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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Kokh Shows Means Can Sap the Ends




Anatoly Chubais has long argued that in Russia's difficult transition from communism to capitalism, the ends often justify the means. Over the years, this has been the underlying rationale for a lot of unsavory compromises, such as giving enterprise directors perks to push through voucher privatization or selling off state assets to insider banks at bargain prices in return for political support. To some extent, it has worked.


There are, however, some big flaws in this Machiavellian approach, as Alfred Kokh should know. A close ally of Chubais, Kokh has recently been charged with illegally handing out Moscow apartments to government officials, including himself, while he was deputy head of the State Property Committee in 1993. He faces up to 10 years in prison.


Granted, Russian prosecutors can be manipulated, and Kokh has plenty of enemies who could be behind the charges, such as the losers of last summer's auction of a stake in state telecommunications holding Svyazinvest, which he oversaw. And in the Chubais model, the alleged apartment handouts could be seen as a necessary evil to gain corrupt bureaucrats' support for reform. After all, what are a few hundred square meters compared to the greater good of the nation?


But as a government employee, Kokh seems to have had mainly his own good in mind. In a recent interview with the daily Izvestia, defending his moral right to ride around in a Mercedes when he was Russia's privatization chief, he encapsulated his attitude toward civil service.


"Getting a tiny salary, carrying a huge responsibility, living in an aquarium, not having a dacha and making trillions of rubles for the budget, I believed that I should have at least something good -- let it be an automobile," he said. "Or should I breathe gasoline fumes in a Volga on my way to work?"


Reasonable. Government officials deserve some perks. But apparently the same attitude allowed Kokh, while in office, to accept a $100,000 payment from an accounting firm tied to Uneximbank -- the winner of the Svyazinvest auction -- allegedly as an advance for an unpublished book on privatization. Or, along with Chubais and others, to accept a separate $90,000 advance from another Uneximbank-affiliated company, also for an unpublished tome on privatization.


There is much more at stake here than just some apartments or extra spending money. Chubais and his team promised to help bring Russia out of its dysfunctional Soviet past into a more prosperous, equitable future. In doing so, at least for the short time they spent in government, they should have held themselves to a higher standard than their predecessors. Instead, they let their means get out of hand, and as a result, they have undermined their illustrious ends.