Ivan Krastev writes: Russian elites have the right to be corrupt, but only if they have proved their loyalty. Paradoxically, the West’s sanctions against business figures closest to the Russian president helped whitewash some of the most notoriously corrupt Russian oligarchs and allow Russian propaganda to present them as selfless defenders of the motherland.
Ultimately, the most important reason for Mr. Putin’s reluctance to declare a war on corruption is that any anti-corruption campaign will inspire the public to demand change. It plays not only on the public’s anger, but also on its aspirations. And it is precisely this demand for change that the Kremlin fears most. Unlike in China, leaders in Russia avoid promising that life will be better tomorrow; what they promise is that things will not get worse. And unlike in China, they can afford to do so because the Russian economy is driven not by the entrepreneurial energy of the masses, but by natural resources.
This is why the Russian government is ready to acknowledge corruption’s ubiquity — the slickest propaganda couldn’t convince people otherwise. But the government also advances the idea that corruption is a way of life and is thus a natural phenomenon. In a way, corruption is like vodka: You know it hurts, but Russia is unimaginable without it. [Continue reading…]