July 11, 2016 –
By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ
Translated by J. Arnoldski
In recent weeks in Russia, significant internal political events have taken place tied to the arrest or detention of several senior officials on charges of corruption. The loudest of these was the arrest of the Kirov region (northern Russia) governor Nikita Belykh. The governor was arrested while receiving yet another bribe in the amount of 400,000 euros.
Over the last half a year, several arrests of high-ranking officials and politicians (including governor, regional center mayor, or deputy minister) have been made in Russia. On June 1st, the mayor of Vladivostok (a regional center on the Pacific coast), Igor Pushkarev, was arrested. Prior to Pushkarev, the governor of the Sakhalin region, Alexander Khoroshavin, and Deputy Minister of Culture Grigory Pirumov were also arrested. And this is far from a complete list of the arrests and detentions of high-ranking officials over the past six months. In all of these cases, the charges are the same: corruption and abuse of office. But these are only the most high-profile arrests and detentions. Judging by press reports, over the past year alone the number of high-ranking corrupt officials arrested has reached dozens (or, more likely, hundreds).
Election primaries have begun in Russia and elections to the State Duma (parliament) are set to be held in September. In this context, on June 27th, the congress of the ruling United Russia party opened and was addressed by President Vladimir Putin. The majority of the party is made up of representatives of the ruling establishment. Characteristically, Putin is distancing himself from the party as its leader, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, is not popular in society or among professionals. The arrest of several regional leaders is hurting United Russia’s image, hence why, for the first time in its history, the party is holding primaries in the hope of repairing its image and updating its ranks.
Belonging to the “party in power” and a high status in the political hierarchy are not guarantees against anti-corruption investigations. As our sources in Russia’s business circles have reported, officials are really frightened. Any corrupt member of the establishment can become a victim of a judicial investigation. The fight against corruption, a scourge of post-Soviet Russia, has become a reality.
Belykh’s arrest raises other questions. Publications have appeared in the press which accuse him of corrupt ties with the pro-American opposition politician Aleksey Navalny as well as links to anti-Putin forces in the Baltic states. Belykh is a protege of Anatoly Chubais, the author of the privatization in Russia that created a class of oligarchs. Employees of the American CIA worked as Chubais’ advisors while he himself is considered to be among the main representatives of the American lobby in Moscow. Chubais appears to be the most hated person in Russia and is openly called the main lobbyist for American interests. Thus, it cannot be excluded that Belykh’s arrest is not merely a corruption trail. Nikita Belykh is known for his professional incompetence as he ended up governor of the Kirov region only thanks to Chubais’ patronage and very quickly managed to bring the region to a sorry state. Under Belykh’s management, Kirov became on of the most corrupt regions in Russia. Characteristically, Nikita Belykh was one of the leaders of the liberal “Union of Right Forces” party. Later, when this party lost all elections possible and become a laughingstock in the eyes of voters, Belykh switched over to United Russia, which greatly hurt the party. The same is the case with other arrested corrupt officials.
The Russian government, by arresting and detaining corrupt officials (such as Belykh and Pirumov) is only fixing its own mistakes. But at the same time, these anti-corruption investigations are an anti-crisis action program. Their real purpose is preventing a split in the ruling elite. Moscow has most likely learned from Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s errors which led to a split that eventually led the Ukrainian oligarchs and leaders of the Ukrainian presidential administration (!) to organize the Euromaidan, a coup d’etat, and civil war in Donbass. The Ukrainian establishment, now oriented towards the US, has plunged the country into civil war.
President Putin has clearly learned the mistakes of his Ukrainian colleague and has begun a cleansing of the political class and ruling establishment of corruption. This is a preventative measure for preserving the unity of the elites and the whole country.