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Putin vs Navalny, what’s the score?

The week in corruption, 22 January 2021

On 21 August 2020, a protester in St. Petersburg stands with a poster that reads 'One for all and all for one.' Photo: Konstantin Lenkov / Shutterstock

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Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t say his fiercest critic Alexey Navalny’s name in public but the two men made global headlines this week – together.

On Sunday night, the Berlin-Moscow flight bringing Navalny home after his five-month stay in Germany was unexpectedly diverted to a different airport where the police detained him upon arrival.

Our colleagues at Transparency International Russia called out the authorities for repressive measures against the opposition leader and anti-corruption activist, urging them “to be guided not by considerations of political expediency, but by the principles of justice and the rule of law.”

The reaction of Russian society to what is happening with Navalny serves as yet another confirmation of how acute and painful the problem of corruption is for our country, reads Transparency International Russia's statement.

Read the statement

Many world leaders were also quick to condemn Navalny’s arrest and called for his immediate release.

But he will be kept in jail at least for a month, already missing a hearing dedicated to his poisoning at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Absent, too, was the Russian government who, despite an invitation, did not send a representative to this hearing.

Russian government has also warned against country-wide demonstrations planned for Saturday, detaining some of the members of Navalny's team yesterday.

Last summer, Navalny’s poisoning by, what’s confirmed to have been, a deadly nerve agent Novichok sent shockwaves around the world.

While recuperating in Germany, Navalny joined the Bellingcat team in investigating his murder attempt. The findings implicated Russian security services both in the poisoning and its subsequent cover-up.

And, as it turned out this week, Navalny was involved in at least one other big project during his stay in Germany.

On Tuesday, his team dropped a bombshell investigation into a secretive estate on the Black Sea coast allegedly owned by none other than President Putin himself. The two-hour-long accompanying video has already been viewed more than 58 million times on YouTube.

Putin's 'palace', as seen on the video released by Navalny's team on YouTube

The investigation details suspicions that proceeds of corruption may have built ‘Putin’s palace’, which is estimated to have already cost US$1.35 billion.

The President’s spokesperson has dismissed the allegations as ‘nonsense’ but what will Russian people make of it?

A few weeks ago, Transparency International Russia’s public opinion poll showed that 44 per cent of Russian citizens believe corruption is widespread at the highest levels of their government.

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Transparency International Russia, 23 December 2020: Attitudes of the Russian people towards corruption (in Russian)

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These results are not too different from the findings of our 2016 Global Corruption Barometer, where 38 per cent of Russians said government officials are the most corrupt.

The extent of high-level corruption in Russia has also been documented by exposés such as the Troika Laundromat, a 2019 investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

At the risk of sounding like an old record – which is also how Russian government spokesperson has described Navalny’s latest investigation – here’s another reminder: Russia consistently receives poor scores on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

On the 2019 CPI, the country scored 28 out of 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. The score is less than the average score for the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region.

Will Russia do any better this year? We’ll know soon enough: 2020 CPI is launching next Thursday, 28 January.

The 26th annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) – the leading global indicator of public sector corruption – will be released on 28 January 2021 at 06:01 CET.

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