Americans at the moment focus their attention on the drama of sanctions and their impact on Putin. At the Lotte Hotel in Moscow, the Sixth Russia and CIS Summit on Anti-Corruption running Mar. 25-27 considers the long term. Internationally oriented civil society activists in Moscow understand a time scale that looks forward to slow change in Russian economic and political realities. Advocacy of transparency will continue long after any sanctions have played themselves out. For attendees this is not a moment of suspense about the short term: who will win the psychological battle between Putin and the leaders of the US and the EU.
While invited speakers address issues of compliance and public sector governance, daily life in Moscow is largely unchanged. Credit cards are not working as normally, but that is not about to disrupt the economy. Russian citizens steeped in the history and recurring reality of hardship and corruption, see this as a blip on an extended trace of rising and falling instances of misuse of power, accompanied by squelching of voices of criticism and by periodic military adventures.
The people will continue shopping and taking their children to school and walking in the park. The sanctions are a topic of discussion among many Russians who anticipate economic punishment for the sins of their kleptocrats. With sanctions there will be economic disruption, and there will still be people making money, just as there will be civil society activists groups fighting against power-hungry figures like Putin and his cronies.
Transparency International (TI), one of the leadership elements of the anti-corruption summit, advances understanding of the long time scale by which transparency and due diligence can push back the culture of systemic corruption. TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index, suggests that corruption in Russia is worse than in many African countries and consumes 25 to 48 percent of Russia’s GDP. Statistics show that the average reported amount of a bribe rose from $2000 to $4000 in the last year.
The anti-corruption summit in Moscow plans for long-term and gradual change. The director of Transparency International’s Russia affiliate, Elena Panfilova, one of the keynote speakers helps international business, NGO’s and civil society activists understand the measures in place including the Russian anti-corruption provisions of Article 103. Establishing transparency and a culture of ethical behavior requires an end to weak governance on the part of international business interests who may have been complicit in enabling the oligarchs to launder their money abroad. Good policy worldwide requires “enhanced due diligence” devoted to “politically exposed persons,” those who might benefit financially from the misuse of their office. Targeted and assertive law enforcement worldwide, that can impact Russia, requires commitment funding for investigative and intelligence efforts required for pursuing tainted assets.
It is not realistic to presume that sanctions can build a wall around Russia: Americans, European and Chinese will all be conducting business in Russia. Looking past the immediate crisis, the Moscow anti-corruption summit plans for the long term. The conference participants face the reality that corruption would still exist if Putin were beamed up by aliens together with twenty of his best cronies. While those reading the drama on the main stage of international relations would welcome this deus ex machina, powerful outside forces may not be able to transform the situation on the ground in Russia where corruption is systemic.