Serdyukov is Charged

Here is the discussion at this on The Russia Debate.

My friend and DR commentator Alexander Mercouris correctly predicted this outcome – that Serdyukov would be charged, but that it is a complex case that will take a long time and likely avoid more the more serious allegations in favor of those that can be more easily proved in a court of law. So I’ll just quote his analysis:

As people who followed my opinions about this case will know, I have always thought it more likely than not that Serdyukov would eventually face a charge but I have also thought it more likely than not that it would not be a charge that reflected the seriousness of what he had done. I have also always thought and I still think (as does Anatoly Karlin) that this case is very likely to end in a plea bargain.

The reason I have always thought these things is not because I have any real doubt about Serdyukov’s corruption and of his personal involvement in the corrupt schemes that have wracked the Defence Ministry under his watch (see my very first comment on this thread) or because I thought he was being protected by someone (see my second comment) but because personal experience tells me how difficult it is in these cases of high level corruption and embezzlement to secure a conviction. Again I would repeat what I have said previously, which is that the mere fact that Serdyukov’s brother is rich or that Vasilieva has a stash in her multiroom apartment, is not in itself evidence against Serdyukov that can be used in a Court of law. There has to be witness evidence and/or a paper trail directly linking Serdyukov to some or all of these corrupt activities, which the prosecution is in a position to say cannot be interpreted in any way other than as evidence of his guilt. Given that Serdyukov was presumably taking steps to conceal what he was up to, that sort of evidence almost by definition is going to be difficult to find.

It has not helped matters in this case that judging from media reports Serdyukov is being investigated by two rival teams of investigators – one from the Investigative Committee and one from the military Procurator’s Office – who appear much of the time to be in bitter rivalry and disagreement with each other. Conflicts of this sort invariably complicate investigations and can even wreck them completely.

What I would say about this case at the moment is this:

1. It is by no means impossible that what Jose Moreira is saying is true and that this is only the first charge and that more serious charges may follow. I would like to believe that but I have to say based again on personal experience that I would not be personally surprised if the present charge is as good as it gets because it is the best that the prosecution can realistically prove for the reasons I have previously given;

2. If more serious charges are brought against Serdyukov, I again repeat that it is more likely than not that the case will still end in a plea bargain, which makes it unlikely that Serdyukov will receive the sort of punishment people (including me) want him to receive and which he arguably deserves. However I want to say again that the likely reason for this is not because Serdyukov is being protected by someone but because a plea bargain is a cost effective way of securing a conviction in a complex case where because of the difficulties presented by the evidence a conviction cannot otherwise be guaranteed.

3. Even if the best that can be achieved is a conviction for criminal negligence, that is a great deal better than nothing and it is certainly not a joke. Though it only comes with a potential 3 month prison sentence, it is a criminal conviction nonetheless. In addition, though I don’t know this for a fact, there must at least be a strong possibility that if Serdyukov is convicted under this charge a civil claim from the Defence Ministry for compensation for the economic loss he has caused will follow. This would only cover the loss caused by the actual negligence Serdyukov had been convicted for, not the loss caused by the whole Oboronservis scandal and its many permutations. However it would still be a substantial amount of money and probably more than Serdyukov could easily pay.

In summary, I know most people take a much more negative view of the Russian legal system than I do. However my frank opinion is that if this case were happening anywhere in western Europe (including Britain) its conduct and eventual outcome would be little different from what is proving to be the case in Russia whilst based on what I have read in the media about defence procurement practices and management in the US it is perhaps unlikely such a case would be brought there at all.

Another poll shows declining Russian “everyday” corruption:

In the past, I showed that according to polling evidence, the actual level of Russian “everyday” corruption from Putin’s coming to power to 2012 had, in fact, remained roughly steady (many Western commentators argue it has increased).

There is, however, a steady stream of evidence that 2013 is beginning to see a real and marked improvement in these indicators.

(1) First, there was Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer survey which I covered here. Unfortunately, they found the Russia data to be “an outlier when compared with other available data,” and stridently refused to release any figures. But circumstantial evidence points to the outlier being in a positive direction.

In particular, a FOM poll showed that:

Firstly, according to the survey, 79% of Russians are not faced with bribery at all. (This number has grown from 60% in 2008). Only 15% paid bribes. (In 2008 it was 29%).

(PS. That said, I have been unable to find the provenance of the 15% figure, at FOM’s website; though I don’t think the Odnako author would just make it up either. Fedia, could you help please?)

(2) I have since come across VCIOM polling data for corruption, which I had missed in my prior survey of corruption polls. It is translated below:

In the past year, did you need to give money or gifts to people whom you needed to resolve your problems?
2006 г. 2007 г. 2008 г. 2013 г.
Yes, frequently 19 9 20 7
Yes, but these were singular cases 34 25 28 12
No 45 60 47 80
N/A 2 5 6 1

For comparability with the other polls, this shows that the percentage of people saying they’d paid a bribe in the past year going as follows: 2006 – 53%; 2007 – 34%; 2008 – 48%; 2013 – 19%. This suggests a far higher “baseline” level of corruption that that suggested by the other polling organizations (i.e. Levada, FOM, and Transparency), which have answers to this question typically ranging at 15%-30%, but it likewise indicates a very marked improvement now relative to the 2000’s.

One particularly noticeable thing is the change in the structure of corruption. While 14%-16% (of those who had to give bribes in the past year) had their corrupt run-in with the police during 2006-2008, in 2013 it was just 6%. This suggests that the much ballyhooed police reforms had actually worked quite well. (That said, there was no similar improvement with the traffic police). Not quite, see Little Pig’s comment.


  1. When you were citing VCIOM, you didn’t mention that they changed the question, which is fairly important as now they ask only about the previous year, and before they didn’t set any limits. I believe this is the real cause of the change in numbers and not the reform.

    AK: Didn’t see that. You are right, this means the 2006-2008 and 2013 figures are simply not comparable. I “fixed” the post to the extent possible.

  2. Dear Anatoly,

    Thanks for re posting this and by the way apologies for failing to get on top of your discussion about the Ukraine. Unfortunately I have not been well (am now) but suffice to say I agree with your analysis of the Ukrainian situation.

  3. Just to reiterate that my somewhat bleak analysis of this case in no sense reflects any sympathy for Serdyukov or Vasilieva. By any measure this duo have done very real harm to the country and to its defence capacity. Certainly I consider them criminals of any entirely different order to say Navalny. Unfortunately it is too often the dismal truth that in the words of the Cynic philosopher Anarchasis the law is like a spider’s web, able to catch small flies but unable to hold big ones.

  4. As I’ve said many times before in several other blogs about this corruption in Russia issue, in the course of 21 years’ residence in Russia I have never once paid a bribe, nor has it ever been suggested that I do so.

    Can I really have been so amazingly fortunate over these past 21 years spent in such a corrupt country as this, a country which, according to some Western journalists, is more corrupt than Nigeria and Afghanistan, and never once been asked to pay a bribe? Or is the simple fact of the matter that persons such as I can get along quite nicely without paying any “extras” whatsoever, nor are persons such as I expected to do so?

    The simple fact of the matter is, I believe, that in normal day-to-day-life here corruption is not as dire as it is painted by Western scribes; at least, it has not been so for me.

    The key thing in this matter – that which has led to my not being expected to pay bribes – is that I am not a businessman: I did not come here to pay bribes, to set up business, to corner a market. And I only earn 60,000 rubles a month – a little more than the recently announced present Moscow average of 58,000 rubles.

    However, the ones that wail constantly in the West about how dreadful it is here are, I believe, mostly businessmen. Furthermore, I suspect it is often a fact that these businessmen come here with the intent to pay bribes, only to return back to the squeaky-clean West with their tales of woe because they’ve been too small time in this regard and unable to compete with the big boys, such as Siemens (see: and Hewlett-Packard (see:

    As I wrote recently in an opinion page comments section of that rag the Moscow times (see:

    “Where I come from, they say: ‘It takes two to tango’. Whenever I hear endless criticism of corruption in Russia, I often think of the contract agreed upon between a prostitute and her client. Of the two parties, which one’s actions are the more reprehensible: those of the prostitute in offering her services for a price, or those of her client who is willing to pay for said services? Or are the actions of both morally reprehensible?

    If I remember rightly, in recent years both the German engineering firm Siemens – the manufacturer of the high-speed Sapsan trains purchased by the Russian government – and Hewlett-Packard of the USA have been accused of participating in hugely corrupt practices in Russia in order to win valuable contracts there.

    Who were the ‘most guilty’ in these deals: the whore or the client?

    And the usual argument in defence of such corrupt practices offered by Western firms is that if they hadn’t done it, another firm would have.”