One Year Before Russia’s Presidential Election, Systemic Corruption Subverts Reform
March 23, 2011
One year before the pivotal presidential election in March 2012, Russia confronts an immense and growing corruption problem at all levels of government and society that severely threatens chances for reform, according to a special report released today by Freedom House and the Latvian policy institute Providus.
The report, The Perpetual Battle: Corruption in the Former Soviet Union and New EU Member States, describes the extent to which Russia’s entire institutional apparatus—including the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, security services, and news media—now conspires to fuel state-led corruption. In addition, the study finds that despite the passage of two decades since the collapse of the Soviet system, most of the non-Baltic former Soviet Union remains mired in institutionalized graft.
The analysis, which also examines the ongoing challenges of corruption in the new European Union member states, draws on data from Nations in Transit, Freedom House’s annual study of democratic development in East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.
“With the upcoming Duma elections in December and a presidential election just one year away, corruption is both a source and a symptom of Russia’s serious democratic shortcomings,” said David J. Kramer, executive director at Freedom House. “The upcoming votes could be seen as an opportunity for genuine change, but it is increasingly doubtful that the Russian system can successfully reform from within. This has serious implications for ordinary Russians, as well as for the United States and the European Union.”
Among other examples of recent abuses in Russia, the report cites the cases of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer who died in pretrial detention in November 2009 after exposing a multimillion-dollar fraud against Russian taxpayers, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed oil magnate whose company was arbitrarily seized by the state, and who was sentenced at the end of 2010 to remain in prison through 2017.
The former Soviet states, Russia included, suffer from many of the institutional weaknesses found in the Middle East, including poor governance and the accumulation of economic power by political elites.
“As venal Middle Eastern authoritarians give way to popular pressure for democratic change, Russia’s systemic corruption is becoming especially conspicuous,” said Christopher Walker, director of studies at Freedom House and the report’s author. “Another six years—or more—of Putinism beyond next year’s election would risk relegating Russia to the same category as that of many Middle Eastern states, where presidential tenure has been measured in decades rather than years.”
In the immediate term, Russia’s windfalls from rising oil prices could tempt the Kremlin to follow the course of Saudi Arabia, which recently distributed billions of dollars in social benefits in an effort to avert the popular demands for reform that have spread across the Arab world. But as the experiences of other Middle Eastern countries reveal, the postponement of meaningful reform only exacerbates underlying problems and increases the severity of the inevitable course correction.
Other Freedom House resources on Russia:
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.