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Radio Liberty, March 25, 2004

Grigory Yavlinsky comments on the declaration by President Putin to fight against corruption

Anchor: Vladimir Baburin

Moderator of the programme: Kirill Kobrin. Vladimir Baburin interviews the leader of the YABLOKO party Grigory Yavlinsky.

Kobrin: President of Russia Vladimir Putin held a regional meeting in Yessentuki "On the conditions and measures to ensure law and order, public security, fight crime and counteract terrorism and extremism." The word "corruption" was pronounced several times during the meeting. Moscow observer Vladimir Baburin asked YABLOKO's leader Yavlinsky to comment on Putin's declaration at the meeting.

Baburin: "The share of crimes against an individual is very high," said the President. "A criminal situation has developed in the country." President Putin also paid special attention to the intense pressure placed on the economy by crime and corruption. You have been speaking about this issue for many years: everyone would not, but did not pay any attention. We have witnessed corruption in the past, we are seeing it out and presumably will continue to witness such a phenomenon. Do you think anything might change in Russia now that the head of state has begun speaking about it?

Yavlinsky: It is good that the President is speaking about such things. However, I think if we consider Russian tradition and the experience of the past four years we can already state: words are far lesser import than actual steps and deeds. I think that in view of the importance of the declarations that have been made it is time to realise the following: the executive authorities - and here we are talking about the head of the executive authorities as our leadership is formed in this way – should first and foremost adopt certain decisions and act in this direction.

For example, a new Cabinet was formed. What anti-corruption procedures were applied? What decisions were adopted to reduce the corruption in the new Cabinet compared to the previous government? What decisions were taken to ensure public control over the Cabinet, the secret services and law and enforcement agencies? We can fight corruption only on the basis of the transparency and accountability of the Cabinet. However, today the Cabinet reports to only a single voter, one man alone.

But one person, whoever he may be, cannot control the whole of the Cabinet: this is simply senseless. If there is no public control, if there are no public organisations such as trade unions, political parties, different citizens' associations, if we have a one-party parliament which also belongs to the same party of power, in these conditions we can do nothing to fight corruption. Moreover we have no independent juridical system. Everything revolves around the settlement of scores by certain individuals and certain oligarchs.

Therefore we have a traditional Russian situation: the right words are pronounced, but no practical deeds are taken. Consequently the opposition is right to limit itself to words and not deeds when mentioning this issue, whereas the executive authorities should back up their words on this topic with deeds and practical steps, something we don't see. To sum up, I can only recollect that not so long ago, in January, an anti-corruption commission was set up, which was headed by the Prime Minister of the very Cabinet where they were going to fight corruption. Surely this was merely a mockery of the most serious Russian problem?

Baburin: The second prime minister of independent Russia Mr. Chernomyrdin - I talked to him on one occasion about corruption - displayed absolutely honest indignation. He said: "How can we live without corruption? However, don’t quote me on this. We cannot live without corruption." Today the President says that the transfer of proxies to fight fiscal crimes to the Interior Ministry has increased the chances that the ministry will detect and curb such crimes. President Putin stressed that the militia should not be drawn into corporate conflicts and disputes between economic subjects. Frankly speaking, I cannot believe this. And do you believe this?

Yavlinsky: These are only words, and it is very difficult to see what has been going on in reality behind them. And is it really true that there is no corruption in this ministry? What about the participation of the law and enforcement agencies in all this? Once again: we can constantly track different passages of words. It is right and proper that the President says we need to fight corruption, it is right and proper that the President says that structures working in the Russian economy, prone to, if you like, excessive pressure from law and enforcement agencies should be protected. But what happens in practice? In practice everything is different.

For example, where did the YUKOS affair bring us? It led to an abrupt increase in blackmail and pressure exerted against small and medium-sized businesses, as well as big business, by the law enforcement structures. What is happening now? They come to them and say: did you see what happened? - Yes, we did. - Do you know how powerful they were? - Yes, we do. - Then now you have to pay us more. A businessman says, ok, but what are the guarantees? - We shall explain you the guarantees: if you don't give us money, we shall guarantee you even worse trouble, and if you give us money, we shall guarantee you nothing. That's where such selective measures lead us. In other words, goods wishes and good advice are a good thing, but there are no signs that they are being implemented.

Baburin: Several months ago there was a campaign "werewolves in uniform." Now everyone has gone silent about this. Should we presume that they have all been caught?

Yavlinsky: No, we should presume that this was a short-term campaign, and that's it. You are putting these questions absolutely correctly. In other words, the goals are declared, but in practice it is difficult to imagine how they will be implemented, as the key people involved in the previous Cabinet have been retained [in the new Cabinet], the government structure consists of a more complicated and intricate level of subordination of officials: this is the main stream of the reorganisation of this structure. In other words the challenge of corruption against our society has been retained. It has already become the way of life in Russia.

Baburin: Let me provide another quotation from today's speech by Vladimir Putin, "Despite a number of measures targeted in the fight against economic crimes, the pressure exerted by crime and corruption on the economy has not diminished. This pressure is felt primarily by small and medium-sized businesses." Why did Putin decide not to mention big business here?

Yavlinsky: Big business always involves a political decision. Consequently he didn’t mention big business. However, his statement about small and medium-sized businesses is correct.

Baburin: That is why I quoted his statement: you have merely expressed this view, using other words.

Yavlinsky: This is really true. The problem is that we cannot state everything. Certainly, if we live in accordance with people’s statements, I have to tell you that one field is constantly narrowing. We live at such a time and with such a situation in our country and in such conditions when we state the same thing over and over again that there should be just courts, that corruption should be reduced and that the criminal pressure on business should be reduced. Everyone will say this. We would enter a qualitatively new stage, if people were to start stating other facts. But the executive authorities, and moreover the President, should take actions, instead of simply say things. The problem is whether the words will be followed by practical deeds. The specifics of the economic system of the periphery capitalism created in Russia, or the oligarchic system, whatever you call it, are such that all the elite and governing structures are intricately linked with this system, are an integral part of the system. They cannot liquidate this system without infringing their own interests considerably. Consequently the most they can do is simply to talk about this issue and here they are succeeding.


Radio Liberty, March 25, 2004

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