Tag Archives: Russian Politics

Russia: Corruption ‘price list’

Corruption in Russia is neither a new development nor a surprising one. However, now even President Putin as well as his likely successor Medvedev mentioned the corruption problem in recent public speeches. Of course it is a bit awkward for Putin to admit that corruption has been flourishing during his term in office, so it might be a rather tactical move to support his successor… and might even lay the ground for some politically motivated arrests later this year…

Coming back to the topic of corruption: According to the Eurasia Daily Monitor, two Russian research institutes, namely the Institute for Public Projects (INOP) and the Institute for Comparative Social Research (CESSI)  published a study called “The Nature and Structure of Corruption in Russia” which also contains a very interesting (and expensive!) ‘price list’ for all sorts of bribes:

According to the list, a place on a party list for a State Duma election cost $2 million-$5 million while getting legislation introduced in the Duma for consideration costs $250,000. For a state monopoly to win a “goszakaz,” or state purchase order, it must pay 20% of the order’s total value; for it to participate in a national project, it must pay 30-40% of the project’s total value; for it to get a line item in the federal budget, it must pay three percent of the project’s total value.

A large private company must pay $1 million-$5 million to get a license, prevent a license it has from getting revoked or get a competitor’s license revoked. For a large private company to win a “goszakaz,” it must pay a third of the order’s total value. For a small business to ensure that a transaction is carried out, it must pay a third of the transaction’s value; in order to get “help” from officials, a small business must pay 10% of its total profits. Getting customs duties reduced costs 30-50% of the sum on which the duties were assessed; getting tax arrears written off costs anywhere from $1000 to 30-50% of the sum of the arrears.

To get the Central Bank to begin examining documents costs a bank $500,000, while winning the right to transfer federal budget funds costs a bank five percent of the sum of the transfer. To win a case in a civil court or an arbitration court costs 10% of the awarded damages. To win a grant costs a charitable foundation 20-30% of the value of the grant. Finally, according to the INOP-CESSI study, to get a television “talking head” to criticize an official costs $20,000 a month.

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Rewriting history

What is happening at the moment? History (or better the interpretation of history) is more and more used to justify political actions. Nothing really new, but somehow two recent statements were not only shocking but also worrying:

First, the Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski used weird historic justifications for his negotiations at the EU summit last week:

We are only demanding one thing, that we get back what was taken from us. (…) If Poland had not had to live through the years of 1939-45, Poland would today be looking at the demographics of a country of 66 million.

Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin also discovered the benefits of relativism in order to justify his political agenda:

Concerning some problematic pages in our history — yes, they exist, as they do in the histories of all states. We have less than some countries. And ours are not as terrible as those of some others. (…) Yes, some pages in our history were horrible: We can think of the events beginning in 1937, and we should not forget them. But it wasn’t better in other countries — in fact, it was far more horrible.

Recently it became clear that Putin wants to use history and social science in a very ‘soviet way’. In order to reflect the apparent new strengh of Russia he wants to rewrite history to establish a new “national-patriotic ideology”. For a more detailled analysis read Pavel Felgenhauer article in the Eurasia Daily Monitor:

Putin told the teachers: “Many school books are written by people who work to get foreign grants. They dance to the polka that others have paid for. You understand? These books, regrettably, get into schools and universities.” Putin demanded new history textbooks that “make our citizens, especially the young, proud of their country” and reiterated “no one must be allowed to impose the feeling of guilt on us.”

Putin specifically noted that the history of World War II and Russia’s history after 1991 are wrongly interpreted and must be rewritten. Today Stalin has again been rehabilitated as a leader who made mistakes, but still secured victory over Nazi Germany. The 1990s — a decade when Russia was a freer state than at anytime before or since — today is demonized. The pro-Kremlin youth movement Molodaya Gvardia has announced it will be organizing marches in Yekaterinburg and other cities in support of Putin and against the regime’s critics under the slogan, “No return to the 1990s”

Putin’s personal paranoia and anti-Americanism seem to be growing and are increasingly dominating external and internal Russian politics.

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Transnistria’s internal power struggles

A quite interesting article on the internal power struggles in Transnistria called Sheriffs vs. Patriots (!) speculates about the underlying internal reasons for the recent plan on the settlement of the conflict in Transnistria.

Insistent rumors are circulating in Transdniester that Igor Smirnov has fallen out with the Kremlin. Moscow has again refused to grant financial help to the region. It is said that humanitarian money is simply melting under the hot sun in the region. This is how $40 million to $60 million has already disappeared.

Smirnov has made mistakes in the past too, but the first and the only Transdniester region president still continues to sit in his armchair. It is not ruled out that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current hard-line policy towards the region is due to a completely different reason: to incline the region’s authorities to accept a union with Moldova within a single state. There are rumors that Moscow is also behind the Renewal Party (read Sheriff company). Not official [structures] but some business structures. And they have their own interests in the region.

Thus, the struggle has begun. Who will win it? Ladies and gentlemen, place your stakes.

Breakthrough in Transnistria?

Apparently a solution for the conflict around the breakaway region of Transnistria has been found. Vladimir Socor reports in the Eurasia Daily Monitor about the deal between Russia and Moldova and he highlights the anticipated consequences for the Moldovan constitution. The proposed settlement plan consists of three interrelated documents:

The first document paves the way for a joint declaration by Voronin and Transnistria “president” Igor Smirnov regarding parallel self-dissolution of the Moldovan parliament and Transnistria Supreme Soviet and the calling of new elections. The two chambers would vote to adopt this document.

Under a second document, right-bank Moldova and Transnistria (on left bank of the Nistru River) would hold parallel but separate new elections by November 2007 (Moldova’s elections are not due until March 2009). The Moldovan Parliament would set aside 18 to 19 seats (out of 101) for deputies from Transnistria, proportionately to the latter’s population. Transnistria would also be represented in Moldova’s central government by a first deputy prime minister and deputy ministers in each ministry, to be delegated by Tiraspol.

In accordance with the third document, Moldova would “guarantee” to maintain its existing status of permanent neutrality, not join NATO, and rule out the stationing of troops other than Russian ones on Moldova’s territory. For its part, Russia would withdraw its troops within two years, provided that the political elements of this “settlement” are implemented.

I have my doubts about this”settlement”. Of course “democratisation” sounds attractive but without an agreement on a truly free and fair electoral procedure (including international/non-Russian election observers) it will not work. Moreover, the plan does not seem to touch the problem of the Transnistrian security services/ military structures. The plan also gives the impression that the Transnistrian elite would just be ‘transferred’ to the Moldovan parliament/government (where they would enjoy immunity?). Another important issue for further negotiations are the numerous constitutional problems of this plan.

Also, the planned withdrawal of the Russian army in two years sounds familiar: Russia announced in 1993 to withdraw its troops by 1996 and again in 1999 to end the presence by 2002. Since this plan has been developed outside the official 5+2 negotiation format, it remains to be seen if it will be more successful than the ‘Kozak-Memorandum‘ that was also negotiated bilaterally.

All in all, a very “Russian” settlement plan…

Update: Edward Lucas also thinks that this settlement in Transdniestria is bad news for Moldova—and the West (from The Economist print edition)

ENP success in Belarus?

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) has been criticised of being ineffective, under-financed and rather limited in scope. But now it seems the slowish EU diplomacy delivers some promising results…ok, maybe no quite yet results but let’s call it a window of opportunity. The last European dictator, Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenka responded to the “non-paper – What the European Union could bring to Belarus” in a ‘non -official’ speech. Vladimir Socor has the quotations of Lukashenko in the Eurasia Daily Monitor:

“We are [situated] in the center of Europe and we must be on normal terms with the East and the West.” Instead of a balanced policy, “We have been flying on just one wing for quite some time. (…) The lesson from the recent and ongoing conflicts with Russia over energy supply and transit is just how much we need investors from Europe and the United States.”

Interesting, so what happened to the famous unfinished Union of Russia and Belarus?

Lukashenka reaffirmed his recent vows to “never let Belarus be swallowed up by Russia,” not to introduce the Russian ruble in Belarus (“an oblique way to deprive us of our independence”), and to take reciprocal steps following “Russia’s destruction of our customs union”

This project seems quite dead. But while killing the relationship with Russia, he made some incredible remarks towards the EU, echoing the ENP vocabulary quite well (energy security, trade preferences, migration control)

“The West will not enjoy energy security without Belarus” (…) He called on the EU to open its markets for Belarus products and to allow them to compete without addressing the issue of quality (…) And he described Belarus as a shield for Europe against uncontrolled migration from the East, implicitly asking for compensation in the form of EU trade preferences.

So maybe Lukashenka becomes the second Voronin…who knows…? (in the sense that he ‘officialy’ broke with Russia and claimed to have turned towards the EU. However, his ENP record tells another story.)

Russia: a ‘soft power’ running out of gas?

Recent news from Russia are not positive at all. Somehow it feels as if Russia is marching back to Soviet times. The list is long and truly worrying:

Economically, the country is run by a handful of oligarchs. Energy is used as a political weapon with a little help of the dubious state controlled Gazprom. Putin is constructing a kind of authoritarian “managed democracy” with a high level of corruption and nepotism. Restrictions on NGOs were imposed and freedom of speech seems to exist only on paper. Large scale human rights abuses in Chechnya as well as in the Russian army are not even mentioned in the press anymore. Also, Russia’s’ neo-imperial foreign policy approach towards its neighbors has become normal. Relations with the EU and in particular with Poland are not good at all. Critics of the government such as Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko were assassinated.

In order to understand all these things it might be helpful to have a look into current debates of political philosophy in Russia. Both, Ivan Krastev and Nicu Popescu analyse the ideological battle that is going on. For Ivan Krastev the concept of sovereignty is central:

For the Kremlin, sovereignty is a capacity. It implies economic independence, military strength and cultural identity. The other key element of the sovereign state is a “nationally-minded” elite. (…) The creation of the nationally-minded elite is the primarily task of the sovereign democracy as a project. Moreover, the need for a nationally-minded elite requires a nationally-minded democratic theory.

Quite logically, the Russian elite is trying to construct a new political theory since “Russia should break its ideological dependence on western theories”. Interestingly, the French political rationalism of Francois Guizot and Carl Schmitt’s “decisionism” are the main pillars of this theory of a Russian style “sovereign democracy”.

Nicu Popescu links this approach with Joseph Nye’s soft power concept which traditionally is used to explain the power of the EU or the behaviour of the USA in the 1990s.

The idea of ‘sovereign democracy’ has a number of functions. The first is to provide Putin’s authoritarianism with respectable ‘democratic’ clothes in order to strengthen it internally and insulate it from international criticism. The second is to challenge the West’s idea of democracy and human rights as a set of universal values and practices. As a result of the ‘colour revolutions’ in Ukraine and Georgia, Russia’s leaders learned that crude manipulation might not be enough to remain in power, that ideas matter and that NGOs can make revolutions. They have also learned that a ‘legitimacy deficit’ can undermine the elites. Thus the Kremlin had to develop its tools for ideological manipulation, enhance control of the circulation of ideas and the NGOs in a more proactive manner.

Therefore, Russia promotes its very own concept of “Eastern Democracy” also abroad.

Russia invests in the development of NGO infrastructure, and enhancing its channels to bring across the Kremlin’s message at all levels. Various Kremlin supported organisations are mushrooming. The scope of their activity is truly all-encompassing. Russia-friendly and Russia-financed NGOs and think-tanks have emerged in many CIS states and even in the secessionist entities.

Interesting examples of this policy can be found here. (The article also contains very interesting quotations of members of the Russian elite!) According to Nicu Popescu these soft power instruments

are designed to create an intellectual milieu of sophisticated, though tricked, ideological support for the current Russian authorities. They also serve as a source of ideology for the Kremlin’s pragmatists. The latter are driven by financial and power interests, not ideas or norms. But they seek to strengthen further their power by complementing it with a ‘soft’ dimension. It is the new face of ‘smart authoritarianism’ that speaks the language of Western norms and is very flexible, but has very little to do with the values of democracy, Eastern- or Western-style.

And if you are now thinking: Why are they doing all these efforts? Is it not easier to use the well-known energy weapon? Well, quite wrong, because What if Russian gas runs low?