Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Volume 4, Number 8
March 12, 2004
The first law against on corruption in Russia was passed by Tsar Ivan III. Results were decidedly mixed and it fell to his grandson, Ivan the Terrible, a ruthless autocrat, to strengthen these measures. After being proclaimed tsar in 1547, Ivan the Terrible introduced the death penalty for “overindulgence in bribery”; this seemed to work for a short time.
Some 450 years later, and less then three months prior to the presidential elections, on Jan. 12 President Vladimir Putin addressed the first meeting of the new Russian anticorruption body, the Council for the Struggle Against Corruption, which was created in late 2003. In his remarks to the meeting, as reported by RosBalt, Putin stressed that strengthened democracy and a civilized market can effectively reduce the dimensions of corruption.
One of the first aims of the council, Putin stated, would be to reinvigorate the bureaucracy on the federal and municipal levels. He called for upgrading the pay of government officials “in order to make their work absolutely transparent.”
A great measure of doubt as to the effectiveness of this new council is the fact that it will have only an advisory role. There are no representatives of law-enforcement agencies on the council and while this might seem odd, some observers in Russia have written that their omission is one of the more positive aspects of the council.
Can it succeed? Interfax reported on Jan. 12 that 56 percent of Russians think that bribery and corruption are among the biggest problems in the country. A large majority, 82 percent, think that Russia will not be able to eradicate corruption in the foreseeable future.
Putin’s anticorruption initiative is not the first in Russia’s post-Soviet history. Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia, announced four different wars on crime and corruption during his tenure. In 1992 he formed the Inter-Departmental Commission on Combating Crime and Corruption, and in November 1993 yet another new “war” was declared.
In January 1994 the justice minister was empowered to fight this war, and in June 1994 Operation Hurricane was launched, placing over 20,000 Interior Ministry troops on the streets to fight crime and corruption. Some 2,000 people were arrested and subsequently released a few days afterward.
The new anticorruption council met for the first time only after the elections to the State Duma in December 2003 and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was named to head the council for the next six months.