Acting on his promises to battle corruption, instill respect for the law and overcome “legal nihilism,” President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree setting up a presidential anticorruption council and appointed Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin to head the council’s presidium, which will have one month to draw up a national anticorruption program. Medvedev said the anticorruption program would consist of three parts. The first part, he said, would involve tightening anticorruption laws. The second would involve making government tenders and orders more transparent, introducing measures against corporate raids, cracking down on conflicts of interest and creating incentives for reducing corruption. The third would focus on promoting ethical standards against corruption through the mass media and non-governmental organizations. Medvedev also called for making courts independent from the executive branch in order to reduce corruption (Prime-Tass, May 19).
On May 20 Medvedev told senior judges and legal officials that the courts “should be guided only by the law” and that his administration’s main goal was to make “independence for the courts” a reality. He added: “[Unjust] decisions, as we all know, do happen and come as a result of different kinds of pressure, like telephone calls and–there’s no point in denying–offers of money” (Moscow Times, May 21).
Both President Boris Yeltsin and President Vladimir Putin vowed to fight corruption and impose rule of law, but to little avail (see EDM, January 30), and some observers have expressed skepticism that Medvedev, even assuming his motivations are genuine, will be able to succeed where his predecessors failed.
Pavel Voshchanov, who served as Yeltsin’s press secretary in the early 1990s, noted that both Medvedev and Putin in their new positions have stressed the need to fight corruption. “They said, as expected, one and the same thing: [that] as little as possible should depend on officials, and that [officials] should be paid as much as possible,” he wrote. “But neither said a word about the main and universal weapon in the fight against this irradicable evil … free media and civil control over the activities of all organs of power. This means one should not cherish any special hope for changes.” What Medvedev and Putin have said about the need to fight corruption amounts to little more than “ritual incantations,” Voshchanov wrote. Proof of this, he added, was the fact that former Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov and former Communications and Information Technologies Minister Leonid Reiman have been appointed as aides to the new president, despite the questions raised over their “private entrepreneurial activities” while serving in the cabinet (Novaya gazeta, May 19).
Likewise, Vyacheslav Kostikov, who also served as Yeltsin’s press secretary, said that a lack of glasnost was the main obstacle to fighting corruption and cited the case of Yury Shchekochikhin, the veteran investigative journalist who was a Novaya gazeta deputy editor and State Duma deputy. Shchekochikhin died in 2003 after suddenly falling ill, and his relatives and colleagues believe he was poisoned. “Even after five years we do not know the real circumstances surrounding the death of one of the bravest protectors of the truth–Yury Shchekochikhin,” Kostikov wrote. “Only recently as a result of persistent demands by the public, the prosecutor’s office returned the case for further inquiry. As in the Brezhnev era of stagnation, we most often find out about notorious cases from foreign sources. It is no wonder that listeners are again stretching an ear toward ‘enemy voices.’ We only heard about the case of [Yevgeny] Adamov [the former nuclear energy minister accused both in Russia and the United States of corruption and recently freed in Russia], when the American justice system became interested in it. Now this story is being repeated with the arrest in Thailand of Viktor Bout, accused by the Americans of illicit arms trafficking. We are not told whether this is true or not” (Argumenty i fakty, May 21).
Mikhail Delyagin, Director of the Institute for Globalization Problems, predicted that Medvedev would use the issue of corruption to purge the siloviki holdovers from the Putin administration. “Medvedev’s aim is to rout the power clan,” he said. “The ideal instrument for removing the power clan is the fight against corruption, because Mr. Shvartsman convinced everyone that corruption was the privilege of the siloviki. Although, in fact, representatives of both the power and the liberal clans are engaged in the same machinations. And Medvedev will certainly–not now, but later–use Russia’s international obligations [to fight corruption] to declare corruption as an integral attribute of the power clan and purge it once and for all.” Oleg Shvartsman, head of the head of the Finansgroup financial-industrial concern, gave an interview last year in which he claimed that siloviki were involved in takeovers of businesses in a process he described as “velvet re-privatization” (see EDM, November 30 and December 7, 2007).
Using corruption to attack the siloviki would allow Medvedev to replace Putin as the country’s real leader, Delyagin said. “Because if Medvedev forces the power clan out into the backyard of the state administration, Putin will be deprived of the possibility of being an arbiter in the confrontation of the clans, and then his role will decline on its own” (www.k2kapital.com, May 20).