On 17 February, the Duma ratified by absolute majority the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which was adopted in 2003 and came into force in December 2005.
Politicians were quick to warn against the devastating effects of corruption in Russia. Commenting on the ratification, Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin (Unified Russia) said that corruption was so widespread that "some unscrupulous officials see their offices as a source of rent."
The same day, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said that corruption threatens Russia's national security. "Today the scale and degree of corruption impacts on various aspects of state and public life and not only threatens the country's internal security, but causes considerable damage to Russia's image abroad," he said. Nurgaliev added that in 2005, his ministry investigated 34,500 cases of corruption, a growth of 17 percent against the previous year. All in all 438,000 economic crimes were committed, 1,600 in the energy sector alone, the minister said.
Interior Ministry Criticized
But Nurgaliev and his ministry have recently come under fire. On 17 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at a meeting with senior police officers, criticized the 2-million strong ministry for corruption and the inability to stop rampant criminality.
Crime is soaring in Russia. According to Putin, in 2005, there were 1 million crimes registered in Russia, 50,000 of which were considered grave. Nurgaliev said the number was higher, with 3.5 million registered crimes. The statistics are also skewed by the practice of officials not officially registering many crimes.
Putin also said that public trust in the police is much lower than for other law-enforcement agencies, and state and public institutions. According to the president, people who turn to the police for help often face indifference, and sometimes have their rights directly violated by Interior Ministry officials.
Putin also accused the Interior Ministry of low levels of professionalism and called on it to root out corrupt police officers.
The Russian president said that the Interior Ministry must defend small- and medium-sized businesses and "law-abiding, loyal citizens, and entrepreneurs." In particular, he spoke of crimes in the corporate sector, for instance "greenmailing," the hostile take-over, dismemberment, and sale of an undervalued company. Putin warned that the police should not become involved in corporate conflicts, or take sides in disputes among economic entities.
Many Russia watchers have speculated that Putin's criticism of the Interior Ministry might lead to Nurgaliev's resignation. But that is unlikely to happen before the St. Petersburg G8 summit in June as the Interior Ministry is one of the key agencies responsible for the meeting's security.
The adoption of the UN corruption convention is likely to have little effect. The convention obliges signatories to make crimes such as bribery, embezzlement, and money laundering criminal offenses. Importantly, the convention also provides for the extradition of people accused of corruption, repatriation of funds from abroad that were obtained illegally, and the confiscation of assets linked with corruption.
It is expected that confiscation of corruption-linked assets and the return of criminal capital from abroad will be the first measures to be enshrined in Russian legislation. However, according to organized- crime experts, it will take many years before international anticorruption norms are adopted in Russia -- even if there is the political will to do so.