Monday, June 2, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Corruption Now Trumps National Interests in Russia

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 2 – Corruption in the Russian Federation is so extensive that it rather than a rational calculation of national interests is determining the outcome of many decisions, a situation that promises large if short-term benefits for some but even larger and longer term costs for the country as a whole, according to a Moscow commentator.
In a speech to an Interior Ministry conference on combating corruption that was posted online today, Mikhail Delyagin, the director of the Moscow Institute of the Problems of Globalization, argued that now “even the most important and strategic decisions” in Moscow are taken on the basis of “corrupt interests” (
A harsh critic of the Putin administration, Delyagin argues that three major government projects provide clear support for his argument. The Pacific Oil Pipeline (VSTO) would never have been slated to go through such seismically active areas had certain regional interests and companies not had to be paid off.
The Sochi Olympics is a second case of corruption trumping national interests, he suggests. Indeed, it appears that this project is little more than an opportunity to funnel government money into private pockets. And the third case involves the reform of the country’s housing stock.
In the last case, Delyagin points out, “the basic discussion” about government funding of these reforms “has developed not around how to better and more quickly fulfill its goals – the capital reconstruction or old and dangerous housing – but around which financial instruments and over what period should be best invested ‘temporarily free’ means.”
Indeed, it has gotten to the point, the Moscow analyst says, that “Russian bureaucrats, who have a bank account, property or other shares abroad simply cannot defend the interests of Russia where their interests do not correspond to the interests of the development of the country since they are simply afraid for their property” much of which has been acquired “corruptly.”
Russian society “is paying a colossal price for corruption in practically all spheres of life,” Delyagin continues, arguing that the current upsurge in inflation could be curbed if the state had the ability to limit the “arbitrariness” of monopolies, something it does not have because of the corruption that ties officials to these businesses.
Some people are beginning to recognize this problem, he argues, but unfortunately, many people currently accept notions about how to fight corruption that do little but make the problem worse. Some believe, for example, that raising the salaries of bureaucrats will help, but in general, such moves only increase the appetites of those receiving more money.
Indeed, Delyagin suggests, the only effective ways to deal with corruption involve acting in the same way that the authorities promise to do in fighting organized crime, something corruption is intimately interconnected with. Other means include improving transparency and new means to protect whistle blowers, steps the bureaucracy appears certain to continue to resist.
In the short term, there may be no way out, but as Russian officials sacrifice the national interests of the country in order to protect their corrupt personal ones, the community of those who will be prepared to oppose such actions is certain to grow, a trend that will either force those in power to change or lead those whose interests are now being sacrificed to revolt.
While the former is far preferable given than it would lead to fewer dislocations across the political and social system, it is clear that Delyagin himself thinks that the latter outcome is more likely, something that points to the kind of radical, ratchet-like change that has so often marred Russian history in the past.

No comments: