By Paul Goble
Corruption in Russia could be reduced to manageable proportions if the country were to become a democracy, but Vladimir Putin and the other powers that be in Moscow would have to be committed to that, something that is not now the case, according to a new report by the Russian anti-corruption organization “Clean Hands.”
Today, speaking at the presentation of that report, Yevgeny Arkhipov, the president of the Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights, pointed out that the average size of bribes in Russia had almost doubled over the last year, according to official figures of the MVD’s Department of Economic Security (www.nr2.ru/moskow/294410.html).
According to his calculations, Arkhipov continued, “about 50 percent of the entire economy of Russia is in the shadow of corruption. In other words, corrupt exchanges form about 50 percent of GDP. Those figures, he said, “practically coincide” with World Bank figures which suggest that “more than 48 percent” of Russia’s GDP involves corruption.
The Clean Hands report rated Russia’s regions in terms of corruption. As expected, the city of Moscow led the list. Moscow oblast was second, Tatarstan third, with the following rounding out the top 10: St. Petersburg, Krasnodar kray, Belgorod oblast, Mordvinia, Novosibirsk oblast, Bashkortostan and Nizhny Novgorod oblast.
The authors of the study said that “the absence of representatives of the North Caucasus region among the leaders is explained by the way that there complaining about corruption or even more attempting to struggle with it is dangerous for one’s life,” an indication of the difficulties of compiling such rankings in Russian conditions.
Arkhipov for his part argued that “the level of corruption directly depends on the stability of the political system of a country.” World experience suggests that the countries which have experienced political collapse or have undergone major social, political and economic change usually experience “a growth of corruption, crime and so on.”
There are two means of defeating corruption, he continued. “The first is the establishment of a harsh, repressive totalitarian system” like those of Stalin or Pinochet. The second is to institutionalize democracy, so that the people control the state apparatus and thus make “the appearance of corruption practically impossible.”
That is, the lawyer said, democracy has the ability to make corruption “unprofitable from an economic, social and even political point of view.” Examples of this are numerous, including Norway, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United States, and “the most recent example, Georgia.”
Russia, tragically, cannot decide to commit itself consistently to either of these paths but remains sitting between two stools. “The result of such an inconsistent policy is the ever greater growth of corruption,” something that has reached “such proportions that Russian statehood itself is threatened by it.”
One of the report’s most intriguing aspects was its rating of the power of various components of the Russian political system, a rating based “on the analysis of the decisions taken by this or that element.” Using that measure, the special services came out on the top with 55 percent, Putin stood in second place at 13, and the criminal world in third at 12 percent.
The prime minister’s low rating, the authors of the report say, reflects the fact that “only a small part of his decisions are implemented. And they add the following observation: “If Putin had come to power in 1985, we would still live under communism and the Soviet Union would exist as it did before.”
“If [Putin] had come to power in the United States, nothing would have changed there either. He is not a reformer; he is a man of the system,” Arkhipov added. Consequently, Putin and the current powers that be are carrying out “anti-corruption measures “which in fact will not change anything” because “a real interest in the victory over corruption is lacking.”
The lawyer said that it must be acknowledged that “the people themselves permitted the flowering of corruption.” If the people see that democracy can end corruption by making that evil “unprofitable,” Arkhipov concluded, then there is a chance that support for democracy will increase and corruption could be defeated “in [only] two years.”