Corruption in Russia: Is There a Way Out?

Russia needs an anti-corruption law. Abuse of office is Russia’s biggest problem. Most corrupt officials not so much extort money, as do business under the laws that they themselves adopt. The State Duma is crowded with businessmen who lobby for the laws that serve their interests, and then revise them.

A draft law On Amending Individual Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation to Step Up Anti-Corruption Efforts was recently submitted to the State Duma. Under the proposed amendments, the Criminal Code will be amended to include an article on corruption and establish criminal liability for the theft of budget funds, state extrabudgetary funds and funds owned by state corporations (companies).

Federal Law of the Russian Federation No. 274-FZ On Amending Individual Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in Connection with the Adoption of the Federal Law On Combating Corruption came into effect on December 25, 2008, meaning the legal framework for eradicating the problem of corruption exists. Is there a need for a new draft law? How is it different from others?

There is no difference. Submitting a new draft law is just another way for them to look busy. All recent anti-corruption efforts in Russia have been meaningless. It’s impossible to achieve any measure of success in this area. This is especially true when people behind the anti-corruption efforts are the ones who are taking the biggest bribes. I take this kind of initiatives solely as an attempt by the authorities to impress people and gain some extra credit of trust.

If the government is indeed committed to achieving real progress in fighting corruption, then two laws should be adopted. First, the 20th Amendment of the UN Convention against Corruption must be ratified, which states that all income and assets that cannot be verified are considered to have been gained through corruption. Of course, this will put Russian officials at a disadvantage, since they have assets here in Russia and abroad whose origin they are unwilling to discuss. Second, serious anti-corruption efforts become possible only when bribe givers are exempt from prosecution. In such a case, bribe givers can report a crime and start an investigation. The way things are now, they are the culprits. As a result, we are stuck with a vicious circle that no one can break.

I believe that Russia needs an anti-corruption law. Abuse of office is Russia’s biggest problem. Most corrupt officials not so much extort money, as do business under the laws that they themselves adopt. The State Duma is crowded with businessmen who lobby for the laws that serve their interests, and then revise them. What kind of fight against corruption are we talking about, when it is first alleged that Yukos went bankrupt for its debts, after which it’s taken over by another company, and then we are told that the company was debt-free?

Corruption in Russia feeds on ever-changing laws that serve the interests of the powers that be.

Do you think that the State Duma will approve this draft law? Will it help to improve the situation, if they adopt it?

Of course it will. It's possible that certain amendments will be made, but this is not what it’s all about. This law will not work. Take a look at the law on NGOs. Why did they adopt it? There’s no such thing as foreign agents. Political scientists, especially those in the West, are trying too hard to see meaning in this. There’s no need to do so, though. There’s none. Things that are happening in our legislative sphere are nothing short of tyranny, which only shows the limitless presidential power.

Then why has the new draft law been submitted for consideration by the State Duma?

Most likely, this is being done in order to increase the president’s popularity. However, this goal will not be achieved. All this will do is to cause some serious tension at the top and nothing more. The resignation of Defense Minister Serdyukov and the forced retirement of several State Duma deputies who ran businesses on the side – all of this will only have the elites pondering whether they need such a president. They are already pondering this, and rightly so.

Is eradicating corruption in Russia possible at all?

Not with these people in power, because they have a vested interest in it. How is it possible to fight corruption if the entire system is based on it? Fake anti-corruption efforts serve only as propaganda.

The most surprising thing is that people don’t need anti-corruption measures, either. That’s because the authorities adopt too many laws and regulations, which cannot be followed. The authorities create a situation whereby people are compelled to strike deals with officials. Half of our laws actually force people to engage in corrupt behavior. One thing that the system has achieved is making people put up with it.

Discussing corruption is dangerous for the authorities. It’s much better for them not to focus on it. Corrupt officials that come into the spotlight should be quietly dismissed without too much coverage in the media. No one will put Serdyukov behind bars. It’s impossible. And that’s how it will always be, because the vicious circle will reproduce itself. Rank-and-file police officers and the like may go to jail, but not anyone close to the powers that be.

You are saying that society has put up with this situation. Do you think this can last a long time?

Forever. It’s very simple. Humans always follow the most efficient path. They are governed by rational choice. Picture yourself as the owner of a small cafe. You know the owners of 20 or 30 other restaurants like yours. A fire inspector comes to you one day and claims that you are operating in violation of certain codes, and your cafe has to be closed down. What does a Western person do? He calls a few friends and finds out that the inspector had told them the same thing. They get together and go to city hall carrying posters and protest against the extortion. Police immediately arrests the inspector. In Russia, things work differently. If you go out and protest, you’ll have tax, immigration, and some other inspectors coming to your place after the fire inspector, and it’s you who will get arrested. Your cafe will not just be shut down. They’ll find out that your business was used as a drug den or something like it.

Therefore, people in Russia are well aware that any collective action represents a terrible risk, because they will be found guilty in the end. Here's a case in point: people went to Bolotnaya Square for a peaceful rally, and it turned out that they beat up the police and were subsequently placed in custody. Any collective action is a crime. That means that problems should be resolved one on one with the inspector. That’s how it works: there’s less hassle involved and less trouble. In addition, administering society that has disintegrated into individual atoms is much easier. That’s why the political system in Russia is stable and steady.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.