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Author Says Soviet Collapse Led To Rise of Criminality in Russia

(Washington, DC -- May 30, 2003) "Criminality and capitalism grew up as twins" following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, said author David Satter at a recent RFE/RL briefing. Satter, who just published a new book on "The Rise of the Russian Criminal State" (May 2003, Yale University Press), argued that this was due to several factors -- Russia rejecting the moral heritage of the West, the close ties that exist between business and corruption, and the legacy of class-consciousness that is entrenched in Russia's elites.

Immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to Satter, young Russian reformers who prided themselves on rejecting communism failed to avoid adopting a "ruling class" philosophy that justified the accumulation of vast wealth. Thus, a small clique "alive with gangsters" and with established ties to Soviet bureaucrats rapidly enriched themselves -- resulting, in Satter's words, in "a new permutation of tyranny."

A senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and Visiting Scholar at John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, Satter said that Russians themselves bear the burden of establishing civil society. In a country such as Russia where ideas matter, he said, "the greatest contribution the West can make is moral influence." He said that Western governments have failed in the past to understand that ethical society and the rule of law are necessary precursors to democratic and economic viability. Their assumption that a moral society would spring from economic reform has resulted in Russia becoming increasingly unstable, Satter said.

Although Western governments can assist with training law enforcement forces and cracking down on criminals, Satter said, Russia also needs a leadership committed to change. However, he does not see any current political figures with the will to implement real reform. Satter noted that a leadership vacuum has been created and a large segment of the population is waiting for it to be filled. "A change of consciousness in Russia is what is going to save the country, and nothing else," he concluded.

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