MOSCOW -- When President Vladimir Putin told the nation on December 1 that the fight against corruption should not look like a "show," many Russians undoubtedly agreed -- though some could barely contain their laughter, recalling recent arrests in graft cases.
The spate of arrests of top officials -- including several governors, senior law-enforcement officers, and even a federal minister -- has been covered in sordid detail by the state media, often featuring footage of officials being detained in opulent homes with stashes of huge wealth.
As the Investigative Committee in June announced the arrest of Nikita Belykh, the now former governor of the Kirov Oblast, it shared photographs of him at a restaurant, impish-faced and sporting a suit, as investigators shined ultraviolet flashlights at wads of cash -- an alleged bribe of 400,000 euros.
The Investigative Committee shared photographs of Nikita Belykh at a restaurant as investigators shined ultraviolet flashlights at an alleged bribe of 400,000 euros.
Other examples include searches carried out by the security services at the home of the Federal Customs Service chief at his palatial lakeside residence complete with baroque decor, an indoor swimming pool, wall-to-wall fine art, and bundles of cash in multiple currencies.
In his 13th state-of-the-nation address, Putin said on December 1 that "unfortunately it has become the practice to raise informational noise around resonant cases, and it is not uncommon for the representatives of our investigative, law-enforcement organs to commit this sin."
He told both chambers of the Russian parliament that "the fight against corruption is not a show" and that "it requires professionalism, gravity, and responsibility."
"Only then will it produce results and secure conscious, broad support from society," Putin added.
Kremlin critics are skeptical that authorities have the political will or even desire to mount a real campaign to eradicate corruption and see the series of showy arrests as a simulation of antigraft measures aimed at placating voters.
The quips online were soon to follow after Putin's comments.
"It was probably difficult to say this and not burst out laughing," wrote Aleksei Navalny, a leading opposition politician and anti-corruption campaigner.
Others quoted the Russian president and posted the photograph of investigators making the bust of Belykh:
One Russian tweeted ironically: "Every show has its beginning and an end, but the fight against corruption is eternal!"
The public skepticism about the anticorruption campaign was on display during the unprecedented arrest of a federal minister this month that at times also had the feel of a show.
The now former Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev was taken into custody on November 15 on suspicion of trying to extort a bribe from state oil giant Rosneft, and police footage has since been broadcast widely on television showing him being escorted to and from questioning:
State pollster VTsIOM on November 25 said that 54 percent of Russians saw the arrest of Ulyukayev as a bold settling of scores. Only 30 percent of respondents said the minister was placed under arrest in a bid to weed out graft.