Russia’s political class is continuing to debate the issue of corruption, with some observers again expressing doubts that President Dmitry Medvedev’s anti-corruption drive will succeed where past efforts failed (see EDM, June 11 and 25). A veteran crime fighter has even suggested that corruption has a “positive” side and questioned the wisdom of an all-out anti-corruption drive.
Corruption was one of the main topics at a meeting held by the collegium of the Prosecutor General’s Office on July 29 to discuss the results of the office’s work for the first half of the year. According to Gazeta, the top prosecutors reported that 27,000 crimes related to corruption were uncovered during that period, a figure 10 percent higher than during first six months of 2007. Indeed, the newspaper quoted First Deputy Prosecutor General Aleksandr Buksman as saying that the number of “corruption crimes” is “steadily” growing, with six percent more bribes uncovered during the first half of this year than during the first half of 2007. According to Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, prosecutors across the country investigated 4,000 instances of suspected corruption during the first half of 2008, resulting in 1,500 criminal cases. Chaika complained that “operational-investigative activity” had produced poor results, reiterating that the fight against corruption is not a “one-time action” and calling on his subordinates to return to the 4,000 cases and work harder to achieve “positive results.”
Some independent experts, however, have questioned whether the prosecutors’ corruption statistics reflect the true state of affairs or are simply the tip of the iceberg. Gazeta quoted Genry Reznik, president of Moscow’s Chamber of Lawyers, as estimating that no more than three percent of the total number of acts of corruption lie “on the surface” and are reflected in the official statistics.
Kirill Kabanov, chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, an advocacy group, also questioned whether the statistics reflect the real level of corruption. “As long as officials do not see that there will be a real fight against corruption at all levels, they will only increase [their] takings from corruption,” he told Gazeta. “It needs to be understood that officials have rather strong support and connections, including among siloviki. Even federal organs depend on local administrations, receiving apartments and land plots from them. One can assert that a systematic fight against corruption has not even started; thus far, there have only been declarations, albeit rather serious ones. And ordinary people do not want to speak about corruption; they are afraid, since they don’t see real results.”
Yevgeny Yasin, the former economics minister who is now research director of the Higher School of Economics, said corruption cannot be fought piecemeal and noted that President Dmitry Medvedev has indicated that he intends to take a more systemic approach by focusing on such things as judicial reform. “But I cannot guarantee that he will find an instrument to counteract this vice or whether he has enough time for this,” Yasin told Gazeta. He stressed that the anti-corruption fight requires both creating an institution that will provide public control over government officials and changing society’s attitude toward bribe-takers. According to Yasin, the main prerequisites for halting corruption are democracy and conditions allowing for the administration of justice. The only question, he said, is whether Medvedev has the political will to carry out such “global reforms.”
Aleksandr Gurov, a member of the State Duma’s Security Committee and Interior Ministry veteran who was Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s chief anti-organized crime fighter, told Gazeta that if a decision was made to prosecute all corrupt officials, no one would be left to govern the country given that “three-quarters of the Duma and nearly all the governors” would have to be jailed. He said that if Russia were to copy American anti-corruption laws—which, he said, are “carried to the point of absurdity”—then all Russian officials would have to be jailed.
Gurov added that corruption even “to some degree” plays a “positive role,” serving as a kind of “lubricating mechanism” in the absence of “stable legal relationships” and given that laws are “imperfect” and “clear and distinct rules” have not been developed. “And, in general, a third of our population participates in bribe-giving,” he said. “So will we now also have to jail all of those people?” (www.gzt.ru, July 29).
Meanwhile, fresh on the heels of President Medvedev’s July 23 admission that “decisions about filling positions” are sometimes made “on the basis of acquaintance, personal allegiance or, even worse, for money—that is, offices can be bought” (Moscow Times, July 24), Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky declared that a Russian governorship can be bought for around 5-7 million euros (roughly $7.7-$10.9 million), as can a seat in the Federation Council, the Russian parliament’s upper house. Zhirinovsky added that a lower post—for example, the head of a government department or federal service—costs around 3-4 million euros ($4.6-$6.2 million) (www.newsru.com, July 24).