Authors: Sergey Markedonov and Alexander Dubowy
Since 2019, the Institute for Security Policy (Vienna) has held several expert seminars on Black Sea issues, where representatives of the European Union, the United States, Russia and the former Soviet countries in the Black Sea Region have already identified existing contradictions between the sides, as well as areas of common interest. The seminars provide an atmosphere for experts to openly discuss a broad range of ideas and development scenarios. In this regard, we would like to summarize the positions for further discussion both within the Vienna format and outside it.
The Black Sea Borders
Any discussion about the Black Sea should be prefaced with the fact that the region’s borders are not clearly fixed. Generally speaking, when discussing the situation in the region, politicians and experts tend to refer not only to the six countries that have a coastline on the Black Sea (Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine) but also to neighbouring states. It is, thus, no coincidence that the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) founded 28 years ago (if we consider the Bosphorus Statement its constituent declaration) includes Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Moldova and Serbia among its ranks. It is difficult to imagine Georgia’s politics not being influenced by the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Similarly, the Transnistrian Settlement Process, and the development of Moldova as a whole, are inextricably linked to Romania and Ukraine. Turkey is a strategic ally of Azerbaijan and the primary geopolitical opponent of Armenia. Meanwhile, Russia is looking for ways to build up its positions in the Balkans. The self-determination of the former Serbian Autonomous Province of Kosovo is of vital importance to the Black Sea Region as a whole. Some see it as an example of “humanitarian intervention” and so-called “remedial secession” to prevent genocide . Others insist that it has set a dangerous example that provokes separatism and instability. Still, others see it as a consequence of external interference aimed at redrawing borders or setting a precedent for disputed territories to secede sooner or later from their “mother countries.”
As the Austrian political commentator and lawyer Benedikt Harzl quite rightly points out, “The International Court of Justice failed to provide clear guidance concerning the effects of successful secession in its advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Particularly its main legal finding, according to which ‘general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence’ was correspondingly acclaimed by the authorities of a couple of de facto states including Abkhazia […]. This legal nebulousness, combined with the perceived one-sidedness of Western states in the case of Kosovo, will strengthen the position of de facto authorities to opt for nothing other than maximal demands such as independence and state sovereignty” . This is precisely the meaning of the so-called “Kosovo independence precedent,” no matter the extent to which it differs from the case of the South Caucasus or that of Transnistria. Recognizing its legal uniqueness, we should bear in mind that the case of Kosovo has gone far beyond the scope of exclusively legal discussions and has to some extent taken on a life of its own.
Conflicts and Foreign Policy Competition
Today, the Black Sea Region is quite literally overflowing with unresolved ethnopolitical conflicts. It is here where the interests of world powers and various integration associations intersect. Almost all the unrecognized and partially recognized entities of the former Soviet space are located in the Black Sea Region. It was here that the Belovezha Accords were, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, called into question as the last word in the delineation of the borders between the former member states. The establishment of Russian jurisdiction over a strategically significant part of the Black Sea (the Crimean Peninsula) brought about the biggest confrontation between Russian and the West since the end of the Cold War.
Leading international players have always viewed the Black Sea Region as being “up for grabs.” From the Siege of Ochakov to the “Battle for the Straits” there are countless examples of states competing for the region. Today, we are witnessing fierce rivalry between Russia and the West for influence over the geopolitical space stretching from the South Caucasus to the Balkans. However, this familiar picture requires a certain touch-up.
In recent years, one of the dominant features of the rivalry on the Black Sea – namely Russia–Turkey relations – has changed significantly. In the past, the Russian and Ottoman empires found themselves on opposite sides in no fewer than 12 wars (if you count the Turkish front in the First World War). And today, relations between Moscow and Ankara, although pragmatic in nature, can hardly be called ideal. The sides differ on a multitude of issues, from the status of Crimea and the prospects for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to the territorial integrity of Georgia. At the same time, Turkey (which has the second-largest army in NATO in terms of manpower) does not blindly follow Washington’s lead on all matters. Especially when it comes to the “internationalization” of the Black Sea, which the United States, of course, sees as the strengthening of its positions. Moscow and Ankara are also both interested in establishing pragmatic economic relations, while Sofia and Bucharest (officially allies of Turkey) are concerned about Russia and Turkey forming a kind of “Eurasian Alliance.”
The case of Kosovo described above is not so simple. Paradoxically, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Romania and Moldova all share the same position when it comes to not recognizing the independence of the former Serbian Autonomous Province. Yet, their views on ethnopolitical conflicts in the former Soviet countries are diametrically opposed. And herein lies the second fundamental problem of the Black Sea Region, an issue that is usually obscured by the shadow of “big geopolitics,” namely, the plurality of the Black Sea countries and the complicated national construction processes that take place inside them. And it is precisely these processes that which give rise to conflicts.
This is especially true of the post-Soviet contingent of this most turbulent of regions. The famous Georgetown University Professor of International Affairs and Government Charles King rightly noted that the post-Soviet order in the Caucasus (and this formula can quite easily be transposed onto Ukraine’s relations with Moldova) was not the natural result of the desire of individual nations for independence, but rather a reflection of the ability of the global community to accept one kind of secession but reject another. As a result, the secession of former republics from the USSR became legitimate by means of international recognition and membership in multilateral organizations. At the same time, the subsequent disagreement with this choice in the de facto entities that appeared during the collapse of a single country was seen as nothing but futile attempts to rationalize the whims of the separatists .
How Do We Maintain the “Blossoming Complexity”?
Those who have kept a close eye on security developments in the Black Sea Region generally agree that acceding to NATO was a good idea. For example, the Turkish political scientist Mitat Çelikpala and his Greek colleague Dimitrios Triantaphyllou state that “three of the six littoral states are NATO members (Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria) and two others (Ukraine and Georgia) seek to enhance their relationship with NATO.” At the same time, we would like to note that if Çelikpala and Triantaphyllou support the territorial integrity of Georgia and Ukraine (which is certainly true), then they must at the very least recognize that opinions are split on the matter. Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea and the “people’s republics” of Donbass do not see Washington or Brussels as guarantors of their security, but rather Moscow. Like it or lump it, it is a fact that must be taken into consideration.
Meanwhile, a recent sociological study conducted by Rating Group Ukraine (published on December 19, 2019) revealed that 52 per cent of respondents said that they would vote in favour of joining NATO in a referendum, while 30 per cent would not. Rating Group has carried out the survey every year for the past five years, and only once before has the number of people in favour of joining NATO exceeded 50 per cent, in November 2014 (51 per cent “for” and 25 per cent against). We should note that the study was carried out in all regions of the country, with the exception of the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics and, of course, Crimea. Even with these regions excluded, we can still see a definite political divide in the country (people living in the western and central regions are more in favour of joining NATO than their compatriots in the east).
This leads to an extremely important point: people in Russia are troubled by NATO’s march towards its borders and are looking for checks and balances when it comes to the sides’ Euro-Atlantic aspirations. And they are not the only ones, as various groups in the Black Sea countries (including residents of unrecognized republics as well as those living in individual regions of legitimate states such as Gagauzia in Moldova and the eastern regions of Ukraine) share these sentiments. And it is extremely dangerous when internal differences are supplemented with geopolitical rivalry and attempts to use the confrontation between external players in their own fight for power. Ignoring the “blossoming complexity” of the Black Sea and attempting to reduce its diversity to a single denominator hamstring the region in terms of the progress it could make. Before any substantive agenda (be it the economy or the environment) can be drawn up, the problem of regional security has to be resolved because no initiative can be effective without a level of mutual trust.
In this respect, the number one task right now is to work together to ensure the security of the Black Sea. This can be achieved through comprehensive dialogue that is based not on the supposed superiority of “Western civilization,” but instead on multilateral interests. The stabilization of Eurasia, if it happens, will start on the coast of the Black Sea.
Since there are no simple solutions for such a complicated geopolitical space as the Black Sea, it could make sense to turn to the almost forgotten concept of permanent neutrality to achieve positive results. At the very least, it could be introduced into the discussion on the expansion of NATO and the ramifications of joining the organization (nothing but good, as far as the West is concerned, but a challenge in the eyes of Russia). Permanent neutrality may become an interesting option for maintaining geopolitical and geo-economic balance in the Black Sea countries. It could also be beneficial to both Russia and the West as a whole. Moreover, the Austrian concept of neutrality could serve as an example in this situation. By this, we do not mean copying wholesale or transposing the unique experience of one country onto another.
Neutrality as a Way out?
Austria declared neutrality in 1955. In doing so, it also committed to never joining military alliances or allowing foreign forces to enter its territory. While the country had never intended to become a neutral state, over time, the authorities began to realize that neutrality can be an instrument for uniting society and creating a national identity. In the early years of the Second Austrian Republic, neutrality became synonymous with independence and helped Austria form a strong identity for the first time since the collapse of Austria-Hungary.
When talking about neutrality – and the Austrian concept of neutrality in particular – we must remember that there is no one true concept of what neutrality actually means. Just like Austria built its understanding of neutrality based on the Swiss model, the Black Sea countries can learn from others to develop their own flavour of neutrality. Neutrality is a complex and multifaceted process, not a dogma or “bargaining chip.” Rather, it is a way of life. Similarly, neutrality is not a cure-all but is a long-term public policy process. We should add that a country cannot declare neutrality without the great powers having first defined the rules of the game. Switzerland adopted neutrality as a result of the Concert of Europe that took shape following the Napoleonic Wars and the ensuing Congress of Vienna. The Austrian model of neutrality was precipitated by the U.S.–Soviet consensus on the future of the country following the Second World War.
The Law of Neutrality alone is not enough. A broad discussion with the involvement of civil society is needed. And this discussion, along with the relevant state and political activities, should touch upon all facets of the matter at hand. This is the most important thing. But it is also important that neutrality not be an end in itself, because neutrality is not a replacement for a robust state strategy. A discussion can serve as a starting point and a kind of catalyst for a conversation on the future of statehood, national interests of multi-ethnic communities, the role of the countries in the region and relations with key actors on the international stage.
What is more, neutrality does not preclude bilateral and multilateral cooperation, including with Russia or NATO. The changing world order and the lack of trust between the collective West, Russia and certain Black Sea countries mean that neutrality could and should be rewarded with multi-vectored economic cooperation. As such, it will help the Black Sea countries diversify their foreign policies and develop partnerships with other centres of power that are involved in the region’s politics.
*Alexander Dubowy, Scientific Coordinator at the Center for Eurasian Studies, University of Vienna
From our partner RIAC
Vidmar J. Remedial Secession in International Law: Theory and (Lack of) Practice // St Antony’s International Review. 2010. Vol. 6. No. 1, pp. 37–56.
For more, see the author’s argument in: Nationalism and Politics of the Past: Harzl B. The Cases of Kosovo and Abkhazia // Review of Central and East European Law. 2011. No. 36 (2). pp. 53–77.
King C. The Ghost of Freedom. A History of the Caucasus. Oxford and NY. Oxford University Press. 2008, p. 315.
War to End or War to Follow?
“It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1st deadline”. These were the recent words of US president Joe Biden in his address to the impending US withdrawal of Afghanistan. Whilst his opinion paints a ghastly picture for the forthcoming months, the negotiations run rampant to strike the common ground. However, with continued attacks being launched by the Taliban followed by incessant threats to the US regime to withdraw its troops by the agreed deadline, a hard stance seems legitimate both from the US front and the NATO: both facing a quandary that could either end the decades’ long warfare or fuel insurgency for decades to come.
The US invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11th Attacks in 2001. Although the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003 followed a similar suit, the stint lasted only 26 days in a massive scale drive to disarm Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction; allegedly in tandem with the looming threat posed to the United States by the World Trade Centre debacle. However, the invasion of Afghanistan proved to be one of the costliest wars; both in terms of artillery and military men.
Cited as one of the rarest areas of agreement between President Biden and his predecessor, Mr. Donald Trump, both favoured the ‘Bring an end to the endless war’ slogan. Before leaving the office, Mr. Trump signed a waiver to ordain the Pentagon to level down the US troops in Afghanistan to 2500 troops, bypassing the reservations of the congress to retain the level at 4000 troops. President Biden, despite being prudent of the hasty withdrawal, rejoiced the idea to bring the soldiers back. In line with his narrative, the US recently proclaimed to withdraw the remaining combat forces from Iraq whilst retaining only the training forces in the country. The 3rd round of talks between Washington and Iraq culminated with the joint statement: “Based on the increasing capacity of the ISF [Iraq Security Forces], the parties confirmed that the mission of U.S. and Coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq, with the timing to be established in upcoming technical talks”.
It is evident that the US wants to enact the plan to bring back the troops, however, Afghanistan poses a paradox in comparison to Iraq. While alleged Iran-backed militants continue to lock horns with both the ISF and the US troops, the US has consolidated a stronger hold evidenced by the recent rebuttal via airstrikes against the Iran-backed militants in Syria. The US holds the premise that Iran seeks economic relief and thereby has no incentive to disrupt the peace but to maintain it. Similarly, the US wants to make a compromise with Iran via renegotiating the JCPOA accord, with a possibility of stretching the ambit to include Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program and the regional proxy wars purportedly financed by Iran, before a hard-line administration takes over the Iranian parliament later this year. So, with a fledgling Iraqi military and expanding prospects of negotiation with Iran, the US could safely pull out the troops whilst still maintaining pressure and presence in the guise of militaristic training in Iraq.
Afghanistan paints a graver reality in contrast. Despite rounds and rounds of negotiations over months, the continued violations of the agreement by the Taliban are making it riskier to draw out the troops. While the US wants to maintain its presence in the country, the wavering Ghani-administration adds oil to fire. A war that has claimed more than 2500 US soldiers and millions of civilians could face an impasse as the 3-week timeslot narrows over the decision-makers. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, has repeatedly claimed that the Taliban have not fully lived up to the commitments they made in the February 2020 agreement: “Violence levels are too high for a durable political settlement to be made”.
The Biden administration, CIA, and NATO face a dilemma to decide the mechanism of withdrawal before the clock ticks through. As the terror groups propagate in the neighbouring Middle East, an unplanned withdrawal could drive the entire region into jeopardy. This might be the primal concern of president Biden and the Pentagon. The flailing ISIS could find haven in the political fiasco the unravels after the US completely withdraws from the country, leaving the Afghani government at the whims of the insurgents. However, expecting a complete withdrawal is just naivety. The US is known to covertly operate hundreds of secret bases in cahoots with NATO throughout the infringed nations. While it’s supposedly claimed that the Taliban are privy to the location of the bases in Afghanistan, nothing definitive could be added in edgewise to the argument.
An alternative, and quite a plausible notion at present, could be an outright refusal to withdraw the troops before the Taliban strictly adhere to their side of the deal. The resulting warfare would subsume the past 2 decades of mayhem. The deal would most likely completely crumble and perish. The evidence is scattered over the last three months. In March, the attack on the Afghan security checkpoint in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz left 6 soldiers dead. An attack a few days ago in the province of Herat left 9 Afghan police personnel dead when the Taliban militants targeted two police checkpoints. The recent blow came when the Taliban attacked the NATO airbase in Kandahar: a base frequented by 100s of US troops. The brazen attitude and timing of the attacks could not send a clearer message of warning to follow the deadline.
President Biden faces a choice now. While the cards are clustered and the consequences are muddled, the foremost decision hangs: How to go about the negotiations? Whilst made abundantly clear that the troops might not withdraw completely from Afghanistan, he confidently patched his perspective by adding:“Can’t picture the US troops still being in Afghanistan next year”. So, while the agreement stands to make a safe withdrawal, the deadline of May 1st poses a challenge if the exceeding violence alludes to any clue. With mounting pressure from the republicans and a synonymous example of withdrawal in Iraq, President Biden should ideally emphasize on withdrawal of the troops, even if not entirely. This would allow the Biden administration to elongate the negotiations to quench violence instead of retreating without question. However, execution is the key. Deviating from the agreement forged by Mr. Donald Trump or taking an aggressive stance could easily incite the chaos further: making the Afghan war translate into Biden’s war for decades to follow.
Dual Use Technology Imports Aiding Pakistan’s Covert Nuclear Programme
A recent threat assessment report by the Norwegian security agencies reportedly highlighted the unhindered exploitation of dual use technology by Pakistan. Norwegian authorities have determined Pakistan to be among the countries posing greatest threat to them. With this report, Norway became the latest country to raise alarm about the ‘Pak’ practice of bypassing all international safeguards in gaining latest nuclear technology on the pretext of using it for education and health.
However, Norway is not the only country to realise the immense risk stemming from transferring critical technologies to Pakistan. Its assessment follows several other countries’ public acknowledgement of the nuclear threat posedby Pakistan. Czech Republic in its report titled “Annual Report of the Security Information Service for 2019” also drew global attention towards Pakistan misleading the world in procuring internationally controlled items and technologies to aid its nuclear programme.
The evidence of Pakistan’s covert nuclear programmes go well beyond these reports. In 2019,the US Department of Justice indicted five persons associated with a Pakistan based front company for operating a network that exported US origin goods to Pakistan. The indictment identified 38 separate exports involving 29 different companies from around the country between September 2014 and October 2019. The network used to conceal the true destinations of the goods in Pakistan by showing front companies as the supposed purchasers and end users. However, US Justice Department statement disclosed that the goods were ultimately exported to Pakistan’s Advanced Engineering Research Organization (AERO) and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission without export licenses. Both AERO and PAEC are on the US Commerce Department’s Entity List, which imposes export license requirements for organizations whose activities are found to be contrary to US national security or foreign policy interests.
Similarly, German authorities disclosed in 2020 that Pakistan had sought technology for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) “in order to retain a serious deterrent potential against ‘arch enemy’ India”. The agency provided a detailed account of Pakistan’s efforts to steal information and material about nuclear weapons.
However, to fulfill its destructive agenda, Pakistan does not shy away from using the name of its poor public and students. Its government has repeatedly claimed that it seeks the dual use technologies for social and economic upliftment of the country by utilizing the technology in its health and education sectors.
But, these baseless arguments no longer seem to cut the ice with western countries. Meanwhile, on their part, Pak officials have complained against the latest Norwegian report on grounds that other countries may deny access to technology to Pak students for their advanced studies and Pakistani researchers would be refused admission to International institutes and universities. However, the Norwegian authorities have maintained their stance as based on independent assessment of the issue, including confidential inputs.
Several instances of Pakistan having gained access to dual technology in the garb of peaceful purposes have come to light in the recent years. And the risk continues considering Pakistan’s terror background and its history of stealing technologies from different parts of the world. It is the unsavory reputation of Pakistan as a troublemaker that has gone global and the country is viewed with suspicion even when humanitarian considerations come to fore.
Given the poor governance standards and history of failure of civil institutions in Pakistan, these observations provide a justification for apprehensions of the western countries. It remains to be seen whether these disclosures lead to sanctions or new export controls against Pakistan or the country again succeeds in misleading the world by playing victim’s card.
Kickbacks in India’s defence purchases
Prime minister Narendra Modi of India boasts his government of being corruption- free. But, his claim has become questionable in the light of recent audit of Rafale purchase in France.
India had ordered 36 of these fighter aircraft from France in September 2016. The 7.8 billion government-to-government deal for 36 fighter jets was signed in 2016. The Indian Air Force has already raised its first squadron of the Rafale jets at Ambala and is due to raise the second one at Hasimara in West Bengal.
India expects to receive more than 50 percent of these fighters by April-end. The first batch of five Rafale jets had arrived in India on July 28 and was officially inducted on September 10 by the government.
In a startling disclosure, the French Anti-Corruption Agency, Agence Française Anticorruption
has announced that their inspectors have discovered an unexplained irregularity during their scheduled audit of Dassault. According to details, “the manufacturer of French combat jet Rafale agreed to pay one million euro to a middleman in India just after the signing of the Indo-French contract in 2016, an investigation by the French publication Mediapart has revealed. An amount of 508,925 euro was allegedly paid under “gifts to clients” head in the 2017 accounts of the Dassault group ( Dassault paid 1 million euro as ‘gift’ to Indian middleman in Rafale deal: French report India Today Apr 5, 2021). Dassault tried to justify “the larger than usual gift” with a proforma invoice from an Indian company called Defsys Solutions. The invoice suggested that Defsys was paid 50 per cent of an order worth 1,017,850 for manufacturing of 50 dummy models of the Rafale jets. Each dummy, according to the AFA report, was quoted at a hefty price of 20,357. The Dassault group failed to provide any documentary evidence to audit about the existence of those models. Also, it could also not explain why the expenditure was listed as a “gift to clients” in their accounts.
Shady background of Defsys
Defsys is one of the subcontractors of Dassault in India. It has been linked with notorious businessman Sushen Gupta. Sushen Gupta. He was arrested and later granted bail for his role in another major defence scam in India, the AgustaWestland VVIP Chopper case.
The Enforcement Directorate charged Sushen Gupta for allegedly devising a money-laundering scheme for the payouts during the purchase of the helicopters.
Rampant corruption in India
Corruption in defence deals is a norm rather than an exception in India. They did not spare even aluminum caskets used to bring back dead bodies from the Kargil heights (“coffin scam”). Investigations into shady deals linger on until the main characters or middleman is dead. Bofors is a case in point.
Why investigation of defence deals since independence recommended
India’s Tehelka Commission of Inquiry headed by Mr. Justice S N Phukan had suggested that a sitting Supreme Court Judge should examine all defence files since independence.
Concerned about rampant corruption in defence purchases allegedly involving Army personnel, he desired that the proposed Supreme Court Judge should by assisted by the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central bureau of Investigation.
He stressed that unless the existing system of defence procurement was made more transparent through corrective measures, defence deals would continue to be murky. He had submitted his report to then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, but to no avail. The Commission had examined 15 defence deals including the AJT, Sukhoi, Barak missiles, T-90 tanks, tank navigation systems, simulators, hand-held thermal. imagers, Karl Gustav rocket and Kandla-Panipat pipeline. The irregularities in the scrutinised defence deals compelled the Commission to suggest de novo scrutiny of all defence purchases since independence.
The courts have absolved Rajiv Gandhi of involvement in the BOFORS scam. However, a considerable section of Indian people still believes that ‘Mr. Clean’ was not really so clean. The BJP exploited Rajiv’s acquittal as an election issue. Kuldip Nayyar, in his article “The gun that misfired” (Dawn February 14, 2004) laments, “There was practically no discussion on Bofors-guns kickbacks in the 13th Lok Sabha which has been dissolved for early elections. Once Rajiv Gandhi died the main target – the non-Congress parties lost interest in the scam”.
According to analysts, the mechanisms of public accountability in India have collapsed. Corruption has become a serious socio-political malady as politicians, bureaucracy and Armed Forces act in tandem to receive kickbacks. The anti-corruption cases, filed in courts, drag on for years without any results. To quote a few case: (a) There was no conviction in Bofors-gun case (Rs 64 crore), because of lethargic investigation (the case was filed on January 22, 1990 and charge sheet served on October 22, 1999. Among the accused were Rajiv Gandhi, S K Bhatnagar, W N Chaddha, Octavio, and Ardbo. The key players in the scam died before the court’s decision). (b) No recoveries could be made in the HDW submarine case (Rs 32.5 crore). The CBI later recommended closure of this case. (c) Corruption in recruitment of Armed Forces.
Legal cover for middlemen
Central Vigilance Commissioner P Shankar had alleged (October 2003): “The CVC had submitted its defence deals report on March 31, 2001. Yet a year later, the government has not conducted the mandatory departmental inquiry to fix responsibility”. Shankar explained that the CVC had examined 75 cases apart from specific allegations made by former MP Jayant Malhoutra and Rear Admiral Suhas V Purohit Vittal. Malhoutra’s allegations were about middlemen in defence deals. After his report, the ministry lifted the ban on agents in November 2001 to regularise the middlemen. Purohit, in his petition in the Delhi HC on a promotion case, had alleged unnecessary spare parts were bought from a cartel of suppliers instead of manufacturers, at outrageous prices and at times worth more than the original equipment.
Past cases forgotten to continue business as usual
There were ear-rending shrieks about the Taj-heritage corridor case, Purulia-arms-drop case and stamp-paper cases. Indian Express dated November 11, 2003 reported that the stamp-paper co-accused assistant Sub-Inspector of Police drew a salary of Rs 9,000, but his assets valued over Rs 100 crore. He built six plush hotels during his association for 6 years with the main accused Abdul Karim Telgi. The ASI was arrested on June 13 and charged under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. Investigations by the Special Investigating Team (SIT) probing the stamp scam had found that the ASI Kamath accepted Rs 72 lakh from the scam kingpin, Abdul Karim Telgi, on behalf of IGP Sridhar Vagal.
The problem is that the modus operandi of corruption ensures that it is invisible and unaccounted for. There are widespread complaints that the politicians exercise underhand influence on bureaucracy to mint money. For instance, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner complained to Indian Prime Minister (November 8, 2003) that at least “six cabinet ministers, handling key infrastructure ministries, are harassing chiefs of public sector undertakings for ‘personal favours’, and in some cases even for pay-offs”.
For example, one PSU (Public Sector Udertaking) chief is said to have complained that he was asked to get Rs 20 crore delivered to his minister’s party office and when he refused, he was “denied” an extension. Indian Express dated February 19, 2004 reported, under reportage titled “Figuring India” that ‘Rajiv Pratap Rudy is only one in a long line of ministers who have misused the funds and facilities of Public Sector Undertakings”. The newspaper appended the following bird’s-eye view of the funds (available for corruption) at the PSUs command: Rs 3, 24,632 crore total investment in PSUs, Rs 36,432 crore profits, 12,714 crore profits of monopolies in petroleum, Rs 5,613 CRORE profits of monopolies in power Rs 7,612 crore, profits of monopolies in telecom Rs 10,388 crore, Rs 61,000 crore invested in PSUs in 1991-1998, Rs 19,000 crore returns during 1991-1998.”
Corruption as proportion of gross Domestic Product
Professor Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari claim in their book Corruption in India: The DNA and RNA that public officials in India may be cornering as much as ₹921 billion (US$13 billion), or 5 percent of the GDP through corruption.
India 86th most corrupt (Transparency International corruption ranking Jan 29, 2021)
India’s ranking on the Corruption Perception Index– 2020 is 86. The index released annually by Transparency International ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people. It uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero signifies the highest level of corruption and 100 is very clean.
In India, anti-corruption focuses on big ticket graft. But it is petty corruption that hurts common people more. Both need to be weeded out. A former World Bank president Robert Zoellick once said, “Corruption is a cancer that steals from the poor, eats away at governance and moral fibre, and destroys trust.”
According to Transparency International, CPI-2020 shows that corruption is more pervasive in countries least equipped to handle Covid-19 and other crises. “Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International said. “The past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge. But even those at the top of the CPI must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption,” she added.
Click Wikipedia to know that Narendra Modi’s “Net worth” is “₹ 2.85 Crore” (June 2020). This figure defies his humble financial background. He has a penchant for hobnobbing with “crony capitalism”. It appears he is worth a lot more. Those who make illicit money have a knack to hide it.
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