Medvedev Soldiers On in Corruption Battle

President Dmitry Medvedev pledged on Tuesday that the August war with Georgia had not pulled the government's attention away from reforms, highlighting a key package of anti-corruption legislation to be introduced in the State Duma this week.

Speaking at the first meeting of the Anti-Corruption Council, formed in May, Medvedev called graft "a grave disease that eats away at our economy and corrodes the whole society," adding that the four bills being sent to the Duma were aimed at rooting out corruption by protecting property rights, strengthening the country's law enforcement and court systems, and eliminating myriad barriers faced by businesses.

Medvedev used the speech to answer critics who have said the war over South Ossetia buried all hope for a more liberal course for the government, saying that reforms would continue.

"Voices can now be heard saying that after events like the August crisis in the Caucasus, for example, Russia will put this work aside and won't act," he said, referring to anti-corruption measures, in comments released by the Kremlin. "On the contrary, we'll be undertaking this just as energetically."

Under the plan, the prime minister, deputy prime ministers, federal ministers and their family members would be required to make public declarations of their assets and income. The legislation would require state officials to inform their superiors of any known cases involving corruption and would also require officials who leave government jobs to get permission from their former bosses before accepting jobs with companies they dealt with while in office, Sergei Naryshkin, Medvedev's chief of staff, said after the meeting.

The package includes a main anti-corruption bill and amendments to 25 current laws, among other measures, he said, adding that they would be submitted over the next two days.

Present for the meeting were Federal Security Service director Alexander Bortnikov, Supreme Arbitration Court Chairman Anton Ivanov, Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin, Medvedev's top economic aide, Arkady Dvorkovich, and Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina.

The council meeting comes after Medvedev approved a national plan to combat corruption on July 31.

Experts and officials alike say corruption has become a way of life in Russia and is an ever-increasing burden on the economy. Medvedev himself earlier this year called the practice of paying for government posts "outrageous."

Transparency International, a watchdog group, said corruption in Russia is at its worst level in eight years. In its annual survey released last month, the Berlin-based organization ranked Russia 147th in the world — even with Bangladesh, Kenya and Syria — in transparency and rule of law.

And most Russians seem to agree. Despite Medvedev's pledge to tackle what he has labeled "legal nihilism," a survey by polling agency VTsIOM released last month revealed that 74 percent of respondents said the level of corruption in the country was "high" or "very high."

Anti-corruption analysts like Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, an advocacy group, said the authorities have moved in the right direction, but the legislation contains many loopholes that could undercut the plan.

For example, Kabanov said, it considers only spouses and underage children as family members of state officials who would be required to provide personal financial information, so it won't apply to grown children or other relatives.

He also said it was unclear who would be authorized to give high-ranking executives at state-run companies, for example, permission to join private companies with which they had contact while in office.

On the bright side, Kabanov added, the package follows Russia's ratification of the United Nations Convention against Corruption and includes many of the stipulations spelled out in that document and in a Group of Eight declaration on fighting corruption and other international documents.

Skepticism, however, seemed to prevail.

"Those proposing the anti-corruption measures are the very functionaries that have been elected thanks to corruption," said Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst with Indem, a think tank. "It's ridiculous."

Critics charge that the March vote that brought Medvedev to power was neither free nor fair.

Korgunyuk also said he doubted that pledges to continue with liberal reforms would bear fruit.

"Of late, liberal words have gone hand in hand with a tightening of the screws," he said.

The doubt that corruption will ever be rooted out in the country is deeply ingrained in public attitudes, and reporters joked after Tuesday's meeting that the new law would mean that government officials wanting a job at a company they had dealings with while working for the government would now have to bribe their superiors, too.

Medvedev himself cautioned that the adoption of the legislation might be less important than its "meticulous implementation" afterward.

"As you understand, there are more, rather than fewer problems here," he said.