MOSCOW — Some of Russia’s most prominent opposition figures have produced a report accusing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of presiding over a boom in corruption and enriching his inner circle over the past decade.
The report, titled “Putin. Corruption,” was produced by the newly formed People’s Freedom Party and authored by key opposition figures including former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, former State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, and former Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milov.
It details how once relatively obscure businessmen used their ties to Russia’s powerful prime minister to amass personal fortunes over the past decade.
One such acquaintance, Gennady Timchenko became a dollar billionaire while his Swiss-based company Gunvor exported at least a third of Russia’s oil, which it bought at preferential rates, the report alleges in a section titled “Putin and his billionaires.”
Nemtsov tells RFE/RL’s Russian Service the general public is largely unaware that people like Timchenko, Putin’s former judo partner Arkady Rotenburg, and Bank of Russia head Yury Kovalchuk have enriched themselves due to their ties to the prime minister and former president.
Boris Nemtsov says the corruption under Putin directly harms ordinary Russians.“They [the public] don’t know that Timchenko, Rotenberg, Kovalchuk have got rich not because they created Facebook or Google, or something else, but did so absolutely at the expense of the state and state property,” he says.
Nemtsov adds that corruption is directly responsible for harming Russians’ quality of life. “We have bad roads. This is because of corruption,” he says. “The fact that prices are going up on utilities in our country, this is because the tariffs are going up on gas, and the tariffs on gas are going up because Putin’s friends have taken $60 billion worth of property.”
Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev themselves have 26 “palaces” and five yachts, which in turn require costly state upkeep, according to the report.
‘Nothing Being Done’
Published roughly a year before Russia’s presidential election, the report is the first project produced by the People’s Freedom Party, which operates under the slogan “For a Russia without tyranny and corruption.”
Nemtsov says reports like this are necessary because the state-controlled networks are not reporting on corruption among Putin and his inner circle.
“If there was a place for discussion, if there was a place for discussion on federal television, then of course, there would be no need for reports like ‘Putin. Corruption,'” Nemtsov says.
Corruption rose steadily in the first five years of Putin’s tenure costing Russia $300 billion a year, the equivalent of 25 percent of its gross domestic product, according to the report, which cites the Indem think tank. “Supporters of Putin often assert that corruption in the so-called ‘wild 1990s’ was worse than it is now. But the facts speak to the opposite,” the authors write.
President Medvedev’s flagship anticorruption campaign, which he announced shortly after he assumed office in May 2008, has had little impact, according to international corruption watchdogs. Medvedev himself has acknowledged that the campaign has thus far had little impact.
Transparency International found that Russia’s perceived levels of corruption increased last year, while its global corruption ranking slumped from 146th to 154th out of 178 countries.
Going To Court
Nemtsov says 11,000 copies of the report have already been printed and will be made available at Strategy 31 opposition rallies scheduled to take place on downtown Moscow’s Triumph Square on March 31. Nemtsov says that 100,000 Russians visited the report’s website in the first 36 hours of its publication.
This palace on the Black Sea is supposedly being built for Putin.In the past, Nemtsov and Milov have co-authored similar reports, including one accusing former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov of using his position to enrich himself and his wife, Yelena Baturina. The latter report generated a drawn-out legal battle between Nemtsov and Luzhkov.
Timchenko took Nemtsov and Milov to court over another opposition pamphlet titled “Putin. The Results. Ten Years.” In February the pair were required to retract two statements that were deemed slanderous and pay 200,000 rubles (about $7,000) in compensation.
No lawsuits have been filed against the authors of “Putin. Corruption.”
In December Nemtsov, Milov, and Ryzhkov filed their own defamation suit against Putin, seeking $34,000 in damages after the prime minister suggested in a nationally broadcast address that the three siphoned off budget money while they were in government in the 1990s.
In the same breath, Putin said that “extremist” rallies should be “cut short immediately.”
The lawsuit was unsuccessful and Nemtsov was subsequently arrested at a New Year’s Eve opposition rally and detained for 15 days.
RFE/RL’s Russian Service contributed to this report