Hic Dracones: Corruption across the Caspian

Corruption is an issue and dilemma for every country in the world. No state is immune. No culture has developed a vaccine. Despite this, the issue of corruption and systemic criminality is arguably more important in regions of the world currently undergoing in one form or another democratic transition and entrance into the global market economy.

Their successful consolidation and emergence signals opportunity and prosperity not just for the titular nations in question but for the global community as a whole: the world is indeed a truly interdependent economic amalgamation. As such success or failure does not just elevate or degrade one particular region but carries with it cascade effects that can potentially impact the lives of countless hundreds of millions of people the world over. By utilizing statistical rankings and indexes covering no less than ten categories, a fairly stark picture emerges for the Caspian littoral nations. What it shows is a region clearly struggling to make progress in fundamental aspects of structural freedom and guarantees, which signal a lack of real opportunity for popular prosperity and stability. Worse, when these general rankings are conceptualized within a single graphic at the end of the article, and compared against a modern consolidated democracy fully integrated into the global economy (Germany), the journey still left for the Caspian Five is seen as both long and rocky. This does not mean it cannot be traversed or the Caspian is doomed to eternal political and economic doldrums. But it does arguably mean the road taken so far is likely not the best path to the greatest future.

Below are the rankings provided from numerous quantitative studies collected and freely published by Transparency International. I have compiled the ones most significant for the purposes of ascertaining corruption and structural criminality for the Caspian Five in specific. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranks 175 countries around the world, giving a very sharp and important estimation of how people within the examined countries themselves consider their own problems and challenges. The average Caspian score is a dismal 138 out of 175. Put another way, the Caspian Five score a ‘25’ on a 100-point scale in terms of a general societal corruption perception. The region averages only 13% in terms of controlling corruption governmentally, with Turkmenistan standing out in particular by scoring an absolutely abysmal 2% overall.

The average Rule of Law percentile score for the Caspian region is a low 25%, with Turkmenistan again somewhat wrecking the curve by scoring only 4%. The very interesting Voice and Accountability percentile rank puts the region as a whole at only 13%. While it is true Turkmenistan continues its tradition of bringing up the rear for Caspian countries, scoring a quite laughable 1% overall, Iran also scored in the single digits, achieving only 7% as a score. Ironically, it was Russia that scored the highest in this category, though it was still a relatively poor 21%. Press freedom is a particularly egregious subject matter for the Caspian littoral states: out of 179 evaluated countries around the world, the region averages only 162nd place. Again, Iran and Turkmenistan are the worst offenders, scoring an amazing 175th and 177th respectively out of 179 countries. But again, with the average score of 162, this means every single country surrounding the Caspian has quite a long way to go before it can consider its access to information and freedom of expression to be even slightly adequate. Finally, the undervalued but crucially important survey of judicial independence gives the Caspian region a less-than-stellar 95th out of 142 ranked countries. This score, however, comes with a mitigating caveat as Turkmenistan simply was not able to be included in the evaluation for lack of verifiable data. This of course allows one to conclude that if Turkmenistan had been able to produce a score it would have inevitably only made the regional index worse.


Country Azerbaijan Russia Iran Kazakhstan Turkmenistan Germany
Corruption Perceptions Index 126 out of 175 136 out of 175 136 out of 175 126 out of 175 169 out of 175 12 out of 175
Score 29/100 27/100 27/100 29/100 17/100 79/100
Control of Corruption 9% 13% 20% 15% 2% 93%
GDP 51.77 Billion USD 1.48 Trillion USD 331 Billion USD 149 Billion USD 20 Billion USD 3.28 Trillion USD
Open Budget Index Score 43 60 N/A 38 N/A 68
Judicial Independence 83 out of 142 123 out of 142 66 out of 142 111 out of 142 N/A 7 out of 142
Score 3.4/7 2.6/7 3.8/7 2.7/7 N/A 6.3/7
Rule of Law Percentile Rank 22% 26% 20% 32% 4% 92%
Voice and Accountability Percentile Rank 12% 21% 7% 14% 1% 93%
Press Freedom Index 162 out of 179 142 out of 179 175 out of 179 154 out of 179 177 out of 179 16 out of 179


In vivid contrast to the statistics above, an exemplar country study is provided below in Germany. Each of the ten categories used to evaluate the Caspian littoral states were similarly used on Germany. While it is arguably unfair to compare the Caspian Five with an advanced and stable Western European country, it is nonetheless important to provide a counter-balance case study to show how it is possible to score at the other end of the spectrum with these indexes. Some of the comparative contrast between the two sides is quite dramatic: Germany has a CPI of 12, with corruption control, voice and accountability, and rule of law percentiles all above 90%. Accordingly, both press freedom and judicial independence rankings are extremely high in Germany. In my opinion this is not explained as a testimony to a longer period of time under democratized rule and free-market capitalism in Germany: after all, it was only the middle of the 20th century when that country was under the thumb of extreme fascism. Rather, it indicates that when a country transparently and systematically commits to holistic structural transformation, then dramatic improvement can occur and concretize. In that way the case study can be an inspiration for the Caspian region, if also a rather demanding and uncompromising one.

Finally, for the sake of clarity and graphical review for the readers, all six countries are presented together across six of the most important structural indexes. When done in this way a decidedly negative tendency can be seen within the comparison: when a high positive ranking is desired, Germany stands alone; when a high negative ranking is possible, the Caspian states all seem to score in lock-step with each other, whereas Germany is far off the mark. Most fascinating of all is to see how regional ‘brotherhood’ really does occur, regardless of culture, religion, ethnicity, or history: across the board all five littoral states score remarkably similarly in the six documented categories. This seems to demand that future analysis and research needs to be done on just how pervasive and pernicious corruption tends to be and that solutions and strategies to combat it really cannot rely on traditional sociological or cultural traits and traditions.

A Portrait of Anti-Progress? The Caspian Corruption Table

chart 01


ConCorr% : Control of Corruption Percentage (out of 100%)

Judicial: Assessment of an Independent Judiciary (sample size: 142 nations)

CPI: Corruption Perception Index (sample size: 175 nations)

Rule of Law: Percentile of Structural Commitment to the Rule of Law (out of 100%)

V and A%: Voice and Accountability Percentile (out of 100%)

Free Press: Overall Ranking Estimating Freedom of the Press vs. Government Control (sample size: 179 nations)

This investigation was not conducted to spite or humiliate the Caspian littoral states. Rather it sought to shine an insightful light into the immensity of the problem of corruption across the region, within every state. Ways to fix this issue are likely not forthcoming anytime soon. But that may also be partly explained by an individualistic approach that has prevented the Caspian Five from realizing they are much more likely to be effective by creating strategies that bridge across the region. Just as negative trends tend to breed more negative, so can positive success become a catalyst for future successes across new areas. One can hope this will be the case for the Caspian. Otherwise, the region will remain best designated on corruption maps with the warning Hic Dracones: Here be dragons.

Dr. Matthew Crosston
Dr. Matthew Crosston
Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/