The Russian Justice Ministry is proposing legislative changes that would soften the penalties for so-called minor or insignificant cases of corruption.
That announcement came just days after opposition figure Yevgeny Urlashov, the former mayor of Yaroslavl, was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in a penal colony -- a harsher sentence than many violent criminals receive -- on corruption charges widely seen as fabricated and politically motivated.
And it came shortly after major corruption probes targeted the Investigative Committee and the Federal Customs Service.
These data points offer a stark illustration of the central role corruption plays, and the multiple purposes it serves, in Vladimir Putin's regime.
For those loyal and useful to the Kremlin, corruption has long been permitted -- and even encouraged.
As numerous Kremlin-watchers have documented, the Putin system runs on murky deals, graft, fraud, and kickbacks.
Corruption is the carrot and the stick that keeps everybody in line.
Insiders usually only face corruption charges when their loyalty wavers or when they fall out of political favor.
Opposition figures like Urlashov or Aleksei Navalny, on the other hand, always face the prospect of corruption charges -- even when they aren't corrupt.
For them, there is no carrot. There's only a stick.
This system worked well for the regime for most of Putin's long rule. But the rules now appear to be changing.
Suddenly there's less money around to steal. Suddenly, the circle of those with a license to steal is getting smaller and smaller. Suddenly, insiders are getting targeted too.
And as more and more people find themselves on the outside looking in, the foundations of this regime can only get shakier.
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