Russia Update: Thousands of Government Employees Sentenced or Disciplined After Inspections

December 8, 2014
"How can an official who earns one million rubles buy a dacha for a hundred million rubles?" asks a promotional video by Alexey Navalny's Anti-Corruption Fund in a campaign to get Art. 20 (unlawful enrichment) of the UN's Convention Against Corruption signed.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here, and see also our Russia This Week and feature Is Putin Really Reining in Hard-Liners? Fact-Checking Gordon Hahn’s Article In The Moscow Times

The Kremlin announces the result of a crackdown on corruption this year in which thousands of government employees have been sentenced or otherwise punished. But as anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny points out, the effort to root out graft has been hobbled by the fact that Russia never ratified Art. 20 of the UN’s Convention Against Corruption — and the head of the Constitutional Court agrees with him.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs‏.


“Foreign Agent” NGOs Banned from Election Monitoring in Russia

Non-commercial organizations that are defined as “foreign agents” under Russian law will now be prohibited from taking part in elections in any form.

An amendment with the ban was quietly put into election legislation in November, says

Groups that are said by the government to engage in political activity — ill-defined — and receive grants from abroad are classified as “foreign agents” and face more scrutiny from authorities or even closure if they fail to cooperate.

Russian Memorial Society, a leading human rights organization, Golos, an election-monitoring group now suspended, and St. Petersburg Soldier’s Mothers are all groups with the classification “foreign agent”. Recently, the Russian human rights ombudsperson Yelena Pamfilova obtained a court ruling to remove the groups from the registry after their foreign funding ceased, yet Golos and others still remain on the web registry of “foreign agents” established by the Ministry of Justice.

Vladimir Pugin, head of the State Duma’s Constitutional Committee, is the author of the amendment, introduced to electoral law in June as part of an effort to tighten up requirements regarding the funding of political parties, including inclusion of a ban on parties making agrees with NGOs designated as “foreign agents.” The amendments concerning the ban on participation in election campaigns were not announced publicly or debated in the Duma but slipped in.

“Foreign agent” NGOs are barred under the new law from taking part in “fostering or hindering the nomination of candidates and their lists, election, and also the achievement by them of certain results.” They also are prohibited from promoting referenda or “other forums of participation in electoral campaigns or referendum campaigns.” Previously, these laws had only affected foreigners or stateless persons and foreign and international organizations.

The law specifies that NGO “foreign agents” cannot obtain authorization to monitor elections, with international organizations only eligible for permission by federal authorities.

The Central Elections Commission repeatedly advocated the ban on election-monitoring by “foreign agent” NGOs, and Maya Grishina, a member of the CECE said, “It must be said outright: the federal legislative body heeded these appeals.”

Grishina said that the law does not provide for “foreign agent” NGOs to gain the status of “foreign observer” unless they are a member of an international organization invited by the Russian government to participate. But “numerous decisions” would have to precede this.

The ban on participation in elections is the first discriminatory measure concerning the “foreign-agent” NGOs, says Grigory Melkonyants, co-chairman of Golos. Before, inclusion in the “foreign agents” registry didn’t prevent the group’s activities as such, but now the formulation of the new law is so broad that it is not clear what is in fact prohibited now for NGO “agents.” NGOs weren’t allowed to take part in elections even before this new law. He said the removal of observers from the newspaper Grazhdanskiy Golos [Civic Voice] from election precincts in September was now legalized.

Melkonyants said the ban would not stop observers from other groups and media organizations from observing the elections, even while his group was suspended. But it was “an alarming trend for the whole non-commercial sector” and human rights advocates planned to contest it with the Constitutional Court.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Buzzfeed Reports on Links Between Russian Nationalists and Western Conservatives; Fends off Kremlin Censor

Buzzfeed reports that Russian nationalists and Western conservatives appear to be working together to promote the “pro-family” agenda — and along the way Russia’s geopolitical agenda.

The documents were published by the anonymous Shaltai Boltai hackers’ organization in Russia, and appear to come from he account of Georgy Gavrish, a former official with the Russian Embassy to Greece and longtime member of the “Eurasianist” movement founded by the ultra-nationalist political philosopher Alexander Dugin, says Buzzfeed:

The emails include frequent correspondence between senior Russian figures, such as Dugin, the financier Konstantin Malofeev — who has close ties to Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and is a patron of causes dear to the Orthodox Church — and Alexey Komov, an official with the Orthodox patriarchy and the “Russian representative” of the World Congress of Families, a social conservative network based in Rockford, Illinois.

Gavrish did not respond to a request to discuss the emails. Many messages are part of bizarre exchanges speculating that some contacts may be agents of foreign governments or the Order of Masons who are out to get them. But the archive includes exchanges hinting that Gavrish is involved in handling Dugin’s relationships with separatists in Ukraine and building links with far-right politicians throughout Europe.

The leaked documents relate to a “global summit of social conservative leaders” in September that caused a scandal in the US when the World Congress of Families dropped its sponsorship of the summit when some of its US partners protested against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Read more here: Emails Show “Pro-Family” Activists Feeding Contacts To Russian Nationalists.

We have reported on Konstantin Malofeyev’s ties to Vladimir Yevtushenkov, an oligarch who is now under house arrest in an investigation of embezzlement related to Bashneft, an oil company that was privatized, then seized back by the state.

We have also covered Malofeyev’s connections to support of the Russian-backed rebels in the southeast of Ukraine here, here and here.

Buzzfeed itself has received a warning from the Russian censorship agency Roskomnadzor recently apparently for publishing a video purported to be issued by the Caucasus Emirate, a terrorist group that took responsibility for the takeover of the Press House in Grozny last week. Google removed the video as its calls for violence are in violation of its terms of service.

The Interpreter published a translation of the Caucasus Emirate statement into English of the same video, disabled by Google, as well as tweets from the video, since deleted, and another video with the Chechen original, which Google hasn’t got to yet. We have not received any notices from Roskomnadzor.

Lithuanian Armed Forces On Higher Alert Status Due To Russian Military Activity

An alarming report from Lithuania’s delegation to NATO:

Delfi reports that Lithuania created a rapid response team in October to deal with Russian provocations, and now that team has been called into action:

“Since the end of the last week, since Saturday, we have observed a rise in the activity of the Russian Federation’s forces in the Kaliningrad region as well as in the western part of the Russian Federation. Therefore, a decision was made to put several of our military units on a higher state of preparedness. These are rapid response units as well as units responsible for military tasks during peacetime,” Chief of the Joint Staff Vilmantas Tamošaitis said.

2,400 State Employees, 500 Law-enforcers Sentenced; 3,700 Officials Disciplined, 168 Fired, Says Kremlin Official

The crackdown on corruption which President Vladimir Putin promised in his speech to the Russian parliament on December 4 has apparently begun — or at least the propaganda about it.

Sergei Ivanov, head of the presidential administration, announced today December 8 that 3,700 officials were disciplined after an inspection was made of their income declarations, TASS reported. A total of 168 officials were fired, said Ivanov.

But he was announcing news of inspections made during the first six months of the year, and timing it to the UN’s International Anti-Corruption Day, tomorrow, December 9.

Ivanov also said that in the first nine months of 2014, 8,000 people were arrested and sentenced for crimes of corruption, including 45 deputies and candidates for deputies in the parliament. This figure also included 1,200 civil servants and “as many employees of government organizations.” The distinction is evidently between state employees like teachers or doctors and employees of government agencies.

With 2,400 state employees actually sentenced for corruption, why wasn’t that TASS’s headline?

Authorities also arrested 500 law-enforcers, including 136 court staff and 28 customs workers.

Another 4,600 law-enforcers were fined, said Ivanov. He said more than 3,000 officials filed complaints that they were being offered bribes, and this led to the sentencing of 692 prospective bribe-givers.

Ivanov also claimed that Russia had signed and ratified the UN’s Convention Against Corruption ‘without any reservations or restrictions.”

But as pointed out today, when President Vladimir Putin signed the convention in 2006, he did include reservations about Art. 20, “unlawful enrichment,” because he said there was no corresponding article in the Russian criminal code.

Countries were supposed to adopt such an article, and that’s why anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny has recently launched a campaign for such an article to be introduced.

In his blog post today, Navalny has exposed the obfuscation of the Kremlin on this issue, linking to the document which shows the reservation about Art. 20, and also linking to a Vedomosti article about the Ministry of Justice’s proposal for such an article in Russia’s criminal code.

“It would be strange to prepare such a ratification if it had already taken place,” commented Navalny.

Navalny also pointed to an article in RIA Novosti, the state wire service, with an interview with Judge Valery Zorkin, the head of Russia’s Constitution Court, which seemed to imply the Art. 20 campaign was having some impact. Zorkin said the battle with corruption was “unsatisfactory” (translation by The Interpreter):

The head of the Constitutional Court believes one of the reasons for this is that Russia to this day has not yet ratified Article 20 of the UN Convention Against Corruption (unlawful enrichment, that is, the significant increase of the assets of public officials exceeding his lawful income which cannot be rationally explained.)

Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund has published a petition on the web site Russian Civic Initiative (something like the US “We the People“) to pass such a law in keeping with the UN convention, which has already garnered 96.776 signatures in favor.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick