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Putin's Methods Counterproductive in Russian Fight on Corruption and Terrorism

(Washington, DC--December 19, 2004) President Vladimir Putin's centralization of power within the Kremlin has not proved effective in combating either corruption or terrorism in Russia, say three experts on transnational crime in that country. The three experts, who spoke at a recent RFE/RL briefing, said the concentration of power had weakened efforts at rooting out corruption by silencing Russia's civil society and making it easier for terrorists to operate within Russia.

Christopher Walker, Director of Studies at Freedom House, said Putin's tightening grip over the government is insufficient to eliminate the corruption that "permeates" Russian society; it is "resistant to reform by decree," said Walker. At the same time, this concentration of power in the Kremlin is stifling civil society and reducing the "space for public discussion," which is needed for "policy innovation" and to "balance decision-making" in Russia, Walker said. The limitations on society's ability to respond to modern problems such as corruption and terrorism, according to Walker, exist because Putin has created "a single integrated organism with a clear structure of subordination." Walker fears this suppression of civil society and the government's "dysfunctional organizational structure" will ultimately force Russia to "hit a wall in its public policy before it can start to seek other solutions."

Louise Shelley, Director of the Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) at American University, said the increase in corruption and violence in Russia resulted from its ongoing civil conflict as well as its inability to stop corrupt behavior. She said that Russia cannot crack down on institutional corruption, because the majority of government institutions are corrupt from top to bottom and, in some cases, have in fact merged with organized crime. Border control, customs, the military, the police, and even peacekeepers "enhance the power of corrupt officials," said Shelley. The channels used by organized crime to traffic people, arms, drugs and money, she said, can also be used by terrorist organizations -- and regional terrorist groups are, in turn, linked internationally. Shelley advised that combating these groups demands tracing their links and uncovering the sources of their funding. "Russia," she said, "needs to stop thinking about itself in isolation, but rather as a part of an international community in which it develops a strategy based on a broader look at the links between crime and terrorism."

Robert Orttung, Associate Research Professor at TraCCC, reported on a study of corruption within Russia's police force that found corruption "exists throughout the structure, top to bottom." According to Orttung, police corruption is not limited to "just a few bad apples," because of "low salaries, poor leadership, as well as a lack of personnel." Orttung noted that many police officers grew up with people that have since become involved in organized crime, creating informal links which foster corruption. He proposed a number of measures to fight police corruption, including cutting the size of the police force while providing better training and internal oversight; enforcing zero tolerance for corruption; and increasing links to non-Russian police forces.

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