Russia’s War on Corruption Hits the Poor

Jesse Heath blogs over at OpenDemocracy about Ikea’s recent bribery experience, and how President Dmitry Medvedev’s anti-corruption program only seems to hit the smallest (and poorest) practitioners of graft.  Going after Igor Sechin for stealing Yukos or whomever was responsible for killing Sergei Magnitsky is still too tall an order…

Since his inauguration, Pres. Medvedev has spoken a lot about the existential threat that corruption poses to Russia.  He has passed new laws and there has been an upurn in enforcement.  Recently, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation released statistics on the prosecution of corruption offenses.  According to their numbers, the increased enforcement has produced a curious result: enforcement of bribe-giving is much more common and severe than that of bribe-taking.  Also, the vast majority of prosecutions have been against people paying bribes of relatively inconsequential amounts (i.e., $300 or less).  Similarly, when the authorities do prosecute bribe-takers it is generally for very small amounts, with one-third of prosecutions against bribe-takers receiving $100 or less. 

Thus, Medvedev’s “War on Corruption” has so far turned out to be a war on the poor and powerless.  This approach will improve neither Russia’s business environment nor the quality of its state.  Even worse, it creates a system where ordinary people and underpaid, low-level bureaucrats are expected to meet an infinitely higher standard than major Russian and foreign companies and the high-level officials they sponsor.  If Russia ever wants to be the resurgent and dynamic country it fancies itself as, it will need to refocus its anti-corruption strategy.