Luzhkov [Figuratively] Spits in Medvedev’s Face

In politics, symbolic acts are often important since the symbolism adds contextual meaning to a typically opaque decision making process.  Symbolism is even more significant in Russia because of the low level of transparency and “high context” culture.

This week, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov simplified the task of interpreting his views on the Kremlin and its war on corruption.  For months people in Russia have speculated whether Luzhkov – the definition of a political survivor – would finally be shown the door.

In March, Luzhkov was “surprised” when a criminal case was brought against one of his Deputy Mayors – Aleksandr Ryabinin – though it was subsequently dropped.  In April, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky asked Putin that Luzhkov be fired and reportedly gave Putin kompromat on Luzhkov.  Shortly after, a Moscow court verified at least part of Zhirinovsky’s allegations of Luzhkov’s corruption, which involved kickback schemes in city construction projects.  And early this week, commentators buzzed over the declared income of Luzhkov’s wife – Elena Baturina – as required by Medvedev’s new anti-corruption legislation.  The benefits of being Mrs. Moscow Mayor?  $1 billion (31 billion RUR).  Baturina’s earnings mostly come from her ownership in ZAO “Inteko,” a construction and real estate firm in Moscow, which works on many city construction projects, such as the planned skyscraper “Moscow City.”

And who is in charge of all construction projects in Moscow?  Meet Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin. The Deputy Mayor’s sole hobby: manual labor (according to his official biography).  But Resin also enjoys the finer things in life. Swiss watches, for example.  Resin made news last year when Vedomosti noted that he owned the most expensive watch among all Russian government officials – a La Pressy Grande model Dewitt that will set you back a cool $1 million and sported by Resin in the picture to the left.  For less formal occasions – e.g., manual labor – Resin has been spotted wearing GreubelForsey Double Tourbillion 30, which ranges from $360k (white gold) to $425k (platinum).

Resin’s resume got a bump this week when Luzhkov named him to a new post – Head of the Anti-Corruption Committee for the Moscow government.  According to Vedomosti, the tasks of the new Committee – another requirement of Medvedev’s anti-corruption legislation – will include developing policy proposals aimed at countering corruption in the Moscow government.  Surely under the tutelage of the 74-year-old Resin, the Committee will be a fountain of new and innovative ideas for ending the corrupt practices that afflict over 10 million Muscovites.

Pres. Medvedev is at the midway point of his first term, and is telling everyone that he will not “rule out” running in 2012.  Now is a good time to reflect on what he has accomplished on the central issue of his presidency – anti-corruption and the fight against “legal nihilism.” New anti-corruption legislation was passed, and its now filtering down into the legislation of the RF constituent republics and federal structures. Enforcement is certainly up, but it tends to punish bribe-givers more than bribe-takers.  And in either case only those who pay small amounts, which account for 70 percent of all corruption-related criminal cases, according to the Yury Chaika’s report to the Federation Council.

The problem for Medvedev is not legal nihilism among the lower class Russians paying $100 bribes to see a doctor or $200 to get out of a speeding ticket. Instead, the problem is the legal antipathy (правовое отвращение) of people like Luzhkov and Resin, who not only write the rules of the corruption game, but actively make a mockery of the president’s attempts to end that game.  Simply put, guys like this need to go, or Medvedev will run the risk of looking weak and naive.  By putting the corrupt Resin in charge of anti-corruption, Luzhkov has created an opportunity.  I suggest the president take it.                 

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