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The sweeping campaign against corruption, which hit the upper tiers of power over the past few months, seems to be easing, analysts say. No more loud statements by law enforcement agencies, no more high-profile scandalous exposures in the printed media or on television. Experts believe that the authorities have reached a certain border line and now they prefer to stop in order to avoid stirring the public too much or triggering tectonic shifts inside the elite.
For the past week there has been no word from the Investigative Committee of Russia, which just recently made daily reports of ever more officials involved in yet another corruption scandal. In the meantime, the cases that have been opened already over colossal theft and embezzlement are enough – abuse in the holding company Oboronservis, subordinate to the Defense Ministry, which cost Defense Minister Serdyukov his post, the affair of the former agriculture minister Yelena Skrynnik, and the theft of 6.5 billion rubles from the funds earmarked for the creation and development of the national navigation system GLONASS, as well as huge theft during preparations for the APEC summit in Vladivostok. It is worth adding probes into the Regional Development Ministry and the Health Ministry and suspiciously-looking loans issued by state-run banks.
The most high-ranking persons – Serdyukov and Skrynnik – have not been charged with any offences. Moreover, they have not been questioned even in the capacity of witnesses.
Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev on December 10 said, though, that “the investigation of the GLONASS case over corruption is proceeding productively.” He said police operatives would continue to probe into corruption in the GLONASS affair steadily and without any hasty campaigning.
However, when asked if Yelena Skrynnik might be questioned in the course of the investigation, Kolokoltsev said it was a competence of the Investigative Committee. “It is up to them to decide. We are conducting the struggle against corruption in defiance of ranks and posts,” Kolokoltsev said.
As the investigators themselves have been telling the media unofficially, the investigation should not be expected to produce any major results. Also, according to unofficial hints, “certain political decisions have been made.”
Until just recently the authorities sounded very different messages to society. As President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with his trusted proxies just recently, the measures being taken are not a time-serving campaign, and corruption should be fought not only at the very top, but at the grass roots level, too.
“It is not a campaign but systematic effort for uprooting corruption,” Putin said. “The struggle should be conducted not at the highest tiers of power, in the Defense Ministry, but on the streets, and in the social sphere, where extortion is frequent,” he said.
The editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Konstantin Remchyukov, believes the authorities have shifted the anti-corruption crusade into reverse. “If the people do believe that corruption has begun to be fought with in reality and begin to expose from below, say, their mayor or governor, in what way should the authorities respond?” he asked on the Ekho Moskvy radio station. Besides, according to Remchyukov “the chain of obvious criminal offences and theft is so outrageous that it has certainly cast a shadow on the vertical chain of command that has made this theft possible.”
The anti-corruption measures being taken are necessary, but they are “not very effective,” Russia’s Public Chamber (a sort of informal, people’s parliament created at the Kremlin’s initiative) said in its corruption report for 2012. The Public Chamber sees two main reasons for that. Firstly, anti-corruption struggle inside individual agencies is conducted by the agencies themselves, and secondly, the people are prepared to pay bribes for fast-tracking the solution of their problems. The Public Chamber recommended making open and transparent the information about the distribution of budget funds and civil servants’ salaries and spending, and introducing open contests for filling vacancies in the bodies of state power. To give civil society a leverage to control the authorities, the Public Chamber said, a special law on public control must be adopted.
“When it launched the crusade against corruption, the authorities proceeded from two considerations. Firstly, the objective situation as it is, corruption is a hindrance to economic development,” political scientists Igor Bunin and Alexei Makarkin say in an article in the daily Vedomosti. “Secondly, the authorities react to protests by the Opposition, which has actively used the anti-corruption theme for harsh criticism of the Kremlin. Moreover, the Oppositional rhetoric is consonant with the public’s expectations, which leaves no chance for ignoring it.”
Therefore, the experts say, the authorities seek to intercept initiative to position themselves as a resolute fighter with bribery and to use the available media resource to its advantage. At the same time, they believe, the authorities have no intention of eradicating corruption, because this would trigger tectonic shifts in the elite. The political scientists recall the Clean Hands operation in Italy in the early 1990s, when a fundamental anti-corruption campaign carried out by independent investigators in fact resulted in the collapse of the party system.
“It looks like the authorities are in a zugzwang situation,” the experts believe. “If they cater to public expectations and ambitions of some siloviki further on, then they will lose support from the elite, in particular, that part of it which is the closest to the state budget pie. But if they decide to sooth the elite by sending only small fry into jail, while leaving really big culprits in peace, the authorities will run the risk of having still less credibility with the “bloodthirsty” public. Both options are bad for the authorities, so of the two evils they will be choosing them smaller one.”
MOSCOW, December 18