By Georgy Bovt
Russia’s anti-corruption campaign looks like an attempt to secure the national loyalty of the state elite by increasing their stakes in Russian institutions. To this end, bureaucrats have been banned from possessing foreign shares, bank accounts and certain other assets. But polls show the public would back even stronger measures.
President Vladimir Putin has taken another step towards what many commentators are referring to as the “nationalisation of the elite”. He has signed decrees introducing procedures for state officials to submit their income and expenditure declarations. By July 1, officials are supposed to get rid of foreign shares, bank accounts and other assets.
Officials are also supposed to report major purchases, worth more than three times their annual salary, registered to themselves, their spouses and children under 18.
Putin instructed his own administration, headed by chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, to ensure state officials comply with the new rules. The president could have chosen the Audit Chamber, Prosecutor’s Office, Investigation Committee or even the Federal Security Service. Apparently, Putin does not trust any of these agencies completely and is unwilling to turn any of them into an omnipotent “super-agency” responsible for purging the bureaucracy.
Commentators are divided over the new measures. Some point out the loopholes for corrupt officials: personal assets and accounts abroad can still be registered to trust funds; property of companies owned by spouses and children is not subject to control; and some say further weaknesses of the new regulations will be revealed later.
A logical question to ask would be why Putin does not take more resolute action. On the one hand, he is making a move that would only be logical for a politician seeking to stay in sync with the public mood. According to Levada Centre polls, 46pc of Russians believe the struggle against corruption must become Putin’s key mission (it is second only to the demand to promote economic growth, supported by 53pc of respondents).
On the other hand, the president must take into account the limits of his power. More than two-thirds of the population approved measures prohibiting state officials from having foreign property and accounts. There is a popular opinion that many Russian officials see their future and the future of their children in the West – where they have their accounts, where they go for holidays, where their families often live and where their children go to school.
The administration believes the foreign assets of officials make them susceptible to unwanted foreign influence and even put them at risk of blackmail, thereby undermining the country’s ability to pursue an independent foreign policy. The president has no plans for mass purges of state officials, however. A harsh crackdown might cause severe political shocks that would take a long time for the country to forget. It would have great political risks, and there is always a chance the initiator might become the target of a political plot.
Putin has chosen a different way – a seemingly trouble-proof compromise. He has given bureaucrats a clear signal that the rules of the game are changing and the policy of “anything goes” (founded on the tacit deal that there are no sanctions for stealing, in exchange for political loyalty) is now over. Every official will have a chance – and the time – to adapt; those not ready to play by the rules will be dismissed.
Even if the law operates selectively – the way 41pc of respondents in a poll conducted by the Levada Centre believe it will – it will still be a step in the right direction. As soon as the first victims of the new order appear among Russian officials, others will be concerned that, in this new environment, there is nothing to help them get away with it, and that they may well be the next in line to be punished.
In addition, society is being encouraged to pinpoint corrupt officials. The series of high-profile resignations by Duma deputies and senators following incriminating online publications shows that online exposure is no longer pointless. Ivanov has already said that whistleblowers will enjoy state protection.
Indeed, the best way to fight corruption is to engage the public at large. If society believes that the authorities seriously intend to crack down on corruption and offers its support in word and deed, the anti-corruption campaign is bound to succeed.
This article was written by Georgy Bovt and originally published on telegraph