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.)