How to curb kleptocrats’ ‘existential threat to democracy’


Credit: NY Times

The irony is that in the century since the Russian Revolution, the “soft” democracies have endured, and the communist system that has collapsed. But the inheritors of the NKVD mantle—the KGB-trained Kremlin elite—believe that the game is not yet over. Their method once again is to use what they believe to be the West’s weakness—decadence and above all, openness—as a weapon against it, notes Neil Barnett, a former foreign correspondent, now CEO of Istok Associates Limited.

Addressing this vulnerability would require resolute action on a number of levels. But it would not and should not be conducted in the form of inquisition, which would be authoritarian and therefore self-defeating. Instead, the most effective defenses would be mostly administrative and bureaucratic in nature, he writes for The American Interest:

  • Reform political funding regulations to reflect this threat. Existing regimes already enshrine the principle that foreign or money or money of unknown origin should not be allowed into party funds. The problem is that their monitoring and enforcement measures are obsolete and ineffective. …ded.
  • The new dimension of threat posed by offshore centers should be recognized. In addition to criminal money laundering, tax evasion and terrorist financing, these jurisdictions pose a grave national security threat to open democratic systems. ….
  • Ensure that political “movements” that act as de facto parties are treated in law as parties and cannot be used to circumvent regulations. This would require yardsticks such as extent of funding, nature of activity and close connection to electoral candidates.
  • Politicians and major funders alike should be required to make full wealth declarations, including disclosure of their tax returns and assets. Romania already applies this rule to parliamentarians in order to deter political corruption, and has seen some success. ….
  • Where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a political figure is financed by a hostile power, then a judge sitting in a closed national security court could mandate the security services, police and prosecutors to mount an investigation. ….

“The purpose of these combined measures would be to disrupt and deter current and future operations by Russia, China or any other power. And if this analysis happens to be wide of the mark and no such plans exist, the measures outlined above would still be needed to ensuring that this remains the case,” Barnett adds. “Either way, it should be emphasized that this threat can only be addressed by reform of institutions, regulations and laws. Witch hunts and gossip are neither helpful or seemly.”


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