January 13th, 2011

Why Risk Russia?

News of corruption-related crimes involving top government officials and large bribes increasing 100% in 2010 year-on-year in Russia comes as studies in geopolitical risk and economic opportunities reiterate Russia’s decline. Two notable studies on business risk came out this week, Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom and Maplecroft’s Political Risk Atlas.

In the Heritage Foundation report, Russia remains in the bottom quintile and is only 0.6 points away from being in the “repressed” category of the index.

Russia scores very low in the categories Freedom from Corruption, Investment Freedom and Property Rights. From the summary report

Economic freedom is severely challenged in Russia. While strong returns from hydrocarbons have buoyed its economy, prospects for sustained, long-term diversification and growth remain dim…Pervasive corruption and limited respect for property rights hinder the development of economic activity that is free from government control or influence. Macroeconomic instability is a drag on economic growth.

In the Maplecroft report, the focus is widened to include political risks as well as emergins risk areas, notably structural risk affecting long-term infrastructure stability. Widening the scope of the survey seems to dampen Russia’s prospects further as Russia moved into the “extreme risk” category of their study for the first time. Russia is ranked 10th most risky country, sandwiched between Pakistan at number 9 and the Central African Republic at 11.

Political Risk Index 2011 (Dynamic) © Maplecroft, 2011

Russia’s extreme risk rating is exacerbated by the increased activity of militant Islamist separatists in the North Caucasus region. In 2010, terrorist attacks in this area doubled. Additionally, the business and investment environment in Russia is under a lot of pressure from the government. The Maplecroft study summarizes Russia’s business climate this way,

The country’s poor performance is compounded by its “extreme risk” ratings for its business environment, corporate governance and the endemic nature of corruption, which is prevalent throughout all tiers of government.

Challenges for companies operating in Russia also stem from an ineffective legal and regulatory system, which includes a lack of judicial independence from the government. This was most recently in the politicised case agained jailedYukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which most commentators dubbed a show trial.

Maplecroft also sees worsening stuctural issues for the BRIC countries and particulary Russia. In Ariel Cohen’s analysis of the Khodorkovsky verdict, he sees a “telephone” law at work where “a system in which punishments are triggered by phone calls from higher ups”

Given all this evidence, why risk Russia?

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