Staunton, September 21 – Many Russian opposition figures and commentators have long assumed that the exposure of the corrupt nature of the Putin regime will cost it support in the population and thus they greet each revelation of a major corruption scandal with predictions that the Kremlin will lose support.
But that has not happened despite the extraordinary level of corruption in the Russian regime and the ways in which it has been convincingly documented, Kseniya Kirillova points out, and there are three fundamental reasons why the assumption on which such prophesies are made is false and likely to remain so in the future (svoboda.org/content/article/27233447.html).
First of all, she points out, Russians as a whole view corruption as endemic. They recognize that the Putin vertical is about theft and illegality, but they believe, and are encouraged by the Kremlin media to believe, that the opposition is corrupt as well and that there is thus “no sense in ‘exchanging one group of thieves’ for another.”
Moreover, and again as a result of Russian propaganda, most Russians believe that while “the members of the Putin elite are ‘simply thieves,’” the regime’s opponents “are thieves and also ‘foreign agents’ who will not simply steal … but consciously ‘destroy Russian on the orders of their masters across the ocean.”
So far at least, Kirillova says, “the majority of Russians is not capable of believing that there exist states in which the level of corruption is extremely low” or that Russia could ever be a state in which thievery was not the norm.
Second, and especially during the “’fat’ years” of high oil prices, many Russians did not suffer that much directly from corruption and generally viewed corruption as someone else’s problem. And now, when times are tough, “many do not connect the decline of their standard of living with corruption but instead view the financial crisis as the result” of actions by outsiders.
And third, “despite its own corruption, the powers that be have been able to use the theme of the struggle with corruption to strengthen their own authority.” Even though most Russians are acceptant of “the inevitability of theft,” they positively welcome efforts by the Kremlin to fight against corruption.
And the Kremlin’s periodic campaigns against corruption allow it to achieve three goals. First, such campaigns inevitably directed at the boyars have the effect of raising the authority of the tsar, in this case the president, who is viewed as the only person capable of taking on those who oppress the people.
Second, the Kremlin can ensure that they are “extremely selective.” Thus it does not allow any mention about corruption in the FSB, although it is clear that that agency represents “a very large” fraction of corrupt activities. And third, such campaigns reinforce the popular assumption that only the powers have the right to struggle with corruption.
Thus, when the Russian opposition raises the issue of corruption, it often is unwittingly playing into the hands of the Kremlin because it reinforces the view that only Putin can really address the matter and therefore boosts his support in the population rather than undermining it in any way.