How Much Longer Does Medvedev Have on Corruption?

It’s no secret that, out of every policy Medvedev advocates, the anti-corruption message is the one that he truly owns. Corruption and the National Projects were the only topics Medvedev addressed when he was “campaigning” for President and everyone still thought Ivanov had it in the bag. This and his legal background suggest that Medvedev has an interest at a personal, intellectual level in the issue. Indeed, politically he would be better served to not bring it up – average Russians have long doubted the possibility of doing anything about the problem, and the majority of citizens are implicitly guilty of paying bribes based on how pervasive corruption is in Russia.  So, assuming that this is an important policy to Medvedev, how is he doing, not just in terms of outcomes, but in trajectory is well?

Medvedev’s Anti-Corruption Milestones

  • May 2008 – Medvedev takes office as President
  • July 2008 – National Anti-Corruption Plan published
  • December 2008 – Federal Law “On Anti-Corruption Measures” No. 273-FZ passed
  • December 2008 – Russia makes changes to its laws in preparation of adopting the Additional Criminal Law Protocol to the UN Convention Against Corruption
  • December 2008 – amendments to the Federal Law “On the Government of the Russian Federation” are passed; changes impose new disclosure rules on officials regarding property holdings and participation in private companies 
  • March 2009 – Medvedev formally adopts the UN Convention Against Corruption’s Additional Protocol on Criminal Liability for Corruption
  • May 2009 – Medvedev issues a series of decrees regulating the reporting of property ownership and participation in companies by Russian government officials
  • July 2009 – passes Federal Law “On Anticorruption Expertise in Normative Legal Acts and Legislation”
  • September 2009 – Medvedev publishes his “Russia, Onward!” (Россия, Вперед!) article in Gazeta; more decrees on the reporting and verifying of officials’ income, property, etc. are issued
  • October 2009 – General Prosecutor Yury Chaika, Head of the Investigative Committee Aleksandr Bastyrkin, and Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliev report on their anti-corruption law enforcement activities for the year.  
  • November 2009 – a bomb is planted on the luxury SPB-MOS train “Nevsky Ekspress,” causing at least 27 deaths 
  • Nov – Dec 2009 – Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky dies at the hands of corrupt MVD officers and due to medical neglect in a Moscow jail.  In December, Medvedev fires Major General Anatoly Mikhalkin, who was the major villain in Hermitage’s redeirstvo allegations and Magnitsky’s death
  • December 2009 – Perm nightclub catches fire and traps patrons inside as the structure burns to the ground, causing 150 people to die and serious injuries to at least 160.  The event generates quite a bit of public anger since legally mandated fire inspections/compliance would have prevented the outcome.  Some anti-corruption experts argue explicitly that the dead are victims of corruption because the owners of the “Lame Horse” nightclub repeatedly passed inspections with the conditions which so exacerbated the fire’s consequences.
  • January 19, 2010 – Medvedev signs a decree which clarifies the Ministry of Justice’s role as the lead agency in evaluating and accrediting organizations and individuals who wish to carry out business as experts in independent anti-corruption evaluation (i.e., evaluate compliance with the law)

 Medvedev’s Approach – The “Evergreen” Problem and Where to Start

At a meeting with the Public Accounting Chamber, Medvedev said that although he thinks Russia has improved over the past five to seven years, the war on corruption is still an “evergreen subject” (вечнозеленая тема).  I guess he means that corruption as a problem always manages to crop up no matter what the issue (e.g., if a club burns down, it’s reasonable to assume the fire inspector was paid to not enforce safety regulations).  Ironically, Medvedev made these comments in the same meeting where he tasked the Accounting Chamber with auditing the investment plans of state companies to ensure that the plans are consistent with the country’s modernization strategy.  And this meeting was on the same day that Novaya Gazeta printed an expose on the extracurricular practices of some high-level officials at state companies like Gazprom and Rosneft, including Igor Sechin and Sergei Bogdanchikov, and their links to Russian oligarch and Putin confidante Gennady Timchenko.  (video of Medvedev with Accounting Chamber):

This raises the question of how Medvedev should put his anti-corruption drive into full gear.  The “evergreen” problem means that there is an overabundance of corruption cases that could be pursued.  But due to limited prosecutorial resources, choices will have to be made about prosecuting Mr. X over Mr. Y.  The indications on how these decisions have been made so far are not reassuring.  Based on the Chaika-Bastyrkin-Nurgaliev report – which is the only compiled, multi-agency report to date – there is no evidence of a national, coordinated movement to punish corruption under the new laws.  First, it appears that most “anti-corruption” prosecutions over the past year were initiated by local prosecutors in the regions.  Though Russia is a federation, most constituent oblasti and raiony do not have independent legal systems.  So, the local prosecutors work for the regional directorate of, for example, the Prosecutor General’s office or the Investigative Committee.  Thus, when it comes to law enforcement priorities and aggressiveness, it should be relatively easy for Moscow to control the local prosecutors.  The second warning sign is that these prosecutions rarely, if ever, took advantage of the new, “one window” law – “On Anti-Corruption Measures.”  Instead, they relied on the existing laws which were not designed for anti-corruption measures, but were used as a stop-gap until this point (e.g., the most famous is “Exceeding the Authority of One’s Official Position”).

What this suggests to me is that you have many local prosecutors out in Chelyabinsk and Novosibirsk hearing from the President that anti-corruption is destroying the country and the laws need to be enforced.  And on their own initiative, they start increasing the number of prosecutions of “corruption.”  If there was a real national push, the locals would be using Medvedev’s law and their actions would be coordinated with their bosses in Moscow.  The Chaika-Bastyrkin-Nurgaliev reports (especially Nurgaliev) could have easily been made by a secretary reading news reports from the regions and compiling a list.  Indeed, Nurgaliev’s exemplar cases were suspiciously easy to Google.  In other words, there is an anti-corruption drive taking place…it’s just not directed or supervised by the individuals planning and publicly reporting on the drive.  The worst case scenario is that local gruppirovki (think governor vs. mayor of oblast capital) start targeting one another under the anti-corruption mantle, leading to a generalized breakdown in stability.

What to Do? / Что Делатать?

Medvedev needs to do at least two things in order to take ownership of his anti-corruption drive.  First, he needs to get his hands dirty more often – i.e., he needs to identify one example of the corruption that surrounds him and make it end quickly and publicly.  How he dealt with Major-General Mikhalkin could be a model, but even then nobody from the Kremlin would clearly state that Mikhalkin was fired because of his involvement in a criminal enterprise and mistreatment/murder of an inmate.

Second, Medvedev needs to develop a better political sense.  In November and December, Medevedev had two tragic events that shook Russians out of their cool detachment for once – I expected to hear choruses of “Well, it is Russia,” but instead people got fired up, especially over the Perm fire.  Medvedev needs to use these events as an opportunity to develop some legitimacy and to connect with the country.  But he didn’t and what happened?  PM Putin fired the entire city of Perm in one day.  This may be Putin showboating or even plotting his “comeback” (doubt it).  But equally plausible is that Medvedev doesn’t feel comfortable doing things like going to Pikalyovo to throw a pen at Oleg Deripaska.  And if Dima doesn’t do anything, who else would you expect (it is a tandem after all).      

    Medvedev gets a pass for the last two years – he had a war with Georgia in 2008 and a global financial meltdown in 2009.  By the end of 2010, the 2012 presidential campaign will be in full swing.  Visible progress in the anti-corruption drive needs to be made by then, or else he will lose his chance.


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    2 Responses to How Much Longer Does Medvedev Have on Corruption?

    1. atytarenko says:

      C'mon, his University pal Timchenko (now Head of Control Department) was Director of Rosukrenergo. And there is Dubik too. He don't need to look high and low.

    2. Jesse says:

      Do you mean Gennady Timchenko, who is friends with Putin, not Medvedev. And yes, all indications suggest that he is quite corrupt (the details of which I've covered on my Twitter feed). I do think the Medvedev will eventually need to "bring down" someone significant like this – someone who appears untouchable at the moment.

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