“Looking from London, Don’t Blame the Mirror”

May 8, 2013
© RIA Novosti. Alexey Kudenko

Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Russia’s FBI-like Investigative Committee, here criticizes Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov for a talk Surkov gave at the London School of Economics last week in which he criticizes the Committee’s heavy-handedness in investigating allegations of corruption in the Skolkovo project, designed to create a tech sector capital outside of Moscow. Following Markin’s piece in Izvestia, Surkov tendered his resignation as deputy prime minister. [Note: the title of this piece is reference to Gogol’s Inspector General: “Don’t blame the mirror if you have a crooked face.”]

What was the story that some leaders of big projects used to tell? They would say that their job was to ensure a large-scale result, and if in some places they sometimes nagged us in banal ways and stole — that was not our problem, it was only the negligence of the auditors, the investigation or other law-enforcers.

The times are changing, however, and with them the excuses and mantras of effective managers. Now it’s just the opposite in our country; when there is a lack of results from large-scale projects, the Investigative Committee will always be to blame. They come to search creative guys at 8:00 a.m. strictly according to the Code of Criminal Procedures, or they frighten off a foreign guest in the corridors of Skolkovo with procedural actions. How can you advance innovation and attract investment under such conditions?

It must be noted that nowadays, “effective managers” have a new fashion.  As soon as there is a search at the multi-story mansions of a vice governor of a poor region, immediately his colleagues scream about a political directive, satraps from the Investigative Committee and the Accounts Chamber. It is fashionable now to be strictly a political prisoner; you can immediately count on the attention of the BBC and even on the support of Amnesty International. Perhaps that is exactly why the handlers of such particularly effective managers prefer right off to perform an aria as a Moscow guest in London to a targeted audience. They call this groan a song.  But the song is so pathetic, right in the walls of the London School of Economics: “The Investigative Committee is too hasty, loudly proclaiming abuses in Skolkovo. The energy with which the Investigative Committee is making its thinking public makes ordinary people feel that there’s been a crime. Let them prove that these people are guilty of a crime” [reference to Surkov’s LSE speech –ed].

In that connection, the citizens of Russia, including those who work at the Investigative Committee, have a rhetorical question: how long would a cabinet member of Her Majesty’s Government last in his seat if while on a private visit to Moscow he publicly condemned Scotland Yard for performing its direct duties? Apparently we have too liberal a regimen here in Moscow by comparison.

Now it may be that even a brief stay at the Skolkovo Zone has an overpowering influence on the innovative “pathfinders,” forcing them to go contrary to the conventions acceptable in decent society.  Let us say, they assigned a citizen from the Forbes list as someone who is not needy, to preserve the honor of Skolkovo anew [a reference to Viktor Vekselberg, about whom Surkov said in his LSE speech that he was so rich he would be motivated to implicate himself for the sake of money –ed]. So he up and gives himself a compensation of 2 million under the influence of the Zone. And only after an inspection from the Accounts Chamber reduces it to a sum that is more appropriate for a start-up. Again, the mysterious story of the lectures of Deputy Igor Ponomarev is easily explained by the “Skolkovo anomaly.” Well, what were these top managers smoking when they signed such a contract?

Although there is a quite rational explanation for the Skolkovo and other “anomalies.” The Investigative Committee, according to its status defined by the Code of Criminal Procedures, investigates high-impact cases regarding so-called special subjects, including deputies, governors, officials, lawyers and often experienced top managers in companies. These are all seasoned and experienced people. They long ago grasped that in our time, the status of an inveterate opponent of the government is even very profitable. When it comes down to it, you can pass off a mundane criminal prosecution for embezzlement as political persecution. You can get a lot of attention on social media and even the right to asylum in London. Certain virtuosos of political PR even cleverly manage to make such pirouettes while in the leadership of the government they are protesting against.

However, PR is PR, and business is business. No one has abolished the Code of Criminal Procedures, and investigators are obliged to ask questions if there are facts and concrete suspicions. No moans about political motives can help here. Only one thing will help: if you want large-scale projects, innovation and investments to be implemented, then just don’t create conditions for embezzlement and control your managers. Then everything will work out for you.

The author is the director of the department for liaison with mass media of the Russian Federation Investigative Committee.