March 9th, 2010

Side Door Entrance for Russian Accountability and Transparency

Despite a recent article linking Russian Medvedev’s liberalization efforts as gloss on Putin’s authoritarianism, there remains a way for political outsiders, Russians and foreign investors to effect change in Russia, and that is through company ownership. With no political opposition and cronies heading up the country’s largest companies, the current political structure is in place to maintain Russia as an ATM for the political elite. According to Transparency International Russia,

Since Putin came to office in 2000, Russian officials are estimated to have skimmed some $200 to $300 billion a year from the economy.

The most important job of the Russian government is to ensure that all the stolen money remains hidden and that the system aiding and abetting the pilfering of national assets remains in place. So, even though 93% of Russians believe that the government is not doing enough to combat corruption, Medvedev will not enact meaningful reform and rock the boat he helped build with Putin.

One of the only ways to make Russian political and business elite to take notice, is shareholder activism. By using his minority ownership of state-run companies, Alexei Navalny has shone the spotlight on the mismanagement and embezzlement by government officials. Foreign investors in Russia can do the same by demanding a greater percentage of ownership and management input from Russian companies that seek to tap into international capital markets. From this ownership position, accountability and transparency can start to take root in the Russian economy.

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