Anders Aslund offers advice to a young Russian woman: “It is better to marry a top state official than an oligarch. The money is the same, but job security is so much greater.”
Endemic corruption is the single greatest drag on Russia’s development, he notes, and premier Vladimir Putin personifies the plague.
“Putin has appropriated $40 billion to $50 billion of state property to his own benefit,” Aslund writes, “which would render him the greatest thief in world history.”
But is Russia’s democratic opposition able to position itself as a clean and credible alternative?
Garry Kasparov appreciates that Russian politics, unlike chess, is neither conducted with polite formality, nor marked by adherence to a set of predictable rules.
The country’s democratic opposition realizes that not only is the electoral playing field tilted against them, but there is also a desperate need to restore their credibility and relevance with an electorate that still associates democracy with the instability, humiliation and deteriorating living standards of the 1990s.
That’s why his United Civil Front is as much of a social movement as a political party, focused on the long-term strategic process of building a genuine base by addressing people’s everyday concerns and rebuilding a constituency for democratic politics.
“We try to use the existing social landscape in order to promote democracy as the only way forward,” says Kasparov. “Our approach is to take a particular problem — for instance, that of the Khimki Forest [a legally-protected park threatened by construction of a new motorway] – and work with it.”
Russia’s liberals have often been criticized for focusing on human rights and civil liberties which, critical as they are, do not resonate with citizens struggling to make a living. Democrats need to integrate socio-economic concerns with constitutional issues, Kasparov suggests, to demonstrate that democracy can deliver on both dimensions.
“You have to explain to people that their financial troubles result from the lack of basic freedoms,” he asserts. “Until this is understood, democracy will remain impossible.”