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Axing Governors

gov1.jpgNikolai Zobin in today’s Moscow Times laments that President Medvedev persistently highlights the level of corruption in Russia, whilst, by all accounts, the problem of graft has increased during his Presidency. (See yesterday’s ‘corruption blast’ for the latest examples).  When the President is nominally one of the most powerful men in Russia, why is it that Medvedev seems incapable of transforming word into deed? Deeds, such as, quite simply, firing people:

After all, Medvedev is not only the president of all Russians — he is the leader of all bureaucrats, who act as his representatives at every level government. He is the only person in the country who has the power to remove anybody at any time. Why, then, doesn’t Medvedev change the criteria for measuring success from governors’ and mayors’ ability to finagle high election results for United Russia to their ability to control corruption? He could fire a dozen or so local leaders as a signal to the others. Many ministries suffer from high levels of corruption. The fact that Medvedev has yet to remove any of the most flagrantly corrupt officials speaks volumes.

Russia should not follow the Western model forfighting corruption. In those countries, corruption is the exception,and is dealt with by the criminal justice system like any other crime.In Russia, corruption has become so widespread that it is underminingboth the state and the economy and is creating a deep distrust towardall authorities, including the president. In Russia, corruption is nota criminal but a political program, with rigged elections being theclearest example. A single party’s monopoly on power coupled with theabsence of a free media is a classic breeding ground for corruption.

Interesting it is therefore that Medvedev did just that yesterday – ousting high-profile Governor of the Sverdlovsk region, 72-year-old Eduard Rossel, who was a veteran of the Yeltsin ‘grab as much autonomy as you can hold’ era. According to a Moscow Times article today, opposition politicans have been pleased to see heads rolling at the top. The ousting of Rossel does not seem to be a corruption-propelled firing, but rather making the way for a newer, younger, presumably less autonomous model, former deputy transport minister Alexander Misharin.  Whether Medvedev’s decision to start axing off branches of the regional oak tree is really an attempt to stop the rot, or just encourage new saplings, remains to be seen.

“Rossel should have been replaced long ago,” Solidarity movement leader Boris Nemtsov said, adding that the Kremlin needed to fire more regional leaders who had been in power since the early 1990s, like Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev and Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

“Some of them have outlasted Brezhnev,” he said, referring to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who served 18 years as Communist general secretary until his death in 1982.

Nemtsov’s words were echoed by Communist State Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, who said “dozens of governors” needed to go.

Read the whole piece from the Moscow Times here.