Corruption Spoils Every Attempt to Cooperate With Russia

The struggle against corruption makes up the core of blogger and opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s political campaign; he insists it is not a hollow slogan but a practical and winnable cause (Moscow Echo, July 14). He follows closely the development of the Russian investigations in the United States and has important things to say on the corrupt connections, particularly regarding the role of Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika (, July 11). Standing tall against relentless police pressure, Navalny inspires expanding networks of followers, particularly among the youth. The hypocrisy of the government in vilifying him only adds credibility to his cause. Illustratively, evidence recently came to light that Andrei Klimov, who leads the prosecution of “foreign agents” in the Federation Council, runs together with his wife dubious off-shore businesses registered in Cyprus (Novaya Gazeta, July 14). Unlike many liberal critics of Putin’s regime, Navalny has set as his goal building a position of political power. And the corrupt officialdom cannot find a way to stop him, short of resorting to extreme measures, like with Boris Nemtsov, whose murderers have just received relatively light sentences (Moscow Echo, July 13).

Putin seems perturbed by this political challenge; he is reluctant to let Navalny partake in the presidential campaign but understands that without the opposition challenger’s participation the electoral contest could lack legitimacy. The Russian leader was supposed to announce his claim for yet another presidential term in the week after Hamburg; but he traveled to some distant monasteries instead (, July 12). Few doubt that the elections, which are eight months away, will be heavily manipulated in Putin’s favor, and even fewer question whether he intends to run (RBC, July 5). Putin, however, likely finds little comfort in polls that show 66 percent of Russians want him to continue his rule (, July 5). He knows how quickly the public mood can shift and suspects that the elites might betray him, particularly since his loyal subordinate Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev lost all support in the ruling bureaucracy after Navalny targeted him in an investigation (Vedomosti, July 13). Postponing the announcement may be a useful way to maintain suspense, but it could backfire as Navalny’s straightforward message about the need for change at the top gains momentum (New Times, July 12).

Putin may think that the problem of corruption is of little interest to the Russian public, but falling incomes inevitably provoke outrage against bureaucratic predation. He may also think that the export of corruption has yielded some useful connections with the Trump administration, but the deepening investigations in the US turn every minor asset of this kind into huge liability. Putin hopes for a follow-up high-level dialogue after the promising tête-à-tête in Hamburg, but cannot quite understand the political risk to his counterpart in the White House from befriending the Kremlin chief. The new blend of corruption, intelligence operations, cyberattacks and propaganda offensives, now the trademark of Russia’s foreign policy, requires a new kind of Western deterrence—and there can be no ceasefire in the fight against this menace.