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Shifting the Blame

Russia Profile has an article today about Putin’s latest proclamations about the fight against corruption. Analysts quoted in the article say Putin’s strong words belie an effort to simply shift the blame to the “lower and middle rung of the power vertical”.

 “We need to eradicate this practice. We need to root it out,” Putin said. “If we keep these types of management techniques, there won’t be cheap housing in the country.” Putin said the federal government is prepared to apply pressure on all regional authorities to force them to fall in line.

The level of distrust between the federal government and regionalauthorities has grown so high that Putin last month orderedsurveillance cameras to be installed at construction sites to monitorthe local authorities’ plans for repairing the homes of those affectedby the raging wildfires. The security cameras are as much an insuranceagainst non-performance as they are a guard against unscrupulousregional bureaucrats willing to make a fortune out of misfortune,analysts say.

Putin also had harsh words for other regional officials on Friday aftera report by the Ministry of Regional Development alleged that $13.8billion (or more than six percent of total regional and municipalspending) was improperly spent in many of the nation’s 83 regions lastyear. “A little bit here, a little bit there – and 415 billion rubleshad accumulated around the country,” Putin said. The regionspointlessly expended 142 billion rubles ($4.7 billion) on education,98.7 billion rubles ($3.29 billion) on housing and utilities andanother 83.1 billion ($2.8 billion) on state administration, accordingto the report cited by the Vedomosti business daily on Monday. Oneglaring example of waste, the report says, is that public schoolsemployed as many auxiliary staff as they did teaching staff, while infact the number of auxiliary staff on the payroll should have been halfthe number of teachers…

…”What we are seeing now is an attempt by the Putin-Medvedev tandemto shift the blame for corruption on the lower and middle rung of thepower vertical – municipal authorities, regional leaders andrank-and-file bureaucrats,” said Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associatewith the Carnegie Moscow Center. “This is no more than passing the buckbecause both Putin and Medvedev realize that they need to show someresults on the war on corruption before the 2012 presidentialelections.”

Vladimir Putin first talked about corruption as a systemic problem anda threat to national security during his first term as president,giving stern promises to institute a “dictatorship of the law.” Eightyears on, however, it was clear that no positive results have beenachieved in his war against corruption. A majority of Russians polledby the Moscow-based Levada Center last month said the fight againstcorruption and bribery in Russia is the biggest failure of Putin’sdecade in power. With Putin assuming a new role as prime minister and anational leader in 2008, President Dmitry Medvedev took up the mantlepushing through anti-graft legislation, including one that requiressenior federal officials, judges and lawmakers to disclose incomes,real estate holdings and ownership of vehicles. But Medvedev all butconceded at a meeting of lawmakers and officials last month that he hadknown of no “significant successes” in his fight against corruption.”No-one is happy with our action against corruption,” Medvedev said.

Political observers and anti-corruption activists said that measurestaken so far by both Putin and Medvedev fell far short of expectationsand are a misplacement of emphasis in the struggle to eradicatecorruption, which has eaten deep into all fabric of their society.”What we have in Russia is a public relations campaign againstcorruption,” Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB counterintelligence officialwho serves as the deputy head of the State Duma’s Security Committee,said. “Most of the corrupt elements in our society are at the topechelon of the power vertical, and I should add that many of them areknown personally to the prime minister by virtue of his position. Onemust remember that many of the present regional leaders are thethen-president Putin’s appointees.”