Russian Organized Crime and Corruption

Putin's Challenge

Following up on its highly publicized report of 1997--Russian Organized Crime--the CSIS Transnational Threats Initiative has taken a new look at the issue and found that, today, the Russian Federation is dominated by a stifling blend of corrupt officials, shady businessmen, and criminals. Russian organized crime continues to strangle legitimate business practices, and more than half the Russian commercial and banking sectors remain under its sway. Russia's prospects of embracing true democracy and a free-market economy--prospects that seemed wholly realizable in the early 1990s--now seem still more remote. Genuine democratic reforms, with the notable exception of the right to vote, are not deeply institutionalized and may be threatened by the Putin regime in the name of order. Political positions, especially those that provide opportunities for embezzlement and other forms of personal gain, are particularly valuable. Members of the so-called oligarchy of politically connected financiers wage constant warfare trying to influence the appointment of politicians favorable to their particular interests. Likewise, most of the Russian press either increasingly depend on the oligarchs or are controlled by the state. Taken together, all these factors degrade the image of democracy in the eyes of most Russians. The beginning of his presidency, therefore, offers Putin two stark choices: he can either consolidate or dismantle the kleptocracy.

William H. Webster, Arnaud de Borchgrave, Frank J. Cilluffo, and Todd H. Nelson