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