Russians Increasingly Blasé about Major Corruption Cases But Infuriated by Local Ones

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, March 4, 2018)

The anti-corruption cases Moscow has launched in recent months no longer shock most Russians who view them as a kind of theater or surrogate for a genuine struggle against corruption because it is hard for them to view money in the capital as if it were their own, Aleksey Dorzhiyev says.

But it is another thing entirely when the theft of public funds takes place at the local level even though the amounts of money are trivial in comparison, the Buryat journalist says, because there people can see what the loss of this money means (

Most local institutions are underfunded anyway, and so the loss via corruption of even small amounts of money can have a dramatic impact on education, medicine, and culture in republics like Buryatia. And so people take these crimes seriously because they recognize how much they affect their lives.

Dorzhiyev describes three schemes that seem to surface again and again in Buryatia and probably elsewhere as well. The simplest one involves creating fictional employees and then having the money go to those who created them such as directors of schools or heads of government contractors.

The next in complexity involves teachers in particular. In Soviet times, teachers knew what their salaries would be from month to month, but now their pay is divided into two parts, a base amount they are always paid and a “stimulation” amount that varies depending on how they are evaluated.

Many school directors simply skim off this money into their own pockets, working hand in hand with bookkeepers who also often figure in corruption cases in the republic. And yet another scheme is made easier by the way in which bookkeeping is done for most government offices.

There are two amounts which must be the same – the amount paid to all workers listed separately and the amount paid to them all collectively – but it is an easy matter for bookkeepers and bosses to shift things around so that these two figures balance but that the money intended for one or another worker illegally goes to them.

Dorzhiyev gives details on each of these, noting that they aren’t especially new and that the law enforcement organs have known about them for a long time. “Nevertheless, the journalist says, they regularly bring a few cases to trial, although how many are left in the shadows for corrupt reasons or incompetence is unknown.

“For the last five years,” he says, the number of corruption cases sent to court has risen by 1.5 times and the amount of money involved has gone up by five times. That pattern too may reflect shortcomings in the law, the lack of real control by the authorities, or even broader corruption.

But what really angers many in his republic, Dorzhiyev suggests, is that “the majority of figures of criminal cases have received conditional sentences, at the conclusion of which the former leaders have again been able to return to the leading positions” from which they conducted their corrupt activities in the first place.

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[featured image is file photo, not directly related to article subject matter]