Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Mike Sigov

Despite arrests, bigger criminals still in charge

“Everything comes if a man will only wait,” Benjamin Disraeli wrote in 1847.

More than 150 years later Russians - who are internationally known for their perseverance - may finally have reason to believe former British prime minister was right.

An average Russian family pays in bribes about half of what they pay in taxes - mostly to police, according to widely accepted Russian think-tank estimates. Igor and Natasha routinely bribe police when arbitrarily stopped for an alleged traffic violation or for an identity check.

Bribery is nothing new in Russia where the practice has been the norm for ages. The very word “bribe” is “vzyatka” in Russian. It is derived from the verb “vzyat” which means “to take, to accept,” which indicates that the use of bribes has been generally accepted since time immemorial.

So by Igor and Natasha's rationale, they had little choice but put up with police extortion and, until recently, they did not even hope for it to end.

But when Igor and Natasha turned on their TV a few weeks ago, they saw a bunch of police colonels being led away in handcuffs on bribery charges.

Still, Igor and Natasha may have to wait quite a while until extortionists in police uniforms leave them alone.

Many a Russian analyst has rightly tied the arrests of a few bad cops - often televised live - to the Kremlin's bid to secure Igor and Natasha's votes in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

I agree. But the truth may be a little subtler.

The fact remains that the Kremlin is pretty secure, with the president's public approval rating well over 70 percent, which is largely attributed to the state's control of television.

Therefore, I doubt that the initiative to arrest the dirty police colonels necessarily came from the top. Why would the Kremlin rock the boat?

After all, the elite such as the FSB, the KGB successor, may get queasy.

Some experts believe that the arrests appear to be an outgrowth of rivalry between criminal groups that permeate Russia's criminal-justice system, most visibly traffic police. Notably, Novaya Gazeta, Russia's leading liberal daily, seems to hold this view.

This scenario appears most plausible. Authorities are just using the arrests for the Kremlin's PR by casting them as a breakthrough in the war on crime - one of President Vladimir Putin's biggest election campaign promises 31/2 years ago.

I doubt that Mr. Putin can deliver on that promise, but I think the former FSB boss retains enough influence with Russia's top security officials to use the episode for his own PR campaign without alienating them. In other words, he most likely let them know that they are safe.

But there is something to be said for Russia's embryonic democracy. The upcoming elections are putting the handcuffed colonels on millions of TV screens, making the rank-and-file police crooks think twice before they harass Igor and Natasha, say for a traffic violation that has or hasn't occurred.

It is essential though that the prosecutors don't drop the charges against the arrested cops once the elections are over. Should that happen, Igor and Natasha may lose hope for good.

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