Navalny Ac­cused the Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter of Cor­rup­tion. Now What?

The Moscow Times - - LOOKING BACK -

In the Rus­sian po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, power is equal to prop­erty and prop­erty equal to power. It is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to draw the line be­tween the rul­ing bu­reau­cracy and the busi­ness elite.

At the core of the Rus­sian state sys­tem is an un­spo­ken agree­ment: the oli­garchy sup­plies the needs and wants of the rul­ing au­thor­i­ties who, in turn, pro­tect the oli­garchy from in­ter­fer­ence.

It is the main theme of a new in­ves­ti­ga­tion by lead­ing op­po­si­tion fig­ure Alexei Navalny, which looks into the al­legedly cor­rupt deal­ings of Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev.

Ac­cord­ing to its find­ings, Rus­sian bil­lion­aires first do­nate vil­las, yachts, and even vine­yards to cer­tain foun­da­tions. Those or­ga­ni­za­tions then make them avail­able to for­mer Pres­i­dent and now Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev, the sec­ond high­est fig­ure in Rus­sia’s state hi­er­ar­chy, who makes reg­u­lar per­sonal use of those ameni­ties with­out legally own­ing any of them.

The Navalny re­port is a very se­ri­ous work of in­ves­tiga­tive re­search. Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, it would have led to a fullfledged “Medvede­v­gate” dis­grac­ing not only the prime min­is­ter, but also the en­tire Rus­sian rul­ing elite with its in­sa­tiable de­sire for cor­rupt leisure class plea­sures.

But state-con­trolled Rus­sian me­dia have kept silent. Spokes­peo­ple for the prime min­is­ter and pres­i­dent have launched an­gry di­a­tribes to the ef­fect that this is sim­ply a “con­victed in­di­vid­ual” try­ing to con­duct an elec­tion cam­paign.

The po­lit­i­cal elite will close ranks be­hind Medvedev for one sim­ple rea­son: to pri­mand Medvedev would be to ac­knowl­edge the charges of the regime’s main op­po­nent and Pres­i­dent Vladimir’s Putin’s only po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal ri­val.

Se­nior lead­ers do not see in­for­mal ar­range­ments be­tween govern­ment of­fi­cials and oli­garchs as cor­rup­tion. To their think­ing, it is sim­ply proper com­pen­sa­tion for the hard work they do in run­ning the state. They view it as a sort of “public-pri­vate part­ner­ship.”

By pro­vid­ing Prime Min­is­ter Medvedev with lux­u­ri­ous re­cre­ation, Rus­sia’s big busi­ness­peo­ple op­er­ate within this un­writ­ten part­ner­ship to im­prove their own busi­ness prospects. Some­times this sys­tem breaks down. In November, au­thor­i­ties ar­rested for­mer Eco­nom­ics Min­is­ter Alexei Ulyukayev on charges of forc­ing a bribe from Ros­neft’s Igor Sechin. He is await­ing trial. Why did the elite de­cide to de­clare Ulyukayev a cor­rupt politi­cian but not Medvedev?

There is no need for sub­tle anal­y­sis here. It is sim­ply that the coun­try’s top lead­er­ship and fi­nan­cial hi­er­ar­chy found the Eco­nom­ics Min­is­ter ex­pend­able, but not the Prime Min­is­ter.

Medvedev en­joys that sta­tus only as long as he is prime min­is­ter. The mo­ment he loses his post, the same peo­ple who are now pro­vid­ing him with quasi-es­tates and manor houses will have no more use for him.

What do or­di­nary Rus­sians think? They are, af­ter all, the ones who Navalny is urg­ing to call for a stop to Rus­sia’s ubiq­ui­tous cor­rup­tion and the merg­ing of power and cap­i­tal.

The most com­mon opin­ion you will hear on the street is that “ev­ery­one in power is a crook.” Not only that, Rus­sians be­lieve

they are pow­er­less to change the sit­u­a­tion, the au­thor­i­ties can­not be forced out of of­fice, and that rock­ing the boat would only make mat­ters worse.

Be­sides, who is this Navalny char­ac­ter any­way? He has been con­victed, TV re­ports claim that he stole some­thing, he seems a bit sus­pi­cious, and maybe he’s on the take from the Amer­i­cans. The real anti-cor­rup­tion fighter is the pres­i­dent: Just look how many peo­ple he’s caught red-handed in re­cent months!

Most or­di­nary cit­i­zens are ac­tu­ally put off by the ev­i­dence of cor­rup­tion pre­sented by op­po­si­tion whistle­blow­ers. It is al­ways eas­ier to kill the mes­sen­ger who brought the bad news than to deal with the con­tent of the mes­sage it­self.

The film about Navalny’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Medvedev has al­ready gar­nered sev­eral mil­lion views on­line. That is a sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of cit­i­zens. How­ever, it does not nec­es­sar­ily in­di­cate that those peo­ple are aghast over the cor­rup­tion — rather, many are prob­a­bly just gawk­ing at the lifestyles of the rich and fa­mous.

“Medvede­v­gate” will be for­got­ten quickly, just as nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and ter­ror­ist attacks fade rapidly from the public mind. How­ever, an af­ter-ef­fect will re­main, if only be­cause this story re­vealed the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic work­ings of Rus­sia’s cur­rent elite.

It pro­vided an in­side look at how money and lux­ury serve as the lifeblood an­i­mat­ing Rus­sia’s body politic. It re­vealed that lead­ers can never get enough, and how they will cling to power un­til their dy­ing breath. Be­cause losing of­fice would lit­er­ally mean losing ev­ery­thing.

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