The fact that Russia is a corrupt place to live and work is no surprise. But Russia’s continued freefall in transparency rankings — it was recently ranked 154th out of 178 countries — shows that the disease has become terminal, even as Russia’s economy grows steadily. We explore what it’s like to live, work and do business in a place where the greased palm is a normal part of daily life.


  • Alexandra Wrage President, TRACE International
  • Gregory Feifer Senior correspondent for Radio Free Europe; author of "The Great Gamble" and co-author of "Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer"


  • 13:06:41

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, it's "Your Turn" (word?) on our recent series of broadcasts from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, the arrest of the Prince George's County Executive and his wife. The trial beginning today, so to speak, of Congressman Charles Rangel and later Congresswoman Maxine Waters or anything else on your mind. Later in the broadcast, "Your Turn."

  • 13:07:15

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, imagine slipping the cable guy a 50 just to get a line installed, handing your professor a few greenbacks to get a good grade or even greasing the palm of a policeman who stops you for a fabricated traffic violation. For most Russians, this is a normal and expected part of daily life. While it's no surprise that corruption exists in Russia, its depth and scope are getting worse. Last month, the watchdog group, Transparency International, ranked Russia 154th out of 178 countries in its corruption perceptions index.

  • 13:07:50

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThough Russia's president has made public statements about cracking down on his country's culture of corruption, little if anything has been done. And several high-profile protests by corporations, including Swedish retailer Ikea, have brought the issue to center stage in the international community. Joining us in our Washington studio is Alexandra Wrage. She is president of TRACE International, which is a non-profit organization that provides anti-bribery compliant solutions for businesses. Alexandra, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:21

    MS. ALEXANDRA WRAGEThank you, Kojo, very happy to be here.

  • 13:08:23

    NNAMDIGlad you could make it. Joining us from the studios of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty in Prague is Gregory Feifer, senior correspondent for Radio Free Europe. He's also the former Moscow correspondent for NPR. Gregory Feifer, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:38

    MR. GREGORY FEIFERThanks for having me.

  • 13:08:40

    NNAMDIGregory, you've spent a lot of time in Russia, both as a reporter and as NPR's Moscow bureau chief. Can you give us an idea how insidious bribery is in everyday life in Russia?

  • 13:08:53

    FEIFERWell, absolutely. I mean, your introduction gave a picture of it. I'll just tell you that the last piece I produced about corruption I just happened to be in a gypsy cab as a private driver picked me up. And I asked him, as I asked many people, how often do you deal with corruption? And he said, every day. Every day I'm stopped by police, often its several times a day and you have to hand over the usual bribe of about $15. But I said, well, what, you know, what other parts of life do you see it? And he said, well, every part.

  • 13:09:32

    FEIFERHe happened to also be a small business owner and he said that the previous year, the tax police blocked his banking account without telling him anything about it. When he asked about it, he said that they told him that he had lacked -- forgotten to file an important document with his audit. He found the document. It had been filed. And he went to the tax police office to explain. He was waiting for three weeks, coming in every day, waiting in a line that never seemed to end to go to an office he'd been told to go to.

  • 13:10:12

    FEIFERAnd somebody came up to him and said, you know, you can get rid of this problem very quickly. Just go to that office over there and talk to them. So he went to that office. They demanded a $500 bribe and he paid it. He said he had absolutely no choice if he wanted his business to survive. Those kinds of things happen all the time.

  • 13:10:31

    NNAMDIAlexandra, you said recently in a story by Reuters that you were, quoting here, "considerably more optimistic about Nigeria as a place to do business than the Russia. " Why, given what we know about Nigeria?

  • 13:10:43

    WRAGEWell, the corruption in Nigeria is rampant and opportunistic. There’s no question at all that the sort of story that Gregory just described in Russia happens in Nigeria as well. But the difference is, in Nigeria, the most you're likely to suffer is delay and damage to your business, which is serious. But in Russia, at some point, you're going to be threatened personally, your property is going to be threatened. The sorts of tactics you can use to avoid extortion demands in Nigeria just don't work in Russia because the business community, low level government and organized crime are really working in cooperation. So the risk to resisting bribery in Russia is much, much greater.

  • 13:11:30

    WRAGEIn Nigeria, your business is going suffer, but there are tactics that you can bring to bear on that. You can get your embassy involved, business associations. There are strategies for overcoming that, that aren't successful in Russia.

  • 13:11:42

    NNAMDIAre you essentially saying that there's simply no recourse if you're asked for a bribe in Russia?

  • 13:11:47

    WRAGEIt really depends on the nature of bribe. What Gregory was just describing with permits and driver's licenses and that sort of thing, you have the opportunity always to go over the person's head. But bribery is such an ingrained pyramid scheme in Russia that very often the people you're dealing with are paying off the people above them. And everybody has a vested interest in it. It's a just a free-for-all there right now. So you can certainly try to over somebody's head and that may be successful, but we don't hear many of those cases.

  • 13:12:17

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. Do you have first-hand experience with Russian corruption? Have you ever had to pay a bribe for a service? How did you deal with it? 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website, Ask a question or make a comment there. Greg Feifer, tell us a little bit about the examples of four journalists who were apparently beaten severely for reporting on a controversial highway project outside Moscow, apparently attempting to reveal some corruption.

  • 13:12:54

    FEIFERWell, that's right. This is a case of a protected forest outside of Moscow and there have been longstanding plans to build a highway through it that local residents, who have started a protest group that's attracted national attention, international attention, say it's completely illegal. The editor of the local suburban newspaper was beaten. I can't remember if it was last year or the year before. He was beaten and left for dead.

  • 13:13:37

    FEIFERHe had, if I’m not mistaken, a leg amputated, part of his hand amputated and suffered brain damage. He's confined to wheelchair. Others have also been beaten. Just this month, a reporter for a very respected business daily was beaten in Moscow late at night by two men, one of whom was carrying what appeared to be flowers. This is all caught on surveillance camera. And they beat him for about a minute and a half, breaking his legs. He lost a part of his pinkie. He's still in hospital. He's just been brought out of a medically induced coma and this is still headline news in Russia.

  • 13:14:28

    FEIFERAnd it's really brought big attention to the fact that journalists and also lawyers are on the front line, fighting against corruption. But the problem is that it's very much a losing battle because there are very many, many cases of journalists being beaten and killed and almost none of them are solved, including the very high profile cases like the ones we've seen this week.

  • 13:14:54

    NNAMDIWell, since you're talking about lawyers, also you might as well talk about the lawyer for Bill Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital Management, his lawyer, Sergi Magnitsky.

  • 13:15:09

    FEIFERThat's right. This is another case that's brought international attention because of the story is just so outrageous. This is in 2008. Sergi Magnitsky testified that, in court, that police participated in a tax fraud that was worth more than $200 million, the largest ever recorded in Russia. He said that the police carried this tax fraud using companies that they had confiscated. One of these companies was a foreign fund, as you say, called Hermitage Capital, which was once the largest portfolio investor in Russia.

  • 13:15:51

    FEIFERNow, soon after the lawyer testified, he was accused of tax evasion and he was imprisoned without trial for 11 months. During this, at the end of the 11 months, he died after he was denied medical treatment. This caused another of many outcries in Russia. But it also shows how difficult it is to fight against corruption because some of the investigators, very recently, have been given awards. And this is seen as a way of protecting them from possible prosecution. There's a sense that the corruption goes so high up to the very, very top, to the Kremlin, that it's so much a part of the way Russia works that there's very little hope that anything is going to be done about it.

  • 13:16:38

    FEIFERQuite the contrary, the figures for the average bribe double. This year the interior ministry said the average bribe doubled to about $800. Now, last year, they said that -- I'm sorry, from $800 to about $1,400. Last year, the average bribe, according the governments own figures, tripled.

  • 13:17:07

    NNAMDIAlexandra, your non-profit, TRACE International, did a report last year on corruption in Russia. What kinds of bribes did you find out demanded the most in Russia?

  • 13:17:15

    WRAGEReally, bribery is demanded at all levels. From the lowest level of government, the permitting, police officers, customs officials, larger numbers at that level, but we didn’t really find anywhere within the chain of command in the Russian government where bribes weren't demanded. And reports were made even on the highest levels, as Gregory just said. I would just add, too, that Sergi Magnitsky, the lawyer that was just described, won an award in Bangkok on Friday, an integrity award. I attended the ceremony and it was noted, at that time, that corruption fighters in Russia have been -- there have been some very courageous examples, but the awards are almost invariably awarded posthumously.

  • 13:17:58

    NNAMDIAfter they have been killed, in this case, beaten to death. There was a big protest, Greg, was there not yesterday? Some 200 journalists in Moscow. Any likely impact?

  • 13:18:11

    FEIFERI don't think so. The numbers are so small and the authorities are -- sort of toy with opposition groups and protest groups. The mayor of Moscow, who is also famously corrupt or famously accused of corruption, I should say, was recently fired by the Kremlin after occupying his post for almost two decades. And the Kremlin installed a loyal official. And so as part of the campaign against this former mayor, the new Moscow ruler has allowed a little bit of protest. Just a -- I think it was a -- they allowed 200 people to protest.

  • 13:19:03

    FEIFERBut this is seen, by some opposition groups, as a way to be able to crack down against protesters, you know. If they get unruly, the officials can, you know, policemen can crack down and officials can say, well, we gave permission, but you abused your right to protest. So I don't see any positive signs. The numbers are so small and the authorities are so powerful. Russia really is such a police state that, I think, the protesters are quite insignificant.

  • 13:19:33

    NNAMDIAlexandra, who most commonly asks for bribes and how much do they typically ask for? We just heard Greg say that the requests have almost doubled during the course of the last year or two.

  • 13:19:45

    WRAGEWell, I suppose that's a sign of the booming Russian economy. Natural resources bring with it, in countries with low levels of rule of law, greater demands as the economy increases. And that's market driven, I suppose, like anything else. Certainly those interacting with international businesses most are making the most demands. So you just have more opportunities, as a customs official, to hit up companies trying to bring in equipment. You have more interaction with them so you have more opportunity.

  • 13:20:13

    WRAGEBut that can be a little misleading, in some respects, because those tend to be fairly small dollar amounts and that's a very different challenge than an extractive industry going in with tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment that can be held up and lose just a vast amount of money per day because they can't get a part that they need. So if you're trying to get an overnight delivery of something fairly nominal in value, you're going to pay less for it. But if you're trying to get parts or equipment for something that you need very urgently to keep your operations running, you're going to pay more for it. And it's -- it is. It's market driven.

  • 13:20:51

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this discussion of corruption in Russia. Inviting your phone calls at 800-433-8850. Have you ever been asked for a bribe and successfully avoided it? 800-433-8850. And are there situations where you should pay a bribe? You can go to our website,, and make a contribution to the conversation right there or send us an e-mail to or a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:23:02

    NNAMDIWe're talking about Russia's corruption problem with Alexandra Wrage, president of TRACE International, a nonprofit that provides anti-bribery compliance solutions for businesses, Gregory Feifer, senior correspondent for Radio Free Europe. He joins us from studios of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in Prague. Greg, it is my understanding that bribe taking is so engrained that career advancement in Russia often depends on how many palms you grease. Can you explain the system?

  • 13:23:34

    FEIFERWell, absolutely. And I should say that people often ask me, outside of Russia, surely things will change in Russia, now that Russians have the Internet. You know, they can see how the rest of the world lives and there's enough information going around that the authorities can't control. But really, I often find that in the West, Russia is misunderstood. It's often a mystery why sort of the political leaders act the way they do, why Russians act the way they do.

  • 13:24:07

    FEIFERAnd corruption, I think, is a central part of it, not only because if the entire population is corrupt so that everybody's paying bribes, you want to open a small store, you have to bribe the fire inspector and the officials of all types, tax officials, so that it essentially coops a large part of the population. But the second aspect is precisely what you just said. And that is that corruption is the system. Not only do the bribes get passed all the way up to the very top, growing larger as they do, but it informs almost everything the officials do and how they get their jobs. I was recently speaking to a former senior investigator from the prosecutor's office who said that a former colleague of his was recently given a job in the very lucrative custom service.

  • 13:25:04

    FEIFERNow, two weeks after he moved into his new office, somebody visited them and told them that he would have to pay $200,000 to keep his job. This man tried to come up with the money, but he couldn't and he was fired. So, you know, if corruption is very generally defined as abuse of power, I would say it's very difficult to define it in Russia because it encompasses almost everything.

  • 13:25:31

    NNAMDIAlexandra, what kind of effect has this culture of corruption had on Russia's people, the population?

  • 13:25:37

    WRAGEThis extraordinary pessimism, which is another reason why I am, myself, pessimistic about Russia. You have these conversations with ordinary Russians who are clearly fed up with it, not at all sure what they can do, feeling that there are very few tools available to them. Civil society, of course, is hampered in Russia and the reporters, the courageous reporters that cover this, are at risk. So there are very few well-developed stories. But it's interesting, in some respects, how historically engrained they seem to think the problem is. I don't think I've had an extended conversation about corruption in Russia ever without the Russian on the other side referring to Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great.

  • 13:26:17

    WRAGEThey really do have this sort of strong sense that they have been trained historically into accepting this sort of power structure. And it's really a crime of opportunity. And if the opportunity is there, as it is in Russia, supported at the highest levels as it is, then it's very difficult to extricate yourself from that. Certainly bribes paid to employers, as we just heard, but it starts long before then. It starts in the educational system. If you want medical care for your children, if you want your kids to pass exams, very often, regardless of their talent, bribes can make a difference. And it's a pretty natural impulse on the parts of parents. But until we hear more public outcry, that's not going to show.

  • 13:27:01

    NNAMDIWe got some callers who had some experience with this. Here is David in Arlington, Va. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:27:07

    DAVIDHey, Kojo, how are you today?

  • 13:27:09

    NNAMDII'm well.

  • 13:27:12

    DAVIDI'm one of many businessmen in the Washington area who's had some experience working over in Russia. And a lot of folks, Russians and Americans, have simply left Russia. I worked over there for 10 years and when they elected Mr. Krakovsky (ph) who is my client at the Yukos Oil Company we just left the country. And when President Mendvedev recently announced a new innovation initiative to try and diversify the economy, I kind of chuckled to myself.

  • 13:27:44

    DAVIDI was thinking that basically nothing can happen there unless there is some system for readdress and reconciliation of businesses that have been harmed or chased out. And my question is, is that something that's possible under the current Putin-Medvedev's administration or do you see there to be no hope until there is a different change from the top?

  • 13:28:09

    NNAMDIIndeed, Greg, President Dmitry Medvedev promised a major campaign against corruption when he took office in 2008. What have you seen since he made that promise?

  • 13:28:21

    FEIFERThat's a very good point. And what we've seen as we've -- as Alexandra and I discussed, all the statistics showing that bribery and corruption is increasing. Yes, there has been a major anti-corruption drive that's supposedly underway, the last of very, very many anti-corruption drives over the 20 years since the collapse of communism. But people who are tracking corruption in Russia say that almost always anti-corruption drives are really a political tool, essentially to get rid of rivals. So, I mean, I think it's possible to say that an anti-corruption drive almost makes corruption worse because they entrench the current leadership. They entrench those who are on top.

  • 13:29:15

    FEIFERAnd it's -- in this political climate, under this authoritarianism in Russia, it's very, very difficult to see the vector changing. Now, I think political decisions may not fall directly under the definition of corruption. But nevertheless, when the president, as then President Vladimir Putin did in 2005, just decided to abolish regional elections, is that corruption? I would say that corruption has something to do with it. That's an abuse of power. Fixing elections, which happens regularly now in Russia when the authorities in the Kremlin lean on regional politicians, factory bosses, to deliver the vote, may not be a formal definition of corruption, but I think that's part of it. It's the entire system.

  • 13:30:08

    NNAMDIDavid, thank you very much for your call. Alexandra, you spend many weeks out of the year traveling to countries where there's a culture of corruption and advising companies how to avoid or legally navigate cultures where corruption is part of business. What do you say to companies who want to do business in Russia?

  • 13:30:24

    WRAGEYeah, I don't think any good news for companies that are heading into Russia. Most of the companies we talked about, frankly, are extricating themselves from Russia. The -- referring to the most recent initiative, Russian people aren't -- people aren't buying it anymore. There's a new initiative, roughly, every three years. It's not really backed up by any substance. It's a lot of political fanfare and not much else. But a lot of the tactics that we train on to resist extortionate demands to go into a situation with enough information that you won't be held hostage to bribe demands, a lot of that just doesn't work in Russia because it comes at you from all sides.

  • 13:30:58

    WRAGEAnd because if you do go up the chain of command or try to get more senior management involved, the demands increase. There's very little shame around bribe demands. It's just seen as a business transaction. So, you know, frankly, we've developed a lot of pretty interesting techniques and they're pretty ineffective in Russia.

  • 13:31:19

    NNAMDIHere is an e-mail we got from Erika. "As a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan, bribes were a well known part of daily life. I experienced this on traveling to Russia and being stopped by officers who said I did not have the proper immigration forms. I refused to pay and was able to sneak back into Kazakhstan after begging an officer to place an extra stamp in my visa. Living in Kazakhstan, bribe seekers would back off when they found out that I'm an American and would instead return to circulating rumors that I was a spy." Alexandra, you have had an experience in Russia where you were stopped by a police officer who wanted a bribe and you somehow managed to avoid paying one.

  • 13:31:57

    WRAGEIt was at a -- the most recent example was at the airport, actually. And the woman I was speaking to said I was taking too much American cash out of the country, was well within the limits and I brought it in with me. And I followed the requirements to the T. And in that case -- and I think this can be hard, especially for very sophisticated business people to get onboard with this, but sometimes you just have to willfully fail to hear the demand. And what I did in that case was just sort of look a little horrified and say, for a moment there, I thought you were asking for a bribe.

  • 13:32:27

    WRAGEI'm so glad that that sort of thing doesn't go on here. And at that point, she just tossed my passport back to me because it's -- you can make it too embarrassing for them. But that's an option that we have coming from outside of Russia that the Russians don't have.

  • 13:32:40

    NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Mark in Upperville, Va. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:32:46

    MARKYes. I once dealt with a high-ranking Russian diplomat who actually left the country. This is 50 years ago or so. And he's very pessimistic about the future of Russia. And what it essentially boiled down to was his perception of a mindset that had set in with the people maybe as a result of the years under, you know, Soviet rule. But he told me a story. This sums it up. He said there was once a farmer who needed a spike for a railroad line. So he pulled the spike out and as a result, the rail that the train track was on got loose. The train came along, was derailed, hundreds of people were killed, it's a terrible disaster. And the farmer, apparently who pulled the spike, was brought to court.

  • 13:33:32

    MARKAnd the judge said, do you realize what you've done? He said, you pulled the spike out. As a result, the train went off track. And the farmer said, yeah, but I needed the spike. He said, don't you understand? Hundreds of people died because you took that spike. And the farmer answered, yes, but I needed the spike. And what it boils down to is that there is this mindset, you know, it's your individual need, no sense of community responsibility or even social regard that seems to set in with a lot of the people there. And, you know, I don't know if that's the case, maybe your guest can comment on that.

  • 13:34:12

    NNAMDICare to comment on that, Alexandra?

  • 13:34:15

    WRAGEWell, it is interesting that you can use a certain amount of embarrassment to avoid a bribe demand and that's less effective in Russia, I think, for just that reason. I was in Nigeria a couple of weeks ago and somebody asked me for a bribe and I told them I thought he was, you know, contributing to the embarrassment of the issue of corruption in Nigeria and could he rise above that for this exchange. And indeed he did and he was quite charming about it in the end. In Russia, it's such a grab for resources, at this point. There isn't a sense of national pride around the issue.

  • 13:34:46

    WRAGEAnother good comparison is India. You know, India is coming into its own economically and they are fed up with their reputation as a bribe-ridden country. You don't get that sense from Russians at all. And, you know, again, you have a lot of the same problems with very low paid government officials who are encouraged to be entrepreneurial and make up the difference in their pay.

  • 13:35:08

    NNAMDISpeaking of Nigeria, here is Suma in Silver Spring, Md. Suma, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:35:15

    SUMAYes. Two questions before I leave my comment about corruption as related to Nigeria and compared to Russia. The first one, the corruption in Russia, is it cultural or is it something that came about after they were ushered into democracy, as compared to what they used to do during the communist era? And in terms of corruption…

  • 13:35:42

    NNAMDIOkay, let me have that answered. Here's Alexandra.

  • 13:35:44

    WRAGEI would just say that I don't think corruption is ever cultural. Corruption is theft and there isn't any community anywhere that celebrates theft. I think it's a crime of opportunity. And I think the opportunity has been there in Russia since long before the fall of the Soviet Union, and hence, the reference always to Ivan the Terrible. There has been a sense of looking out for yourself against the interests of the state or the czars.

  • 13:36:09

    NNAMDISuma, your turn.

  • 13:36:12

    SUMAOkay, that's good. Now, in terms of corruption in Nigeria, I know people always have a perception that, oh, because of -- perhaps individual experiences with Nigerians, individually, they may consider Nigeria to be so corrupt that no businesses operate there. And that is false. There are so many big, multimillion dollar businesses operating in Nigeria, some even opening factories and plants that are making a lot of money. So I would like to…

  • 13:36:44

    NNAMDIWell, we began the discussion, Suma, by referring to Alexandra's comment that she's considerably more optimistic about Nigeria as a place to do business than Russia. And I think you both have just explained a few of the reasons why, which brings me to Glenn in Washington, D.C. because he raised an issue that, I think, Alexandra or Greg mentioned earlier. But Glenn, you raised it yourself. Glenn, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:37:11

    GLENNYeah, I'm going to agree with the comment that was made about how they don't pay the people so they're expected to raise money by asking for certain things. I think you have to look at -- the policeman thing -- you know, I lived in Russia for a number of years. I worked there. We built some real estate. But the policeman thing, a policeman who pulls you over for speeding when you are, in fact, speeding will ask you to pay him on the spot. So it's different than in the United States where you're supposed to pay at the courthouse or not directly in cash to the policeman. And it's just the way that that system works. And it is the way it has worked for a number of years.

  • 13:37:47

    GLENNThere's a very good book called "Russia Under the Old Regime." It was written many years ago by an author Pipe. He used to teach at Harvard. He's writing about 1700 Russia that perfectly described the world that I knew when I was working there in the '90s. They talk about the people going out and collecting the taxes. And there's a comical scene where one of the officials have lost money gambling the night before so the next day he heads to the village and says, your father the czar, needs the taxes. He's just trying to take care of things.

  • 13:38:15

    GLENNOne funny thing that happened to me when I was there was we were driving once and I had gone away for the weekend to a little (word?) with my family. And I came back and I made the wrong lane turn or whatever and I got pulled over by the police. And the first thought was, oh, no, I just spent all the cash in my pocket buying these baskets on the side of the road. And I wonder if this cop, who is a little bit young looking, wants a nice basket because I don't have any more rubles to give him. So anyway...

  • 13:38:43

    NNAMDIHow'd that work out for you?

  • 13:38:46

    GLENNWell, actually, I found a few rubles. They were -- the first thing I said -- I speak Russian so, you know, you can get in conversations. And they have a sense of humor about this whole situation, not that it -- you know, some of the things you're describing are horrible and I don't want to say there's something funny about the attorney who was killed in prison or any of those things. But the everyday life, they have this phrase, they say (speaks foreign language), you know, what am I going to do, it's Russia? And I think that they do. In my experience, they do back off if you, you know, in some of the situations.

  • 13:39:18

    NNAMDIWhich brings me to this for you, Greg. How about international pressure to publicly embarrass Russia into playing a clean game? Some people would even say how about international sanctions of some kind?

  • 13:39:32

    FEIFERActually, I'd like to start by praising Alexandra's great bribe-evading tactics. I think that's terrific. I'm going to use that next time I'm in Moscow. I don't think international pressure will work. I think this leads to another discussion about Russian foreign policy. But I think that Russia is really very -- the political leaders are very insulated against foreign pressure. People often wonder why Russia does the things that it does. Why does it threaten to direct nuclear missiles at Western Europe? Why does it cut off natural gas supplies to Europe in the middle of a freezing winter? And there are good reasons for this. And one of them is that this, what to us looks like a dysfunctional system from the outside, actually works for Russians.

  • 13:40:28

    FEIFERThis sort of bribe-taking culture, it functions. It doesn't -- it's not good for providing good governance or for encouraging businessmen to go out and produce cars that anybody would want to drive, but it's very good at propagating itself. The corruption that we see today, it's partly a legacy of Soviet corruption which spread so widely in the '70s and '80s. But it's also, as we've mentioned, it's also part of a long-standing centuries old political culture that has really worked for Russia.

  • 13:41:16

    NNAMDIWell, what do you say, Alexandra, to multinational companies like Walmart, Deere & Company, Unilever, all expanding in Russia even as we speak?

  • 13:41:25

    WRAGEI don't know how some of these companies are tackling the challenges. Of course, the larger the company, the more clout they're going to have. And if the Russian government wants their reputation to improve in some areas, they have the power to do that. I would just piggyback on Gregory's remark, though, about the system working to a certain extent.

  • 13:41:43

    WRAGEI agree that it is vaguely functional at some levels, but the Russians are buying themselves a whole different set of problems. The two Chechnyan suicide bombers, about ten years ago, paid about $20 U.S. to circumvent security at the Moscow airport and then the terrorists that attacked the school said that they had actually planned to attack a school further along, but they ran out of bribe money to bribe the Russian police to get past the checkpoints. So there's a security issue here that I think Russia is going to have to come to terms with that goes far beyond the business community.

  • 13:42:16

    NNAMDIThat's all the time we have. Alexandra Wrage is president of TRACE International, a non-profit that provides anti-bribery compliance solutions for businesses. Alexandra, thank you so much for joining us, especially after that long ride you had from Bangkok in order to get here.

  • 13:42:31

    WRAGEThank you.

  • 13:42:33

    NNAMDIGregory Feifer is senior correspondent for Radio Free Europe, former Moscow correspondent for NPR. Greg, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 13:42:42

    FEIFERThank you very much.

  • 13:42:43

    NNAMDINow, to take a short break. When we come back, it's your turn, but you can start calling now, 800-433-8850. Any questions about our live broadcasts from Haiti last week, the spreading cholera epidemic that has now reached Port-au-Prince, any questions or comments about Jack Johnson, the Prince George's county executive and his wife being arrested. Now is your time to weigh in, 800-433-8850. It's your turn. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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