Russia’s Main Military Prosecutor, General Sergei Fridinsky, this week revealed the scale of corruption and embezzlement within the military — and the fact that, despite recent investigations and sackings, it has been growing. According to his figures, in the last year it jumped 450 percent, with a total loss exceeding 4.4 billion rubles ($134 million). To put this in context, in the three years it will take to build Russia’s new Mistral helicopter assault carrier, enough money will be stolen to buy a second.
Even so, this may be the tip of the iceberg; according to Investigations Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin, preliminary estimates of the losses from Oboronservis, the defense ministry’s business arm, have risen from 3 billion rubles to over 13 billion rubles ($433 million).
In his annual report, Fridinsky said that more than 7,000 individual cases had been uncovered, 1,100 cases brought and 505 people convicted of various offences. Some 1.3 billion rubles ($40 million) had been recovered. He put a positive spin on the data, noting that detected crimes were up by half, but the concern is that tougher policing is not reversing the upward trend.
The irony is that while many of the cases brought relate to relatively junior officers engaged in small-scale pilfering and corruption, the bulk of the losses came from high-level corruption within the ministry’s budget and procurement divisions. One in three cases involves civilian personnel and civil servants, and this reflects a deep criminalization of all parts of the security apparatus.
Nonetheless, there is a stark contrast between the increasing harshness with which lesser culprits are treated and a failure to bring the main players to account. The scandal around Oboronservis led to defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov’s dismissal in 2012, but some nine months later, he remains at liberty. This is despite numerous allegations of his personal involvement in corrupt practices. He has been linked, for example, with the construction of a Black Sea coastal resort by his brother-in-law, built on land sold by the defense ministry for under the market value and with the use of military laborers (including using railroad troops to build the 4-mile road and three bridges to the resort).
Likewise, although Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, former head of the ministry’s property department — and Serdyukov’s mistress — is officially under house arrest during the investigations, she has been seen and photographed shopping in Moscow’s elite boutiques.
Vladimir Komoyedov, chair of the parliamentary defense committee recently complained that corruption under Serdyukov has “eaten into the blood and the body of the armed forces.” New defense minister Sergei Shoigu has committed himself to dealing with corruption and inefficiency in the senior ranks of the ministry. However, the Oboronservis trial has been delayed again, as figures within the military are warn more and more that all that is happening is that new managers are taking over old rackets. This is a perennial problem, which will require fundamental reform of military and ministry culture as well as procedure to address.