April 06, 2016

What the Panama Papers Mean for Russia


What the Panama Papers Mean for Russia
Photo: Wikimedia

The Panama Papers is a set of 11.5 million leaked documents revealing vast corruption among the world’s political elite. It’s a big “uh-oh” for Panamanian offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca and the thousands of its previously secret clients revealed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Corruption in Russia may not be news, but the ways the Panama Papers are bringing it to light is full of surprises.

But first, the basics.

Who’s in trouble?

  • First, Sergei Roldugin. Don’t recognize his name from politics? That’s because he’s too busy being a famous cellist and godfather of Putin’s daughter. And with these corruption allegations, he’s certainly living up to his “Godfather” status. But he may have to face the music if he in fact orchestrated these offshore dealings.
  • There’s also Yuri Kovalchuk, head of Bank Rossiya, known as Russia’s “crony bank” – making Kovalchuk the “personal banker” for many senior government officials.
  • Then there are the women associated with the president – from his daughter Katerina to a lady who posed in a “We Love You” pinup calendar for Putin. These ladies have had upscale apartments transferred to them. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
  • Mikhail Lesin, who founded the propaganda TV channel Russia Today before falling out of favor and being discovered dead in Washington, DC last year.
  • And that’s just the humans. State-run financial giants linked to Roldugin’s offshore company are implicated in the corruption, including Bank Rossiya, Vneshtorgbank’s Cyprus subsidiary, and Troika Dialog (an investment company owned by Sberbank).

One person who’s not in trouble: President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. But his best buddies as well as companies close to the Kremlin have millions in their pockets, all gained from deals that are unlikely to have gotten the nod without the patronage of the man in the big chair.

What’s Russia’s response?

1. Find a scapegoat: specifically, the US Government and American billionaire philanthropist George Soros. They are the culprits stirring up the scandal, according to WikiLeaks. Once you unmask a smear campaign for what it is, no one believes it anymore, right?

2. Talk about Putinophobia. According to Spokesman Dmitri Peskov:

"Although Putin does not figure factually, and although other countries and other leaders are referred to, and so on, for us, it is of course obvious that the main target of these leaks was and remains our president, especially in the context of future parliamentary elections, and in the context of the long-term prospects."

And he has a point. Concentrating the whole scandal around President Putin assumes that the other folks involved didn’t have any say in putting a few million extra bucks in their coffers.

3. Protest, weakly. As for what the people have to say, it’s basically the opposite of what happened in Iceland (where thousands of protests demanded the resignation of their prime minister, and got it). Instead, four activists holding placards calling for Putin’s impeachment stood outside the State Duma, and were quickly removed by police.

So, what’s the takeaway?

Some people are going to believe the allegations, and have less faith in the folks up top – just like in Iceland, Argentina, Ukraine, Pakistan, the UK, and other implicated world leaders – not to mention the great nation of FIFA or a host of celebrities. Those people will be disillusioned that huge sums are tucked away in tax havens while many Russians can’t afford cheese.

Others will starkly deny the data presented in the Panama Papers – all of it. Those named in Russia will likely do what Mossack Fonseca did, and claim that the documents were fabricated, or only represent a small fraction of activity.

But it’s the response that matters, rather than figuring out what’s true and what’s false. The Panama Papers show up the stark divides in the Russian economy, and it’s not just the accused who have to face the shock waves of those allegations – whether or not they’re actually spending Russia’s money on international tax havens. Beyond that, people reeling from the ruble’s plummet will have to think about what power means in a society where some folks can – in theory – stash billions in offshore accounts, while most Russians are struggling to make ends meet.

You Might Also Like

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
Steppe / Степь (bilingual)

Steppe / Степь (bilingual)

This is the work that made Chekhov, launching his career as a writer and playwright of national and international renown. Retranslated and updated, this new bilingual edition is a super way to improve your Russian.
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
The Little Golden Calf

The Little Golden Calf

Our edition of The Little Golden Calf, one of the greatest Russian satires ever, is the first new translation of this classic novel in nearly fifty years. It is also the first unabridged, uncensored English translation ever, and is 100% true to the original 1931 serial publication in the Russian journal 30 Dnei. Anne O. Fisher’s translation is copiously annotated, and includes an introduction by Alexandra Ilf, the daughter of one of the book’s two co-authors.
Dostoyevsky Bilingual

Dostoyevsky Bilingual

Bilingual series of short, lesser known, but highly significant works that show the traditional view of Dostoyevsky as a dour, intense, philosophical writer to be unnecessarily one-sided. 
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955