INDEM Foundation President and number one specialist on corruption in Russia

An interview with Georgy Satarov of the INDEM Foundation.

Georgy Satarov, INDEM Foundation President and number one specialist on corruption in Russia, takes in stride Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov’s unexpected resignation and the rumors concerning Herman Gref’s upcoming retirement.

Question: We are witnessing a staff shuffle of unprecedented magnitude, probably the largest since the Beslan tragedy…

Georgy Satarov: The fact is, I wouldn’t attach too much importance to the resignation if I were you. A certain misbalance in the factions surrounding the president has been worsening of late – for a year or so. When Yeltsin was the president, he did not permit any such imbalances. Putin followed suit. I’d say that what is happening nowadays is bit of an attempt to restore parity. It is the security bloc of the government that is affected the worst. It has been using the prosecutor’s office actively, even leaving the impression every now and then that this faction is independent altogether. If you ask me, it is precisely this that Putin finally decided to put to an end.

Question: What about the rumors concerning Gref’s impeding resignation?

Georgy Satarov: The rumors and the whole anti-Gref campaign are elements of the strengthening of the faction that opposes security structures. Ustinov’s resignation is a step towards restoration of parity. I do not think that Gref will really go as the rumors predict he will.

Question: Shall we expect any maneuvering, say, for the purpose of organization of early election?

Georgy Satarov: No, I do not think that we shall. The general public of course becomes suspicious that Ustinov’s successor may be waging a war on corruption for the purposes of the election.

Question: And it recalls Dmitry Kozak who did not become Prosecutor General in 2000…

Georgy Satarov: Yes, I remember these rumors then. In theory, it is possible of course but I do not expect any serious campaign the scope of corruption in our country warrants.

Question: But Ustinov was determined to institute some cases that he promised would be shocking…

Georgy Satarov: Forget it. Ustinov was not fighting corruption. A purge took place in the customs service, and the president mentioned corruption just as a smoke screen. There is a widespread opinion that the Prosecutor General’s Office was actively fighting this evil. At the same time, no charges were pressed against the sacked officials. Not a single one of them is facing charges! It is clear therefore that the war on corruption is just an excuse someone drags in every now and then to justify factional wars. The powers-that-be live in a house of glass, they know better than to throw rocks.

Question: If some deputy prosecutor general is promoted, it is one story, but if it is someone like Kozak, it is certainly another, right?

Georgy Satarov: Yes, but I do not think that any deputy prosecutor general will aspire for the promotion. It is counterproductive at this point. There is no need to play the political card now; it had better be saved for use closer to the election – because the war on corruption is a pet subject. It is restoration of parity at this point, nothing more. I believe that this whole operation with transfer of the customs service was something security structures themselves conceived of and carried out entirely on their own. I do not think that they will revert again. The prosecutor’s office was taken from Sechin, and that is that.

Question: He got the customs service but lost the prosecutor’s office, is that it?

Georgy Satarov: Yes, it is.

Question: And when shall we expect another personnel shuffle?

Georgy Satarov: I wouldn’t count on another. Putin never goes to such extremes without a valid reason. I suspect that it is going to be a lull now, and that some shuffles will follow only in connection with Operation Successor. (I do not think that the operation is under way yet.)

Question: But why organize everything quietly again, overnight, in this Bolshevik manner?

Georgy Satarov: Why not? This is their style as I have already written in a piece in your newspaper. No matter whatever has to be done, it is arranged like a special operation. In this particular episode, one faction needed to pull off a serious action without some other faction knowing about it. That’s all. The regime is just being itself. That’s a mini-Byzantine. A bureaucratic autocracy or even a plebiscitary dictatorship retaining the elements appealing to the people in the course of elections.

Question: Would you say that the president is letting control over bureaucracy slip away and that he is promoting interests of bureaucracy now, not his own?

Georgy Satarov: I certainly would. That what he believed was leverage does not work, became clear long ago. On the other hand, Putin remains in control within the framework of the Kremlin’s intrigue and he does not hesitate to act when he thinks it necessary.