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Russia: Bribery Thriving Under Putin, According To New Report

Russia has a long history of bribe taking, and a new study released this week shows the country remains as true as ever to this time-honored tradition. According to a report by the Indem Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that monitors corruption in Russia, Russians spend 10 times more in bribes today than they did four years ago. Corruption, however, seems to be evolving with the times. While bribery is receding in some areas, the report says institutions such as the army are rapidly emerging as Russia's new top bribe takers.

Moscow, 22 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The study shows bribery's prime victims in Russia are entrepreneurs, who have to pay large sums of money to officials in order to run their businesses smoothly.

According to the study, the average bribe paid by businesspeople has risen dramatically, to $135,000. That's 13 times higher than in the previous survey in 2001.

The report is based on a poll of 1,000 business people in all sectors and 3,000 ordinary people in 29 regions of the country.

While businesses paid a total $33.5 billion in bribes in 2001, Indem expects this figure to reach a staggering $316 billion this year.

Bribe taking, however, is not reserved for entrepreneurs. Russians frequently have to pay bribes to institutions that are supposed to offer free services. These include the police, army, courts, universities, and hospitals.

Indem Foundation President Georgii Satarov, who once worked as an adviser to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, said this type of bribe taking -- which he refers to as "day-to-day" corruption -- generates some $3 billion annually, roughly the same as in 2001.

But day-to-day corruption is rapidly transforming. Satarov said some institutions -- like the army -- are becoming the country's most corrupt.

"The record rise of day-to-day corruption is set by the conscription to military service," Satarov said. "From $12 or $13 million annually in 2001, it has grown to $350 million now. This is a fantastic record."

Satarov says this increase is due to a growing distrust toward the Russian army, which is bogged down in a protracted war in Chechnya and plagued by hazing and suicides.

More and more parents, therefore, are seeking to buy their sons' exemption from compulsory military service.

The poll shows higher education now tops the list of spheres attracting the most cash in bribes, since students can easily grease the palms of professors to obtain good grades on exams or get into prestigious universities.

But the report also notes positive trends. While the size of bribes is rising, the study indicates the number of bribes is down by 20 percent since 2001.
"Between 20 and 30 million citizens give up free medical services because they don't have enough money to pay the bribes."

Russians are obviously increasingly reluctant to give in to bribe takers. But Satarov says the growing appetite of corrupt officials has actually made many Russians unable to afford the bribes.

"People are reacting with a fall in demand," Satarov said. "Between 20 and 30 million citizens give up free medical services because they don't have enough money to pay the bribes."

Despite apparent efforts by President Vladimir Putin to stem corruption, a number of observers say bribery has, in fact, been institutionalized under his rule.

Yulia Latynina, a prominent journalist who has investigated crime and corruption, says there is currently no political will to fight corruption. The government itself, she says, is corrupt from top to bottom.

"Mr. President, he appoints people who are corrupted, and this is one of the professional requirements, because if there is corruption, if the man is corrupt, you can govern him," Latynina said. "And since the great idea is to have people whom you can govern, this means you put corrupt people into the office because you need corrupt people in the office, not simply because you put somebody [into office] and he becomes corrupt."

Earlier this week, Russian Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska lamented the lack of progress that has been made in Russia toward stemming corruption.

"First of all I would like us to adopt the corruption law which we have been talking about for so many years, and then, as the law is implemented, we could call things by their names and really fight corruption," Sliska said. "Now you don't know who to fear more -- the gangsters or the police."

In a corruption index released in 2004 by another anticorruption watchdog, Transparency International, Russia tied for 90th out of 146 countries, alongside India, Nepal, and Mozambique, among others.

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