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Russian beauty queen puts spotlight on Russia's official corruption

Her public denunciation of Russia's corruption surprised some this week. It also coincided with one of the Kremlin's periodic efforts to convince Russians that something is being done about it.

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But other experts are not so hopeful. Anton Pominov, research director for the Russian branch of the international corruption watchdog Transparency International says it's more likely we're witnessing another bout of Russia's interminable bureaucratic wars, which are mainly about dividing up power and property, or perhaps a Kremlin-run public relations campaign aimed at calming the concerns of conscientious Russians like Pereverzeva.

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Most of the loudly-declared official anticorruption drives of the past have, indeed, produced no lasting results.

"Corruption is an institutional problem, not an interpersonal one," says Mr. Pominov. "The public is made to believe that if someone goes to prison, then corruption has been successfully fought. But that's not enough and, in any case, even now we see that people at the top are not suffering," he adds.

"We need to see institutional changes before we start believing it. For example, half of the military budget is secret, in other words nobody answers for it. An institutional change would make that more transparent, enable the public to access information and see where the money goes...  The government needs to reform the way it works, and the public should be educated so that it can be informed and empowered to act against corruption," he says.

Russia's No. 3 problem 

In a public opinion survey conducted by the independent Levada Center earlier this year, corruption was named by respondents as the country's No. 3 problem after price rises and low incomes. In the poll, 57 percent of Russians described corruption as an inevitable evil; 26 percent said it was less than in the disastrous decade of the 1990's while 9 percent said it was worse.

"Putin's present campaign has nothing to do with the struggle against corruption," argues Georgy Satarov, head of the independent InDem Foundation, which specializes in corruption studies, and a one time Kremlin aide to former President Boris Yeltsin.

"Putin periodically presents himself as the arbiter in bureaucratic conflicts and allows groups to trample one another, but the goal is to frighten officials and keep them all in line," he says.

The basic system of universal corruption will continue, Mr. Satarov says, because it is fundamental to the maintenance of Kremlin power.

"We have a saying; 'once compromised, forever controllable.' At the top they are convinced that a corrupted subordinate will remain loyal because he is allowed to steal, and he will always fear being exposed as a criminal or thrown out of the feeding-trough...

"The tragedy is that this is a false idea of stability, one that undermines the effective work of government and brings only personal stability for those at the top."

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