Some Worrisome Russian Rhetoric at the UNCAC Conference of States Parties

My post a couple days ago expressed some discomfort with the decision to hold the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption in Russia, given Russia’s track record on this issue, and my concern that the Russian government hopes to use this event more as a PR exercise than anything else. Apropos of these concerns, I finally had a chance to watch some of the video from the event, and one particular passage in the opening remarks of Sergei Ivanov (Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office and a Putin crony) caught my attention. Sandwiched in between claims that recent surveys show corruption in Russia is decreasing and descriptions of all the measures Russia is supposedly taking to combat corruption, Mr. Ivanov said (and here I’m transcribing the English simultaneous translation, since I can’t speak Russian):

We firmly believe that anticorruption activities at the international level require clear rules and agreed efforts between countries. Imposing standards, however, which certain countries are not willing to accept, is not acceptable—all the more so, given that we have seen on more than one occasion that when one country establishes standards of behavior, it tends to be that this is unacceptable to other countries, and it can indeed be harmful. In this connection, we believe that when implementing international anticorruption standards, we need at all times to take on board the specificities of each individual state. I would note also that in the Russian Federation the system of anticorruption measures is based on our national legal culture, which takes on board our historical and economic and social development trends, and the general interests of our society.

Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but to me this sounds an awful lot like a veiled warning that the international community, both within and outside the UNCAC review process, should refrain from criticizing Russia (or other countries) for failure to live up to international standards, on the grounds that each state – and Russia in particular – has its own unique circumstances. Of course, at a high level of generality, Mr. Ivanov’s remark is unexceptionable, and UNCAC already makes plenty of allowances for differences in national legal traditions and political systems. But the spirit of UNCAC is very much to hold every signatory country to a higher standard. Insofar as Mr. Ivanov’s statement is meant to suggest that other countries should not be subject to criticism for failure to live up to international anticorruption standards—particularly in the context of the second cycle country reviews, beginning this year—this seems to me contrary to the point of UNCAC and the associated review process.

(For those who are interested, the video of the full opening ceremony, including Mr. Ivanov’s address, is here, and the portion of the speech I quoted above can be found at 2:37:18-2:38:26.)

3 thoughts on “Some Worrisome Russian Rhetoric at the UNCAC Conference of States Parties

  1. Pingback: Some Worrisome Russian Rhetoric at the UNCAC Conference of States Parties | Anti Corruption Digest

  2. This post feels remarkably prescient. Just one day later, this morning the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) published a report finding that the Russian state has not only condoned but effectively sponsored doping, citing widespread bribery of anti-doping officials and secret service agents systematically intimidating lab officials during the Sochi Olympics. The report alleges that Russian authorities destroyed over over 1400 lab samples during the Winter Games. (“Russian Athletes Part of State-Sponsored Doping Program, Report Finds,” New York Times, available at

    The report recommends barring Russian athletes from participating in track and field events in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. I am not familiar with enforcement practices for anti-doping rules, but barring an entire country seems like a very significant proposal.

    While the report found the highest number of anti-doping violations from Russian athletes (225 in the 2013 season), misconduct was widespread. Of 115 countries, Turkey (188 violations), France (108), India (95), and Belgium (94) ranked in the top five worst records. The United States had the 11th worst record, with 43 violations.

    Given the front page attention in the New York Times, this problem seems to be gaining attention.

  3. This is a very interesting post and such statement by a Russian official raises the more general question of the real efficiency of the UNCAC.

    The Convention gives a large flexibility to states to decide how to integrate its principles into their domestic systems. The question is whether this flexibility allows the Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office to state that anticorruption measures need to “take on board the specificities of each individual state” and to what extent these “specificities” could be invoked. The drafters’ intention was certainly to not to allow a state to hide behind these specificities not to take any anticorruption measure.

    In case of failure of a state to implement the convention, a second issue arises: the compliance review mechanism that has been deemed too weak to be fully efficient.

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