20 years under Putin: a timeline

This November Information Science for Democracy (INDEM) Foundation published a significant book titled Russian Corruption: The Scale, Structure, and Dynamics. This book represents the results of a series of sociological studies conducted by INDEM between 2001 and 2010. IMR Advisor Ekaterina Mishina, a prominent Russian legal expert, analyzes this publication in the context of the Russian government’s latest attempts to fight corruption.



In a single day last week, two major news events occurred involving the fight against corruption. I hardly know where to start, but for reasons of obsequiousness, I’ll begin with the presidential decree of December 3, 2013, “On the President of the Russian Federation’s agency combating corruption,” according to which the presidential administration has created a special department to combat corruption (probably in anticipation of International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9th and in honor of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. The new department faces a number of challenges, all of them important, including helping ensure implementation of the president’s authority to conduct public policy that combats corruption (clause 1 of Article 4), and preparing proposals to the president on combating corruption (paragraph 3 of Article 4). It would be impossible to list here all the specific duties of the new department (it took 23 points in Article 5 of the decree to specify them). They include a range: participating in the preparation of legislation, analyzing legal practices, participating in training and retraining of civil servants, developing measures to prevent corruption and other offenses, implementing a variety of tests, analyzing citizens’ appeals, and so forth. It’s almost a surprise the list didn’t include such duties as fur harvesting and restoring monuments of wooden architecture. Perhaps it was an oversight.

See for yourself, the document is bountiful. Your head will swim with all the possibilities it portends. But the icing on the cake is that the director of the new structure appointed a man with the last name Plokhoy (which in Russian means “bad”). This, apparently, was done for citizens who cannot read between the lines, and must be made to understand that in Russia, a good man cannot hope to lead the struggle against corruption without shaking the foundations of the state and incurring the wrath of the public and higher powers.

The second item of news was the release of the results of a series of sociological studies conducted by the Information Science for Democracy (INDEM) Foundation between 2001 and 2010. The results were compiled into a book titled Russian Corruption: The Scale, Structure, and Dynamics. The very fact that this book was published and placed in the public domain is cause for joy, despite the fact that its contents are hardly worth celebrating. There are two reasons for rejoicing: first, that in spite of the intolerable conditions in which domestic nonprofit organizations have been put, some of them have still continued conducting research on key problems of Russian life; and second, that a number of Russian funds have demonstrated a continued willingness to promote the publication and propagation of the results of research conducted by the above-mentioned NGOs. These two factors resulted in a book that is highly worth reading, primarily because it contains answers to many questions related to corruption in Russia.

The uniqueness of the sociological research conducted by the INDEM Foundation lies in the researchers’ interdisciplinary approach. A number of sociological tools (guides for deep interviews, expert profiles for different groups of respondents, guides for focus groups, etc.) were developed jointly by sociologists, political scientists, statisticians, specialists in public administration, and lawyers. This combined analysis method, mixing different research approaches, led to a breakthrough research and provided better results. At the same time, the authors, understanding the complexity of their research methods, provide detailed explanations for readers, devoting a separate chapter at the beginning of the book to this.

Here is how the authors define the objectives of their study: “The first and main—to give an objective picture of Russian corruption through sociology. Second—to introduce those interested in research specialists to technologies that are constantly being developed in the INDEM Foundation and applied in our projects. Third—to demonstrate some new research paradigm in the implementation of sociological research.” The authors see their over-arching goal as one of converting corruption into an important object of scientific research (whereas, in their opinion, corruption is currently significantly more related to the field of “criminal cases, investigative journalism, political speculation, and philistine gossip”).

Russian society is very corruption-tolerant and a large segment of the population does not support anti-corruption measures, primarily because it believes that the cost of fighting corruption is significantly higher than the damage caused by corruption per se.

The book lists characteristics of different types of corruption markets (common corruption, business corruption, corruption in public services). It formulates and explains the features of corrupt and non-corrupt behaviors, as well as trends in emotional perceptions of corrupt actions, and describes the specifics of corruption in the most corrupt sectors, which include health care, higher education, and the judiciary. According to the authors, these most important corruption markets display the “specific set of qualities that, in various combinations, show the extent and severity of the consequences” of corruption.

The typology of the respondents who participated in the INDEM Foundation’s survey is also a subject of interest to the authors. The lengthy time-scale studies revealed, in particular, a change in the “collective portrait of the respondents.” The authors note that “statements about the lives of respondents (dispositions) became more categorical and shifted towards traditional values of the socially paternalistic and anti-liberal kind.” And the concerns of citizens and businesses are also changing. All, without exception, are concerned about the problems of crime, rising prices, and low wages. Businesses appear disturbed by ideological problems, while citizens appear largely indifferent to ideological problems and are largely concerned about domestic issues. According to the authors, the survey showed significantly “reduced concern over environmental problems, drug addiction, and the conflict in Chechnya. These facts confirm the impact of official propaganda on public consciousness: themes that are not represented in television broadcasting are expelled from the public consciousness. The sharp rise in concerns over the corruption problem is focused only on a sample of entrepreneurs. We saw that this difference between entrepreneurs and citizens corresponds with the relative stability of the everyday corruption market, on the one hand, and the rapid growth of business corruption, on the other.” This thesis confirms the other well-known conclusion made by the INDEM Foundation’s specialists: that Russian society is very corruption-tolerant and a large segment of the population does not support anti-corruption measures, primarily because it believes that the cost of fighting corruption is significantly higher than the damage caused by corruption per se. In addition, corruption as a social phenomenon is rooted in and penetrates all spheres of Russian society (p.10).

The big problems are, from the authors’ point of view, imperfect regulation of property rights, as well as poor legal practices in this area. In fact, Russian businesses in possession of property cannot dispose of it without the consent of the authorities.

“This arrangement is provided, in part, through:

  • The creation, by officials, of their own businesses that formally belong to their relatives or friends, but, through a system of corrupt relations, bring them considerable income;
  • The submission of business activities to numerous restrictions imposed by the authorities;
  • The granting to businesses of state and municipal contracts through competitions and auctions, where the winners are determined in advance by the relevant officials;
  • The constant demands of officials for money in exchange for solving problems such as repairing roads or holding celebrations;
  • Forcing businesses to participate financially in large-scale projects of the state and municipal authorities.”

Raised in conditions of forced subordination to the authorities’ structures, active and influential businessmen began to implement what the book calls the “privatization of the state.” The authors note that, with the assistance of their influential patrons in government, and with the help of electoral victories and appointments to positions of executive authority, businessmen receive administrative opportunities to promote their businesses and impose administrative constraints of their competitors’ businesses. The authors also point out that the reduction of corruption in the field of regulation of property rights cannot be achieved only through legislative innovation due to dominant social practices that defy strict adherence to the law.

To a certain extent, in this respect, Russian business has been put in a situation of few options because legislative regulation of lobbying in Russia is missing at the moment. There are, however, rumors that the beloved government is, in its fight against corruption, developing a bill designed to legalize and regulate lobbying activities. So we’ll look forward to that, and will undoubtedly learn a lot about lobbying.

One of the INDEM Foundation’s recent anti-corruption projects revealed the biggest challenges to the success of anti-corruption policy in Russia. Among them are

  • Selective prosecution. Corruption scandals in which senior officials are involved most often result from feudal strife;
  • An independent body to prevent and fight corruption (despite the direct provision of Article 6 of the UN Convention against Corruption) has still not been created;
  • Corrupt practices in the system of appointments to the public service remained unchanged;
  • Corruption at the municipal level has not attracted enough attention.

According to the lead sociologist of the INDEM Foundation and one of the book’s authors, Vladimir Rimsky, the most important features of the foundation’s studies are as follows:

  • Corruption has been studied not only as a crime, but as a social phenomenon that broadens and deepens our understanding of corruption, and the causes and determinants of its high level in Russia. Under formal legal approaches to corruption, it is always depicted as an individual’s deviation from the requirements of law, creating a lot of problems for the anti-corruption movement, which has become a mass phenomenon.
  • The methodology used to conduct the mass questionnaires was unique, as described above.
  • In the INDEM Foundation’s studies, the researchers studied the characteristics of citizens’ actual behavior in circumstances of corruption, their responses to different stimuli, and particular aspects of their social reactions to such situations.
  • The long period over which the corruption study was conducted allowed researchers to track the aforementioned characteristics over time.
  • Science-based methods were developed for estimating the extent of corruption, the involvement of citizens and businesses in corruption, the size of bribes, the frequency of acts of corruption, and the volume of consumer market and business corruption in Russia.
  • The INDEM Foundation studies analyzed citizens’ and entrepreneurs’ notions of what constitutes corruption, as well as their anti-corruption practices.
  • The INDEM Foundation studies have covered most corrupt authorities and areas of Russian citizens’ lives.

In other words, we now have an entertaining read for every taste. The realist genre lovers, who want to know the truth, should turn their attention to the INDEM Foundation’s book. Those who favor fiction will certainly prefer the aforementioned presidential decree.