Russia is no longer an empire but not yet a "civic" nation - into this vacuum have stepped institutionalised corruption and criminality. John Lloyd traces the roots of the problem to Russia's Soviet past and its transition to the market economy, and says the situation is getting worseby John Lloyd / January 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
Many of the world’s most significant and powerful countries-the US, Italy, Japan-have high crime rates and/or apparently undefeatable organised crime networks. They have, however, corralled their criminal worlds into more or less defined sectors of the economy or society. By contrast, Russian crime permeates society from top to bottom-especially the top. Much of the way business gets done, and much of the way the country is governed, is criminalised to some degree. In September 1997, Judge William Webster, a former director of the CIA who chaired a committee investigating organised crime in Russia, wrote: “If the forces of organised crime are not stymied, Russia will complete its devolution into a criminal-syndicalist state.” Ironically, such a state would pose more of a danger to the west, and to the rest of the world, than it did when Russia was the core of the Soviet Union.
The west has commonly held that Russian crime will diminish as capitalism takes hold; that Russian business will cleanse itself of the worst excesses of criminality and violence because it will have to conform to international rules. This may happen. The new monied class may demand clear property rights-and the development of a judicial and policing system which is capable of enforcing them. Maybe the law will advance. Maybe the demands of the market and of mass democracy will wash away the enclaves of lawlessness to the point where crime becomes, if not marginal, at least not the defining characteristic of most business life.
But it is not happening yet. Indeed, by the end of 1997-six years after the reforms of the Yeltsin era began-Russians seem to believe that crime and corruption are endemic, omnipresent and eternal companions of their lives. Hardly surprising: in February 1993, their own president had described his country as “a mafia state on a world scale,” “eaten by corruption from top to bottom,” and so gripped by organised crime that it “posed a direct threat to… strategic interests and national security.” Lawlessness has become steadily worse since then, according to Russian as well as foreign statistics.
There are a few optimists, and some even argue that the criminals are serving a greater good. Edward Luttwak, the American-based writer on international affairs, said recently in the London Review of Books that organised crime groups “resist the excessive concentrations of economic power brought about by government corruption… They are, in effect, competitors…