Openness or Maneuvering with Russia’s Whistleblowers?

Wikileaks and Julian Assange may grab all the headlines, but Russia’s swelling numbers of bold, brave, and sometimes mysterious whistleblowers are a phenomenon worth watching.  We have of course the high-profile leaks of police officers like Alexei Dymovsky, Alexei Navalny’s quest against graft at state-owned corporations, and several new websites that brings forward more anonymous heroes.  Even high level business scandals including Magnitsky, Chichvarkin, and Khodorkovsky (with the recent leak of Natalia Vasilieva) can be considered whistleblowing events.

Writing in TIME, journalist Simon Shuster has an interesting breakdown over whether or not the spate of leaks is driven by new found openness or political jostling in the tandemocracy.

But of the two possible explanations for Russia’s recent spate ofwhistleblowing — newfound morality or political sabotage — it’s notclear which would pose a greater threat to Putin. If he does face offwith Medvedev and his loyalists, Putin seems up to the challenge. Hechoose Medvedev in 2008 as a successor, and still enjoys broad supportamong the bureaucracy, military and police, who would play a crucialrole in any struggle for control of Russia. Yet if the more banal theoryholds — if a sense of moral revulsion is actually rousing dissentinside of Putin’s ranks — that may prove trickier for the Prime Ministerto tackle.

“Whistleblowers, when they have the courage to come forward, make us allconfront what is wrong in our society,” says Alford of the Universityof Maryland. That courage could come from the protection of Putin’srivals, who would be keen to encourage the nascent tattlers in the PrimeMinister’s midst to come forward before the presidential vote. And ifthey do, there’s no telling what ugly secrets could float to the surfacethis year — or what methods could be used to push them back.