And They Say Mark Adomanis Is A Putin Stooge

Anti-corruption efforts have been significantly stepped up in recent months, both in terms of headline making events (e.g. the dismissal of Serdyukov) and the less heralded progress in the introduction of new laws to combat the source. One of these is a ban on Russian bureaucrats holding foreign bank accounts (this represents a watering down of the original provision, which would have also banned foreign property holdings).

Not everybody is happy with this law, as to be expected. What is not to be expected is who exactly that is. For instance, Mark Adomanis, a liberal anti-Putin blogger who is nonetheless one of the most informed and objective Russia watchers out there (which many of his detractors take as evidence that he is a Putin stooge). Well, judge for yourself, based on his reaction to a press conference with Presidential Chief of Staff Sergey Ivanov, in which he said that bureaucrats would have three months to move their assets back to Russia.

“Forcible asset repatriation”? That’s some strong rhetoric there! I must have missed the part where the Kremlin was holding a gun to the heads of those offshore chinovniki forcing them to continue working for the government. Why is no-one being arrested for extortion??

As an informed observer, Mark Adomanis surely knows that quite a number of Duma deputies and other officials have already resigned their seats because they’d rather keep their foreign nest eggs than continue in political life. Nobody is forcing them to make the latter choice, so how does “forcible” describe anything?

Fortunately, he soon clarifies his position.

Oh, I see. Less corrupt bureaucrats equals a more powerful Putin. And because Putin is the Dark Lord of the Kremlin, it’s for the best if bureaucrats were to remain just as corrupt and apatride as they are now. Essentially he would have Russia cut off its nose to spite Putin’s face.

Note also the overt double standards.

Now just to make things absolutely clear, I don’t have an issue with that. Mark Adomanis has a perfect right to his own political views on Russia and to air them on his blog and Twitter account. What I do however want to point out is that many people, including some fairly high profile ones, seriously consider him to be a “Russophile” or even a paid-up stooge of the “Putin regime.” (Some of the more conspiratorial-minded even consider Masha Gessen, who wrote a biography of Putin called “The Man without a Face,” to be a Kremlin flunky). In reality, as far as his priorities go, cleaner and more effective government in Russia takes a clear second place to the prime imperative of politically undermining Putin. All this just serves to illustrate how utterly divorced from reality the mainstream commentary is when it comes to Russia and Putin.

PS. Since I scheduled this to be published, Adomanis has written an entire blog post about it, where he in addition also takes exception to the Russian government not bailing out Russian deposit holders in Cypriot, in addition to expounding on the points he already made on Twitter.

The fact that many Russian officials had accounts in foreign banks acted as a (very!) crude check on Putin and the center’s ability to control things: true autocracy is impossible in a situation in which any mid or high level official can, at a moment’s notice, go abroad and live off the accumulated assets in their foreign bank accounts. … Assuming the Kremlin actually can get officials to “repatriate” their foreign holdings (a very big if, I grant you) they will be in a much weaker position to question or resist anything the President demands. Basically, completely banning the holding of foreign accounts would make the Russian government even more unaccountable, unpredictable, and arbitrary.

The evidence for these assertions that Adomanis brings to the table are precisely zilch. This is especially disappointing coming from a pundit who has based a substantial part of his blogging career on expounding the extremely tenuous nature of the ties between autocracy/democracy, and things like economic performance and demographic health. So why now this supposed link between corruption and democracy? Aside from the general lack of data and incoherence, for a man so concerned with “autocracy” in Russia, I wonder if Adomanis realizes that simply translating his article would make for excellent propaganda for Putin (e.g. by feeding “the good Tsar stymied by his bad boyars” trope).

PPS. And it’s been translated at Inosmi, with most of the reactions as predicted above. E.g. the commentator AndrewGur: “Did I get this right? This journalist is suggesting that one component of democracy – is the possibility not to obey the orders of the President while under the control of a foreign enemy who controls them by dint of them having their money there?”

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