Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 144

These recent incidents suggest that Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin’s comments in Washington yesterday should themselves be taken with a grain of salt. Stepashin himself has emphasized the need to fight against “economic crime”–which is another way of describing the criminalization of the economy. In February of this year, Stepashin, who at the time was still serving as interior minister, reported that police had uncovered more than 200,000 economic crimes in 1998, up 16 percent from the previous year, and 15,000 cases of abuse of power by officials, including 5,500 bribery cases, up 11 percent over 1997.

Just today, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo warned that the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for December, will be the most difficult in Russia’s post-Soviet history because of “attempts by the criminal world to put their people in the country’s legislative organs.” This observation is an indicator of the degree to which organized crime has penetrated the economy and become a powerful financial force.

Earlier this month, the World Economic Forum put Russia in last place among fifty-nine countries in its annual Global Competitiveness Report (see the Monitor, July 14). The forum cited businessmen surveyed as saying that Russia (as well as Ukraine, which came in second to last) was characterized by “a low extent of rule of law and reliability of property rights, low trust in government, fear of organized crime, low confidence in the police to protect security” (Moscow Times, July 14).

Stepashin, of course, also made no mention of the fact that the Swiss authorities have launched two criminal investigations into alleged money-laundering reportedly involving the Russian state airline, Aeroflot, the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, and a number of top Russian officials, including Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin’s property department (see the Monitor, July 15).