Staunton, March 30 – Russia’s Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs while constantly complaining that it hasn’t been given enough money to do its work currently spends almost as much money on itself as it does on fulfilling its tasks; and in the latter case, it often fails to provide the regions with funds in a timely fashion, according to Viktoriya Lopataite.
The Daily Storm journalist says that neither the head of the agency nor its press service respond to queries about what the organization done, forcing her and other observers to rely on audits and on the statements of those who have worked with it (dailystorm.ru/vlast/koroli-otkata-fadn-i-taynyy-monitoring-chem-zanimaetsya-agentstvo-po-delam-nacionalnostey).
Agency head Igor Barinov has told the Duma that his institution is insufficiently financed. In 2017, it was authorized 2.5 billion rubles (40 million US dollars). But the Accounting Chamber concluded that he hadn’t spent all of that or passed it on the regions in time for the money to be “effectively used.”
But however that may be, Lopataite says, the agency knows how to take care of its bosses, spending enormous sums on VIP travel, expensive limousines and cars, and offices in prime locations. And it distributes money to suspicious but well-connected contractors, possibly winning friends at the top of the power vertical as well.
Thus, the investigative journalist continues, the agency has signed several large contracts with IMA Consulting, a group whose leader has been identified for his ability to extract money from the government as “the kind of government contracts” (meduza.io/feature/2017/09/20/bolshaya-zhratva-vo-vremya-vseobschey-balandy).
The nationalities agency also contracts with the VTsIOM polling agency, a group closely linked to the Kremlin and one whose reputation for accuracy is questioned by many. Not surprisingly, VTsIOM has found exactly what the Federal Agency says it plans to achieve, a suspicious coincidence, Lopataite implies.
According to the journalist, the agency does much of its own research; but the biggest problem there is that it doesn’t share its results. Instead, it keeps them secret, something that bothers some scholars who hope that in time the agency will be more forthcoming but is justified by others who say that such information could be dangerous if released too early.
Often when the Federal Agency is mentioned in the press, it is in the context of discussions as to whether it should be raised to the status of a ministry. Valery Rashkin, the first deputy chairman of the Duma’s nationalities committee, is one of those favoring such a change: “Relations among nationalities in Russia is a volcano” waiting to explode, he says.
Unfortunately, the government knows very little about many aspects of this situation. Consequently, it is “extremely unlikely” to elevate the agency to ministry status because until there is a crisis, Moscow will continue to view the nationality question as something other than of “first order” importance.
Indeed, Rashkin says, the government created the agency only “with enormous reluctance. Only protests and clashes on an ethnic basis forced them to do so.”
Maksim Shevchenko, a prominent Moscow commentator, says that as far as he is concerned, the agency is doing its job. Three years on, it has become “an intellectual management center for nationality policy which distributes” money to others to carry out much of the work.
It staff, he says, “are not involved in administration because it is far from clear how to do that in nationality policy. They fulfill the role of financial regulator and coordinator in the realization of nationality policy strategy very well and that is their main function.” Thus, the agency and its leadership should be praised not condemned.
Moreover, he says, there is nothing wrong with the agency not publishing its findings. Many of them are about things that the government and especially its counter-terrorist operation need to know but that the public, without adequate preparation, will not understand properly as has been shown in the wake of the Kemerovo fire.