Overview of the anti-corruption agenda in Russia

Ksenia Leontyeva,
Faculty of Social Sciences, HSE University,
Moscow, Russia

Corruption is one of the fundamental Russian problems. It is both a cause and a consequence of economic stagnation, nondemocratic political institutions and underdeveloped courts. Also, it is a tool with which the government exercises authoritarian control over the main areas of life.

It is the topic of corruption that is the most sensitive for society, which is used by the opposition forces, among which the main player is the Anti-Corruption Fund. Thus, corruption is the engine of the opposition agenda.

In autocracies state want to be the only agenda setter, and therefore will get rid of anti-corruption politicians and organizations. Typical authoritarian methods are repressions, such as penalizing organizations, police threats and other physical restriction. The word of the year in Russia is “foreign agent”: a record number of independent media outlets and NGOs are recognized as foreign agents and are limited in their rights. These include the Anti-Corruption Foundation and Transparency International, etc. Such locality of repressive measures allows minimizing the discontent of the general public and has a positive effect on the survival of the regime. The latter is due to the fact that the physical nature of such measures in the absence of interest of all segments of the population prevents the organization of collective action.

Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin, by his decree, approved the national plan to combat corruption for 2021-2024, also he ordered to organize an all-Russian anti-corruption forum.

In general, the new national plan identifies 16 key directions of the state’s anti-corruption policy, including: improving the system of prohibitions, restrictions and obligations that are established in different areas of activity; dealing with conflicts of interest and their prevention; confirmation of the accuracy of information about income and expenses; legal regulation of liability for non-compliance with anti-corruption standards; application of administrative and criminal measures; protection of restricted information obtained in the course of the fight against corruption, and others.

These 16 areas are divided into instructions for various departments, which relate to clarification of wording and terminology in legislation, dissemination of anti-corruption information and education, including training business in ethical standards. Also, the legal direction has been determined, in accordance with which the trend is taken to toughen sanctions for corruption offenses.

However, in order to fight corruption, the very measures are needed that will reduce the likelihood that today’s elite will remain at the levers of government. Then, is it worth taking this plan as a real guide to action, or will it remain at the level of the intercepted agenda? Opposition experts were divided in their opinion.

Of the positive innovations, the following are distinguished: an order to analyze corruption risks when making decisions on the allocation of subsidies from budgets. The national plan will also prohibit directors of state unitary enterprises from filling positions in case of convictions for corruption. Finally, it will not be possible to accept for the civil service persons without a criminal record, but with judicial fines for corruption.

These are truly progressive changes, because corruption prevention can be significantly improved by identifying potential corruption risks for a particular area of ​​political regulation. In this approach, corruption is a risk that requires systematic management. This is an important practical function: the perception of something as a risk is one of the main ways in which a problem becomes visible and manageable. Thus, corruption risks will make it possible to identify really important legislative norms that frame existing institutions.

On the other hand, there is reason to believe that all reporting on the implementation of the plan items is unlikely to be public and accessible. In addition, the plan does not address the issue of corruption in public procurement, nor does it include requirements for greater transparency in declarations, such as the mandatory publication of digital assets. With regard to a number of measures, for example, to protect whistleblowers about corruption, there is an instruction only to consider the issue, and not to adopt the draft law. Thus, one should not expect really systemic changes.

Thus, the current situation in Russia can be described as the seizure of the anti-corruption agenda by the state in order to stabilize the existing political regime. This is accompanied by repression by most of the actors who bring information about corruption to the public sphere. However, one should not expect real changes, since the authorities are institutionally interested in preserving the corruption status quo.

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