When President Obama traveled to Russia to meet with President Medvedev for their first summit, he made a concerted effort to reach out to ordinary Russians – business leaders, academics, students, civil society activists, and the population at large – to remind citizens in both countries that the US and Russia share numerous common values, concerns and strategic interests. One of the highlights of that effort was an important speech Obama gave to the graduating class of the Higher School of Economics (HSE), one of Russia’s top academic institutions. In that speech (which, as has been reported, did not receive the media coverage within Russia that had been hoped for), Obama spelled out clearly the links among democratic governance, the rule of law, the fight against corruption, and economic development.
While underscoring that there is always room for improvement in the US, as in all countries, and diplomatically avoiding taking a critical stance toward his Russian hosts, the President pointed out that in the US, “the rule of law and equal administration of justice has busted monopolies, shut down political machines that were corrupt, ended abuses of power. Independent media have exposed corruption at all levels of business and government; competitive elections allow us to change course and hold our leaders accountable.” Further, as Obama noted, development “depends on economies that function within the rule of law,” and to ensure success in the information age, citizens must “have the right to do business or get an education without paying a bribe.”
These sentiments were also captured in a report from the Russia-US Joint Working Group on Investment and Institutional Integrity, an initiative of CIPE and OPORA (the Union of Business Associations of Russia), which provided its report to Obama during his appearance at meeting of civil society leaders held on the same day as the HSE speech. The Joint Working Group, comprising 12 experts from business, academia, civil society and former policymakers from both countries, includes Elena Panfilova, who heads the Russia chapter of Transparency International. Panfilova had the honor of presenting the report, and she has discussed the Group’s findings in a recent interview (Russian only).
The Group’s report, available in both English and Russian, spells out cooperative efforts between Russia and the US to strengthen governance, integrity, and transparency in Russia. One of the central ideas guiding the report was to link the investment and international business climate to the fight against corruption, an idea Obama spoke of at HSE as well, when he declared that “Governments that promote the rule of law, subject their actions to oversight and allow for independent institutions are more dependable trading partners.”