Transparency International has assessed corruption in Russia as being at its highest level in eight years. The Berlin-based international watchdog group ranked Russia in 147th place out of 180 countries in its annual Corruption Perception Index, which is based on polls taken among experts and businesspeople. Denmark, New Zealand, and Sweden tied for first place, that is, were deemed the world’s least corrupt, while Somalia came in last (180th place), as the world’s most corrupt country. The other countries rated among the world’s five most corrupt were Myanmar and Iraq (tied for 178th), Haiti (177th), and Afghanistan (176th). The United States and Japan tied for 18th place, while Great Britain came in 16th place, and France in 23rd place (www.transparency.org).
Russia shared 147th place with Bangladesh, Kenya, and Syria. Among the countries of the former Soviet Union, Russia was rated more corrupt than Estonia (27th place), Latvia (52nd), Lithuania (58th), Georgia (67th), Armenia (102nd), Moldavia (109th), Ukraine (134th), and Kazakhstan (145th), and less corrupt than Belarus and Tajikistan (tied for 151st place), Azerbaijan (158th), and Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (tied for 166th). Iran, Cameroon, the Philippines, and Yemen (all tied for 141st place) were rated slightly less corrupt than Russia. “All this data taken together demonstrates that the situation in Russia has reached a threatening scale,” Transparency International stated. “The phenomenon of corruption…seriously undermines the very statehood of Russia” (www.transparency.org; Reuters, September 23; Novye Izvestia, September 24).
Meanwhile, 29 percent of those polled in a survey carried out by the Public Opinion Foundation among 34,000 people in 68 Russian regions said that they have had to pay bribes. Among respondents who said they have never paid a bribe, 44 percent said they may have to at some point. Among all the respondents, it was those who were involved in business who indicated that they run into corruption most often: 56 percent of businessmen said that they pay bribes, although 66 percent of the businessmen polled said they have not encountered extortion.
According to the Public Opinion Foundation survey, which was conducted at the initiative of President Dmitry Medvedev, the highest level of corruption in Russia is in the capital: 42 percent of the Muscovites polled admitted to having paid a bribe to an official. Tatarstan and Krasnodar Krai came in second (41 percent of the respondents from each of those regions admitted to paying bribes), Stavropol Krai came in third (40 percent), Moscow Oblast came in fourth (37 percent), and St. Petersburg came in fifth (34 percent). The polling found that Perm Krai and Tyumen Oblast are the least corrupt regions of Russia (with 12 percent and 18 percent of the respondents from those regions, respectively, admitting to having paid a bribe). It should be noted that the survey was not carried out in such regions as Yakutia, Chechnya, and Dagestan, where corruption is reported to be high.
The Public Opinion Foundation survey found that 54 percent of those polled condemned those who take bribes, while 37 percent did not. There were, however, regional differences: for example, 63 percent of the Muscovites who were polled expressed tolerance toward bribe-taking while only 32 percent of the Sakhalin residents who were polled were similarly tolerant of bribe-taking. “Different territories are in some sense like different countries,” Public Opinion Foundation President Aleksandr Oslon told Kommersant. “In some places, entrepreneurs take it [corruption] in stride, but in other places they are completely bothered by it” (Kommersant, September 23).
While Medvedev has declared that he will battle corruption and replace “legal nihilism” with the rule of law, Transparency International expressed doubts that his anti-corruption plan would succeed. “The existence of such a plan on its own cannot reduce the level of corruption in the country…if the implementation of anti-corruption projects is carried out just by civil servants and the authorities, while society once again watches from the sidelines,” the watchdog stated (Reuters, September 23).
Likewise, Georgy Satarov, the former Yeltsin aide who is president of the INDEM Foundation, which has studied the issue of corruption extensively, said that there has been a loss of control over Russia’s bureaucracy over the last eight years. “And when bureaucrats remain without supervision, they start to work for themselves,” Satarov told Novye Izvestia. “And naturally, corruption grows.”
At the same time, Satarov said it was possible to fight corruption as long as the “necessary conditions” are created for doing so. These necessary conditions, according to Satarov, include normal political competition, a healthy and strong political opposition, influential independent media, and freely operating public organizations. Satarov did not deny that corruption can also grow “under the conditions of democracy,” but added: “It is simply that the governments of Western democratic countries constantly take pains to limit corruption, and if they do not do that, then they are replaced by the opposition” (Novye Izvestia, September 24).
Yet while echoing the doubts over the likelihood that Medvedev’s anti-corruption measures will work, Yelena Panfilova, director of Transparency International’s Russian office, said that the very fact that an anti-corruption plan “has appeared at all” in Russia is “of great significance” (Reuters, September 23).