In most countries, when an economy goes in the tank, crime rate tends to spike. But as political analyst Andrei Ryabov writes in "Vedomosti" this week, the well-established correlation between economic deprivation and crime takes on added -- and potentially sinister -- dimensions in Russia.
Ryabov argues that as Russians lose faith that the social and political system will continue to provide for their needs, turning to crime -- both petty and large-scale -- actually becomes a form of protest as well as a survival mechanism:
There is increasing evidence that such a developments is realistic prospect. On an almost daily basis there are reports of bank robberies, armed raids, armed street, random drive-by shootings -- just like in the Roaring Nineties. Moreover, as the crisis continues and deepens, the desire to 'restore social justice' and 'take what is ours' by criminal means is increasingly evident.
But what is really a cause for concern, Ryabov argues, is the tendency for the police to get in on the act as well. As crime rates increase amid an economic downturn, law-enforcement bodies -- already notorious for rampant corruption -- are empowered to bring the situation under control.
But instead of addressing the problem, they instead use their new powers to ratchet up their own criminal activities:
The result, Ryabov says, is a vicious circle:
Ryabov's article, while well-argued and thought provoking, is largely speculative. But the scenario he outlines seems entirely plausible.
The legitimacy of the system Vladimir Putin created was based largely on three pillars: rising living standards, restoring social order, and resurgent (anti-Western) Russian nationalism.
The economic crisis has already undermined the first pillar. If Ryabov's argument is correct, a new crime wave could take out the second pillar as well.
-- Brian Whitmore