As Anders Aslund points out in the Moscow Times this week, the view held by some in the West of President Putin as “an authoritarian reformer who has brought economic growth and stability to Russia” does not bear up under scrutiny. Not only has Putin presided over a staggering growth in corruption in Russia – to levels that far exceed those that prevailed under President Yeltsin – he has also visibly failed to introduce law and order in the country. Aslund makes reference to a recent analysis by Syracuse University professor Brian D. Taylor, and it may be useful to review that here. An excerpt from a Kennan Institute briefing follows:
The highly centralized system Putin has put into place has improved the state’s ability to conduct certain actions, according to Taylor: “It is clear that the central government can mobilize large numbers of police to deal with opposition protests, or to bring criminal cases against political and economic adversaries.” The police can function as a tool of foreign policy, Taylor observed, in cases such as Russia’s recent dispute with Georgia. During the height of tensions, police harassment of Georgians in Moscow ranged from document checks to tax police raids. “Whether that came from the Kremlin, I don’t know,” said Taylor, “but certainly the police felt that they were able to engage in such an operation during this foreign policy dispute.”
In terms of enforcing society’s laws, Taylor continued, Russia’s law enforcement structures are still very weak, both in specific and general terms. Specifically, in cases of high-profile assassinations or terrorist attacks, there are doubts about police capacity to solve or prevent such incidents. In general terms, such as fighting overall crime, the police are not sufficiently effective, as evidenced by consistently high murder rates under both Yeltsin and Putin.
Taylor questioned why law enforcement structures have not done better, given the centralization reforms that were designed to improve their effectiveness, and given the growing economy that is providing significantly greater resources to those structures. The key, he emphasized, is the “commercialization” of the enforcement structures, which was not undone by Putin’s reforms. In fact, Taylor said, there is little evidence that Russia’s law enforcement structures are getting any cleaner—the police remain one of most distrusted institutions in Russia.
There are both internal and external methods of monitoring law enforcement structures that can help reduce corruption, Taylor noted. External monitors—such as the media, non-governmental organizations, and opposition parties—have been consistently weakened in Russia over the last seven years, he noted. Taylor cautioned that exclusive reliance on internal monitoring and self-policing by the Russian state will make it more difficult to weed out corruption. So long as state officials are able to exploit state institutions for personal gain, he predicted, Russia will have persistent corruption and weak rule of law. “Recentralizing coercion does not reduce illegal state activity, and thus does not strengthen the state,” Taylor concluded.