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Anastasia Karimova Analyzes Modern Corruption in Russia

During the spring semester of 2019, I visited Moscow and Saint Petersburg in order to conduct field research on modern corruption in Russia. As a former investigative journalist and spokesperson for Transparency International Russia (TIR), an organization which works to eliminate corruption, I have first-hand experience with anti-corruption efforts in Russia.

Eight years ago, a policeman stopped me on the road in Moscow for breaking a minor rule while I was driving. He tried to convince me to give him some cash, saying that he could revoke my driver’s license if I refused to pay. His threats did not scare me and I told him that I was ready to lose my license. The policeman looked disappointed. He gave me a ticket and let me go.

At the time, petty bribery was widespread in Russia. People paid bribes to highway patrol to save their licenses, they bribed public servants to receive certain services faster and they used petty bribery to enroll their children in kindergarten.  Thankfully, some things have changed for Russian citizens since then due to the introduction of the e-Government. In most cases, Russian citizens donot have to interact directly with highway patrol or public servants anymore. Instead, citizens can use automated electronic tools to resolve their issues.

My thesis analyzes corruption in Russia from 2008-2018. This timeframe was chosen due to the 2008 adoption of an e-Government program by the government of the Russian Federation. E-Government refers to the use of information and communication technologies to improve the activities of public sector organizations. This program included the launch of new online services such as Gosuslugi.ru (which translates roughly as “PublicServices.ru”), which was introduced in 2009. In 2018, 86 million Russian citizens  had accounts on Gosuslugi.ru. This website provides citizens, companies and individual entrepreneurs with an opportunity to interact with regulatory agencies online: to register new companies or properties, renew a driver’s license, apply for a passport, and other services.

Thanks to e-Government, most of the highways in Russia now have cameras (speed cameras, bus lane cameras, etc.), and drivers who break the rules get fined automatically with no policeman and extortion involved.

 

Anton Pominov, the general director at TIR, highlights the importance of these new developments for the citizen. According to Pominov, Gosuslugi helps Russian citizens avoid these unproductive interactions with public servants. In most cases, Russian citizens don’t have to pay petty bribes anymore, and they can resolve most of their issues using automated services. Before the launch of e-Government, petty corruption had been one of the major Russian challenges since the fall of the USSR. According to the Levada Centre survey in 2007, 30% of Russian citizens believed that “almost all public  servants” in Russia were corrupted. In 2016, the proportion of people who responded in the same way decreased to 18%.

Petty bribery in Russia has become less common over the past ten years, but it still exists. Policemen target undocumented people and extort money from them regularly. They mostly target people of color, and I am always worried about my friends who don’t look “Slavic” or “white enough,” as Russian police tend to stop them for no reason on the street or in the subway to check their documents. These days, some activists fight against issues of racist policing in Russia.

In educational institutions, petty bribery still exists. This includes sextortion (sexual extortion, a form of corruption in which people entrusted with power, such as government officials, judges, educators, law enforcement personnel, and employers, seek to extort sexual favors in exchange for something within their authority to grant or withhold) and cash bribes for professors in order to get a grade for an exam.  Standardized testing  (Unified State Exam), adopted in 2009, made admissions procedures at Russian universities more transparent. However, according to Alena Vandysheva, an anti-corruption expert from Saint Petersburg, admissions departments at schools of the arts still rely on subjective criteria and remain prone to corruption.

In this blog post, I have focused on petty bribery and administrative corruption. According to my former colleague and mentor, the founder of TIR, Elena Panfilova, there are two other types of corruption: political and grand corruption. When I worked for TIR, we investigated mostly grand corruption in Russia, and I keep following the new developments in this area. I will discuss political and grand corruption in Russia in my next blog post.

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