20 years under Putin: a timeline

The fight against corruption has always been a popular topic among Russian politicians, and in recent years, different elite groups have used it as an instrument for settling scores. Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya analyzes the methods of Russia’s new anticorruption campaign.


Meet the current supervisors of the Kremlin's anti-corruption campaign: Yevgeny Shkolov (left) and Oleg Plokhoi


In February, the investigative brigade of the Russian Investigative Committee (RIC) and the Federal Security Service (FSB) conducted searches of the offices and apartments of officials in the Main Department for Economic Security and Corruption Prevention (MDESCP) of the Interior Ministry of the Russian Federation, the so-called “B” department responsible for investigating violations in the budget sphere. It is practically impossible to find any official information pertaining to this case: like their political superiors, the police and security forces do not wash their dirty linen in public.

According to anonymous sources for Kommersant, MDESCP operatives are suspected of engaging in bribery. The RIC initiated a criminal case against these operatives under Article 286 (Exceeding Official Powers) and Article 304 (Provocation of a Bribe) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. State Duma Deputy Alexander Khinshtein, who is believed to be close to the police and security forces, has mentioned that the case concerns deputy heads of department Ivan Kosourov and Alexei Bondar, as well as one of their subordinates. According to the investigators, operatives and “unidentified” department heads tried to “set up” Igor Demin, deputy head of an agency of the FSB’s 9th department that is responsible for guaranteeing the personal security of FSB officials. MDESCP operatives have allegedly been using agents to set Demin up since the fall of 2013. It is funny that a pro-Kremlin Izvestia is citing anonymous Interior Ministry operatives, these individuals are also making it clear that they had good reason to suspect Demin of corruption. In the Interior Ministry, they call the set-up arrangement an “operative experiment.”

FSB operatives, however, did not like the ambitions of their colleagues from the Interior Ministry. Using intermediaries, Interior Ministry operatives planned to pose as heads of commercial structures, get in contact with Demin, ask him for business protection, and offer him $10,000 a month for his services. However, one of these intermediaries informed the FSB about the operation. As a result, Chekists counterattacked the Interior Ministry.

There are many speculations about what might have been behind the searches of the Interior Ministry. Not one of the existing hypotheses, however, can be linked to the actual fight against corruption. According to Izvestia, for instance, the searches might be the revenge of Andrei Khorev, a once-influential general and former first deputy head of MDESCP. Kommersant has speculated that these actions constitute an attempt by the FSB to repel an attack by the Interior Ministry. According to yet another hypothesis, the searches of the Interior Ministry were sanctioned by Vladimir Putin’s assistant (and former fellow student) Yevgeny Shkolov, who is considered to be an informal supervisor of the police and security forces. Previously deputy minister of the interior, in 2011, he was dismissed by then-president Dmitri Medvedev. After Putin’s return to the presidency, Shkolov considerably strengthened his position by leaving the ministry for the Kremlin. It was upon his initiative that a special Anticorruption Department was created within the presidential administration that was responsible, among other things, for revising income declarations submitted by officials. Shkolov’s protégé, Oleg Plokhoi, a Chekist with many years of experience, was appointed head of the new department.

Shkolov not only enhanced his own role, but also began exerting pressure on the remainder of Medvedev’s people in the presidential administration. Medvedev’s former fellow student and head of the Control Department Konstantin Chuychenko became the main “victim” of this drive. As main supervisor of officials under President Medvedev, his department formulated key legislative proposals concerning anticorruption, although officially these responsibilities were vested in the Legal Department (which is about to lose them altogether). Shkolov’s Anticorruption Department has also claimed a number of responsibilities previously belonging to the Department of Civil Service and Personnel, such as the formulation of proposals pertaining to “public office candidatures,” who are appointed upon the recommendation of the president (e.g., prosecutor-General, chairmen of supreme courts, and chairmen and auditors of the Accounts Chamber).

The anticorruption rhetoric has become an instrument for redistributing spheres of influence within the Russian government. Real fighters against corruption find themselves in the dock. Members of civil society who engage in the control function over the government have become the target of propaganda movies.

Sergei Dubik, a presidential adviser and Medvedev’s protégé, has become another victim of Shkolov’s expansion. Putin abolished the commission responsible for implementing international treaties in the anticorruption sphere that was headed by Dubik. Oleg Plokhoi also replaced Dubik in the presidential anticorruption council, as well as in the organizing committee for preparing for the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the sixth session of which is supposed to be held in Russia in 2015. The unofficial line of reasoning for the weakening of Dubik seems credible: a source close to the presidential administration told Vedomosti that Dubik opposed the ratification of Article 20 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which provides for the confiscation of the property of officials if its lawful origin cannot be proved. The opposition insists on the ratification of this article. As a federal official earlier told Vedomosti, chances are high that it will be ratified. The Kremlin is learning how to spin seemingly bad news in a positive light—How else can the replacement of a professional lawyer by a Chekist be explained?

What about the state’s anticorruption activity? In this sphere, we are witnessing a clear setback. In February, the State Duma passed on the first reading a billmaking changes to Article 11, Part 6, of the December 25, 2008, Federal Law No. 273-FL, “On Counteracting Corruption.” These changes will require state and municipal officials to place their securities and shares in trust only when such ownership leads or may lead to a conflict of interest. Prior to the passage of this law, officials were required to place their assets in trust in all cases.

According to Article 10 of the new law, a conflict of interest emerges when a public or municipal official’s personal interest prevents him or her from properly performing his or her duties or when there is (or might be) a contradiction between an official’s personal interest and the legal rights of citizens, organizations, society, or the state that could result in harm. In practice, however, in Russia, there are no efficient legal mechanisms to prove the existence of a conflict of interest. According to Ilya Shumanov, head of the Kaliningrad-based anticorruption center Transparency International Russia, “at present, judicial practice on this matter is somewhat ambiguous, which allows many state officials to avoid liability for an unregulated conflict of interests.” A connection between a public official’s responsibilities and his or her personal interest (third-party interest) is established by the Prosecutor’s Office based on an application filed by citizens. “In fact, this initiative makes the public service legislation more lenient and is a step back in the Russian anti-corruption policy,” Shumanov concludes.

Thus, officials, probably with the Kremlin’s support, are creating more comfortable conditions for themselves. In this situation, the role of civil control is automatically weakened. Alexei Navalny’s investigations of Sosni Dacha Cooperative, which includes cottages and land belonging to top United Russia members and a land parcel belonging to First Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vyacheslav Volodin, prove this point. Oleg Plokhoi, head of the Anticorruption Department in the presidential administration, told Navalny that Volodin’s cottage will be mentioned in his 2013 declaration and that his official income allowed him to buy this property. In other words, the ownership is legal, and no violations have been found.

The anticorruption rhetoric has become an instrument for redistributing spheres of influence within the Russian government. Real fighters against corruption find themselves in the dock. Members of civil society who engage in the control function over the government have become the target of propaganda movies: one such movie, entitled The Biochemistry of Treason and recently shown by the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, compares critics of the current Russian regime to the followers of General Andrei Vlasov, who fought on the side of Nazi Germany in World War II.

The Russian regime is being increasingly drawn into the logic of military action, which states that we are surrounded by enemies, and you are either with us or against us. While officials are publicly looking for “spiritual bonds” to mobilize the conservative part of society around the government and against “damned liberals,” bureaucracy is getting more opportunities for stealing without suffering any legal or civil consequences.