Staunton, Sept. 9 – Corruption is a major issue in Russia but it is often misunderstood, Sergey Guriyev says. People focus on the enormous sums that go into the pockets of one or another leader, but they ignore the fact that corruption it the glue holding the various components of the Putin system together.
The Paris-based Russian economist says that all the component parts of that system depend on the existence of corruption not only to function within their own areas of competence or responsibility but also to interact with all the other parts in ways that serve the interests of the Kremlin (tvrain.ru/teleshow/chto_zhe_delat/samaja_opasnaja_korruptsija-537431/).
And because that is so, Guriyev continues, Putin will fight to the death against any attempts to root out corruption as such because were such efforts to be successful, the regime that he has so carefully constructed and currently heads would collapse around him and his supporters.
Aleksey Navalny and his anti-corruption crusaders understand the function of corruption in the Putin system, the economist argues; and that is why Putin views him as his chief enemy and why so many other Russians consider him to be their only hope of salvation from the existing arrangements.
Not only does corruption take money away from intended projects, Guriyev says; it destroys the predictability that businesses require to invest and grow. By definition, corruption is not predictable because it is a demand for bribes; and bribes are demanded on the basis of what those asking for them think the market will bear, not according to some fixed scale.
“Russia is a country where you can find corruption at all levels of the government hierarchy.” Moreover, he continues, “corruption is so arranged in Russia that bureaucrats know that there is compromising information on them and that this is a source of their loyalty to the regime.”
That makes corruption useful to those at the top because it secures loyalty, but at the same time, Putin and his team understand that corruption isn’t popular and so they have to appear to carry out anti-corruption campaigns. But they are limited in their ability to do so because if they succeeded, the system would have to change completely.
Those who may be attacked can’t know in advance just what level of corruption is permissible and what will get them in trouble, and that in turn makes corruption a two-edged sword as far as the regime is concerned. It provides the rulers with leverage over their underlings, but it gives the latter at least potentially a reason for disaffection and even revolt.
But one of the most intriguing aspects of the Putin system is that despite its reliance on corruption, there are people in the hierarchy, often near the top, who aren’t corrupt. One would expect Putin to force them to be, but he doesn’t. Instead, if he is confident enough in the loyalty of someone, he won’t necessarily compel him to become part of corrupt schemes.
But in general, Guriyev concludes, “every official who lives on his pay is a potential traitor to the powers that be. Why? Because the regime will change, but the official will continue to live on his pay. And there will be economic growth and this official will see his life improve, unlike officials who depend on bribes and who won’t benefit from regime change.”