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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ruling Class Should Be a Bit Smarter

As long as Pavel Borodin sits in a U.S. jail awaiting possible extradition to Switzerland, the Kremlin is torn between two of its professed values: "patriotism" and "dictatorship of law." Of course, in reality both concepts are nothing more than demagoguery: Kremlin bosses care no more about "the honor of the state" than they do about any genuine kind of legality.

However, Kremlin PR masters have used both of these terms to muddle the electorate and so now they face a quandary: Either we must — in the name of patriotism — insist on the sovereign authority of our officials to take bribes and steal from our citizens or we must — in the name of strict legality — cooperate with a foreign investigation of a top government official.

Some officials have already made their choice. In favor of corruption, as might be expected. After all, they ask themselves, if we are going to let our corrupt officials be prosecuted in foreign courts, what will happen to us? Russia's ruling class will no longer be able to vacation abroad!

Kremlin imagemaker Gleb Pavlovsky has already called upon the elite to unite in defense of poor Borodin. And, given the nature of our elite, they probably will in the end. Even if this seems to contradict generally accepted political logic.

In a democratic society, the mere fact that a person is being investigated or officially accused of criminal activity would dictate that he immediately resign. We've seen this hundreds of times, most recently in Britain, Germany, India, the Philippines, etc. We just saw how the president of the Philippines — on the strength of mere accusations, not convictions — resigned. We saw it in Peru as well. In that case, the president was accused only of covering up the crimes of his underlings.

I don't mean to imply that the Philippines or Peru have more democracy than we do. Neither would I suppose that they have less corruption than we have. Officials steal everywhere, even in flourishing Western nations. The only difference is that in such countries they don't act as brazenly.

The real point is that the ruling elite in the Philippines and Peru simply have more common sense than Russia's. They understand that by standing up for their bribe-takers, they simply undermine the credibility of the political and social principles that lie at the base of their own elite status. They know better than to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and so the tainted official is quickly shuffled off the stage, usually in exchange for avoiding a trial that could embarrass the whole establishment. The disgraced official slinks off to his villa to live off the money he's stolen, and another member of the elite takes his place at the government trough.

Russia's ruling elite does not stand out in terms of its level of corruption, but in terms of the level of its impudence and stupidity. Only in Russia do we take an official who is already under serious investigation and appoint him to another high state post. As the old political saw goes, that is worse than a crime; it's a mistake.

As a result, we have no choice but to complain about the Swiss prosecutors and, for their part, they have no choice but to continue their investigation (which, by the way, was originally a joint venture with Russia!). Our propagandists don't understand that a mere phone call can't shut down an investigation in the West. Western elites have to maintain the credibility of their own legal systems after all.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.