

MOSCOW, September 12 (Itar-Tass) - This year corruption entered the list of Russia’s top three ills. As follows from a Levada-Centre opinion poll, 39% of the questioned respondents believe that corruption is the worst sore spot in Russian society.

The Kremlin declared a crusade against corruption over 20 years ago, in fact, from the very moment Russia emerged as an independent state in the post-Soviet space. Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on the struggle against corruption within the civil service back in 1992.

For many years the country’s adopted virtually no relevant laws. It was in 2006 that Russia ratified two crucial international conventions - the global UN convention against corruption, and the regional convention of the Council of Europe establishing criminal responsibility for corruption.

A major breakthrough was achieved when the State Duma earlier this year adopted a law prohibiting civil servants from having financial assets outside the country. As a result several members of the Federation Council (the upper house of parliament), State Duma members and senior civil servants had to vacate their posts.

According to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, these days the number of corruption-related crimes in the country is growing. So does the number of those convicted of them.

In 2011 about 12,000 wrongdoers were indicted on criminal charges for these crimes, in 2012, 13,500, and from January through April, 9,500.

In the first half of 2013 the number of corruption-related crimes grew by 6.3 percent on the year.

The chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, member of the presidential council for the promotion of civil society institutions and human rights, Kirill Kabanov, told Itar-Tass in an interview “the number of criminal cases opened over corruption in Russia is growing, but the embezzled efforts are not returned to the treasury.” The expert recalled the affair of the Moscow Region’s former deputy prime minister, Aleksey Kuznetsov, who was accused of defrauding the budget of billions of roubles and fled Russia.

Kabanov also recalled some Audit Chamber statistics. At least 300 billion dollars a year is taken out of the country to offshore zones, and another one trillion roubles (about 30 billion dollars) is embezzled through the mechanism of state purchases.

At the same time Kabanov said that the authorities had been taking real strategic steps to eradicate this old-time evil. “Russia’s decision to join the UN convention against corruption means that the Kremlin, under article 20 of that convention, is going to identify stolen assets and return them to the treasury. One may regard the proposals for taxing luxurious items and tightening control of budget spending as steps in the same direction.

Kabanov says corruption is rooted in the emergence of Russia’s class of new nobility.

“We have a deeply stratified society again - the nobility and the common folk. The upper class forms corporations that resist the president’s determination to put an end to making fortunes on one’s position or office,” he said.

The chief of the microeconomic analysis department at the higher school of economics, Mark Levin, believes that “in Russia today there are two stable corruption strategies - either civil servants become co-owners of businesses, or businesses literally put civil servants on their payroll.” In the 1990s the situation was quite different - the civil servants then had no leverage like the one they have today to influence businesses. Corruption was lower and it was not as systemic,” Ogonyok magazine quotes the expert as saying.

Kabanov believes that “the head of state is unable to keep kleptocracy at bay on its own, but he has set this task to the law enforcement agencies.”

“But until just recently the law enforcers themselves ‘had a share’. The whole system worked like quick sand, where all initiative from above gets invariably drowned.”

The expert recalled a remark President Vladimir Putin dropped at a meeting of the Presidential Council. “Russia is different and I am different now, too.”

“To Vladimir Putin it is pretty clear that after the 2008 crisis the number of billionaires around the world shrank, but in our country, grew. This is the reason why in his struggle against corruption the president is trying to rely on society. The question is either Putin will outplay kleptocracy with support from civil society, or kleptocracy will outplay Putin. The president does not like to be the loser at all. So he is to win.”