There was a Cold War-era saying – attributed to various Western leaders, including Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Schmidt – that mocked Russia as being nothing more than “Upper Volta with missiles.” These days, when it comes to corruption, Russia can only wish it compared favorably to Upper Volta.
The recently released Corruption Perception Index for 2013, compiled by the watchdog group Transparency International, ranks Russia 127th out of 177 countries surveyed. Burkina Faso, the name that Upper Volta adopted back in 1984, ranked 83rd, one of the better results among West African states.
As for other formerly Soviet countries, the latest Transparency International index presented a depressingly familiar picture: most states in the Caucasus and Central Asia are cesspools of graft, some more malodorous than others.
Central Asia in general could be described as a rabbit hole of venality. Once again, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan found themselves near the very bottom of the rankings, tied in 168th place with Syria. Tajikistan (154th) and Kyrgyzstan (150th) did not lag far behind. And Kazakhstan took a wrong turn compared with its 2012 ranking, registering 140th this year.
The Caucasus was comparatively cleaner, though still rather rank. Azerbaijan (tied with Russia in the 127th place) and Armenia (94th) both made slight progress this year over 2012’s results. Meanwhile, Georgia was the region’s shining star, making a strong year-on-year improvement to come in at 55.
Elsewhere, Ukraine ranked a disturbingly low 144th, and Moldova came in 102nd.
Underscoring the extent to which corruption has begrimed Russian officialdom, US law enforcement officials recently unsealed an indictment charging dozens of current and former Russian diplomats with insurance fraud for allegedly bilking at least $1.5 million from the American Medicaid system. Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, groused that the allegations should not have been made public. “This is no more than cheap PR and an attempt to fulfill an order by Russophobes in the US," he said, in comments distributed by Russian news agencies.