ISSN 2330-717X

Russia Less A Mafia State Than One Too Closely Integrated With Business – OpEd


In most countries, corruption occurs when officials are paid off to do things for private interests that violate established laws and procedures, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. But in Russia, the situation is entirely different and, in many ways, far more pernicious.

Russian officials “for their own profit at times even without violating the laws which from the outset were adopted for their enrichment” service industries they are supposed to be overseeing for the state because they are recruited on the basis of loyalty to those industries and to the enrichment of their own superiors, the Russian economist says.

What that means, Inozemtsev suggests, is that “in our day, the reality which has arisen is less like a mafia state” praying on business “than a ‘commercial’ one in which businesses have worked hard to create clans within the bureaucracy that are guaranteed to support them because of common interests (

Corruption of the usual kind of course continues to exist, but the far greater danger of such business capture of the bureaucracy is that both become ever less ambitious because the current arrangements work so well for them. That decline in ambition represents “a sign of the commercialization of the state. If it isn’t stopped, the Russian political elite will not have a chance to secure the development of the country.”

How this works can be seen if one considers just how differently Russian state bureaucracies are staffed. They aren’t recruited on the basis of professional competence but on loyalty and typically loyalty either directly to economic sectors they supervise or indirectly to more senior officials who are loyal to those groups.

Such groups of loyalists are not typically based on family ties as has become legend in many republics within Russia but on “purely commercial” calculations in which the competence of individuals to do the work they are assigned is viewed as far less important than their willingness to cooperate with those they are supposed to regulate.

What this means, Inozemtsev concludes, is that changes at the very top of the bureaucracy likely matter less than changes in the middle range among officials who supervise those lower-level officials who actually handle relations with the sector they are nominally supposed to regulate.

Increased circulation at that middle level would promote the transformation of the situation, he says; and precisely for that reason, it is unlikely to happen. Because it isn’t, the benefits of breaking up the commercial Russian state aren’t likely to be gained.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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