Last month President Dmitry Medvedev created an Anti-Corruption Committee that he will head and gave it a month to come up with a national anti-corruption program (see EDM, May 21). He devoted a June 9 meeting with Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin to discuss this issue. Izvestia reported that the meeting focused on corruption cases “arousing the greatest social resonance,” an example being, according to the paper, the case of Mikhail Korotkov, the former chairman of the Volgograd Oblast Court, who is accused of fraud, misusing his official position and forgery. According to Izvestia, Korotkov is suspected of illegally using contract servicemen as drivers of official cars as well as taking a curbstone allegedly dismantled from the city of Volgograd’s Avenue of Heroes and using it for his dacha. Investigators are also looking into suspiciously light sentences that Korotkov’s subordinates handed down in cases involving corruption and narcotics sales (Izvestia June 10). Responding to a request by the Investigative Committee for a ruling in the case, Russia’s Supreme Court declared that it had found evidence of criminality in Korotkov’s actions (RBK Daily, June 10).
Last week Medvedev met with Prosecutor General Yury Chaika and asked for the closure of gaps in federal and regional legislation that could be used for corrupt ends. Medvedev told reporters in Berlin on June 5 that his administration would be making “some very serious proposals” to “improve legislation to counter corruption,” calling this “important for changing life in Russia for the better” (www.kremlin.ru, June 5). The chairman of Russia’s Supreme Court, Vyacheslav Lebedev, has called for removing the provision in Russia’s criminal code that stipulates that judges, State Duma deputies and Federation Council members, prosecutors and other officials can be indicted only after a court has ruled that there is evidence of criminality in their actions (Izvestia, June 10). Meanwhile, Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov announced the creation of a special electronic property database that will allow officials to see more easily what people own. “There already is a database on what property people own, but we are talking about streamlining it to make it easier to use and see what people own by synchronizing what different agencies and ministries already have,” Konovalov told Reuters on June 7 while attending the St. Petersburg Economic Forum.
Despite these latest moves, some observers continue to express doubt that Medvedev’s anti-corruption drive will be any more successful than those of his predecessors (see EDM, May 21). Indeed, the fact that the federal authorities are giving such prominence to cases like that of Mikhail Korotkov could be seen grounds for pessimism, given that the acts of corruption he is accused of pale in comparison with those widely believed to take place regularly much higher up on Russia’s “vertical of power.”
“In order to fight real and not ‘Potemkin’ corruption, it is not at all necessary to rove around the Russian interior: it’s not there; ordinary larceny flourishes there,” wrote Pavel Voshchanov, who served as Boris Yeltsin’s press secretary in the early 1990s. “One should examine the large-scale projects that our bureaucratic elite is so captivated by. The Olympics; Russky Island [Britain’s Guardian reported in January 2007 that then President Vladimir Putin planned to spend several billion dollars to turn the “forgotten and crumbling Pacific island” near Vladivostok into a holiday resort capable of hosting an international conference]; the native Las Vegases; the business school in Podmoskovye [the Moscow region] for the scions of the new aristocracy; the tunnel from the mainland to Sakhalin [in 2000 the Russian government revived the idea of building a tunnel between Sakhalin Island and the Russian mainland]; the bridge from Chukotka to Alaska [Russian media reported earlier this year that Chukotka’s billionaire governor, Roman Abramovich, plans to build an undersea tunnel from Chukotka to Alaska]–here are the real ‘black holes’ capable of swallowing budgetary billions!” (Novaya gazeta, June 5).
Another skeptic, Georgy Satarov, the former Yeltsin aide who heads the INDEM Foundation, predicted that in order to meet public expectations, some officials who have “gone too far” or have been “careless” would be made examples in the fight against corruption. According to Satarov, however, this will not bridge the gap between the public expectations sparked by the anti-corruption campaign and reality.
“These expectations will be divided into two spheres,” Satarov wrote. “The first [is] the expectation of victims [from among] highly-placed officials. The conviction that ‘the fish rots from the head’ is very deeply rooted. Therefore, any anti-corruption campaign is real in the eyes of the citizenry only to the degree that high officials who have been named publicly and who the press and public opinion connect with particularly barefaced and large-scale manifestations of corruption fall ‘under the guillotine.’ I suspect that disappointment awaits the citizenry here. The second sphere has less symbolic meaning but is much more important in the citizenry’s daily life. I am talking about the constant bureaucratic lawlessness, about which the authorities, to all appearances, are unconcerned. No one breathes a word about that. If my assumptions are correct … then this lawlessness will increase” (www.ej.ru, June 9).