Staunton, December 15 – Some Russian commentators consider the eight-year sentence handed down against Aleksey Ulyukayev for corruption excessive; others believe that it was the least the government, having brought serious charges against a sitting minister, could do at a time when voters want to see someone high up convicted and put behind bars.
But most of the discussion of the case today is about what it portends for the future of Russia under Vladimir Putin and especially the messages it sends to various segments of the population. Dmitry Abzalov, head of the Moscow Center for Strategic Communications, argues it sends “three signals to three audiences” (vz.ru/politics/2017/12/15/899762.html).
This case has “three target audiences,” he says. The first are the voters. For them fighting corruption is “extremely important.” Convicting and giving a real jail sentence to a sitting minister is a way of telling them that the Putin regime is committed to rooting out corruption no matter how high up it goes.
The second audience and message, Abzalov continues, are the country’s bureaucrats who have been given to understand that “despite all their preferences and regalia, they are being watched with regard to corruption,” or at least its most virulent forms. The conviction of Ulyukayev serves notice no one is above having charges brought if the Kremlin decides to do so.
And the third target audience, he says, “are businessmen and entrepreneurs.” They are being told that this case “does not have any relationship to a bet on the siloviki in their relations with the entrepreneurs,” that the regime isn’t going after all business and opposed to all modernization. Otherwise far more people around Ulyukayev would have been charged.
The Ulyukayev case, he suggests, “is a high point in the anti-corruption campaign.” What will really matter is the final disposition of his case which the former minister will be appealing. But given that there will be an election campaign until March, nothing is likely to be resolved before that time. Indeed, no one in the power vertical will want to take up such a hot potato.
“In thee final analysis,” Abzalov says, “the Ulyukayev case will have a positive impact on the president’s election campaign.” It shows that the Kremlin will not always protect those viewed as its own and that “an official is really going to sit in prison,” something many have wanted to see in other cases as well.