“We talk a lot about the Kremlin playbook on kleptocracy. But what we need is the democratic playbook on counter-kleptocracy” (Nate Sibley). Since Moscow’s February invasion of Ukraine, in which furthering kleptocracy along its border was a driver of the Kremlin’s decision-making, many democratic governments moved quickly to levy sanctions on Russian elites and address domestic vulnerabilities that enable kleptocratic influence to thrive abroad. How do we build a truly comprehensive international response to avoid future conflicts and stymie other kleptocratic regimes like Russia?
During an event hosted by the International Forum on “Sustaining the Momentum: Countering Kleptocracy in Russia and Beyond,” experts and practitioners discussed how democracies can build such a response. The democratic community’s collaborative efforts to increase transparency in the financial sector, leverage sanctions against malign actors, and connect anti-kleptocracy actors across sectors are promising first steps. These bold words and sanctions, however, have proven insufficient to change the regimes’ calculus, deter other kleptocratic regimes, and truly stymie these networks’ successes. More needs to be done, not just related to the war in Ukraine, but also in the broader global context where kleptocratic networks can thrive.
Last year, the Biden Administration released a presidential memorandum identifying corruption as a core national security threat; the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the Anti-Corruption Task Force; and several pieces of legislation have been introduced to target professions in open societies that enable kleptocrats to hide their illicit funds. The ongoing war has explicitly elevated kleptocracy, for the first time, as a major foreign policy and national security initiative for the United States.
USAID Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Task Force Shannon N. Green discussed the importance of viewing corruption and kleptocracy as transnational phenomena with national security implications, underpinned by political ambitions of supportive regimes. Democratic institutions must be more agile in their efforts to protect global norms and institutions. While authoritarians and kleptocrats undermine domestic political institutions and multilateral standards, Green outlined USAID’s current efforts to meet this challenge, which include the launch of a “de-kleptification guide” and a global support fund for independent journalists targeted by frivolous defamation lawsuits, often from kleptocrats and oligarchs.
Democratic allies must build comprehensive strategies that unearth democratic vulnerabilities and safeguard political institutions to address the critical global challenge of illicit finance. To be successful, Nate Sibley advocated for a democratic, global economy founded on “friend-shoring,” or increasing coalitions among like-minded countries, to protect vital institutions and reduce vulnerabilities to malign influence. Democracies must also be more ambitious in their commitments to combat kleptocracy, both domestically and internationally. For example, they can examine the professional enabling industries that allow kleptocrats to get away with their misdeeds. As the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s Paul Massaro urged, if we “can clean those sectors up, we can effectively defang our adversaries.” As Nikita Kulachenkov suggested, they could more clearly publish lists of targeted assets, or appoint commissioners to oversee anti-corruption work and serve as points of contact for civil society and others focused on the fight against kleptocracy.
The coming months of pressure on energy prices during the winter, a lengthened conflict in Ukraine, and inevitable distraction of the world’s policymakers by other global events will test the bonds of democratic solidarity that have been strengthened.
about the participants
Shannon N. Green serves as senior advisor to the Administrator and executive director of the Anti-Corruption Task Force with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Previously, she was the senior director of Programs at the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) as well as the director and senior fellow of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Prior to joining CSIS, Green was the senior director for Global Engagement on the National Security Council. For nearly a decade, Shannon led strategic planning, program design, and policy engagement at USAID.
Nikita Kulachenkov is a forensic accountant and political activist fighting against corruption in the Russian government. In 2016, Kulachenkov was detained at an airport in Cyprus and targeted by Russian authorities. His parents’ apartment in Moscow was raided by police in connection to a photograph authorities claimed had been stolen in the city of Vladimir, an accusation widely believed to be politically motivated. This form of political targeting forced Kulachenkov to relocate to Lithuania, where he sought asylum. He continues to be politically active today tracing assets of sanctioned individuals and violations of sanctions.
Nate Sibley is a research fellow at Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative. His research explores how authoritarian corruption is reshaping global politics and security. He has worked closely with successive administrations and Congress to advance policies that safeguard the U.S. financial system, target corrupt adversarial regimes, and promote American global leadership. Sibley is co-author of three Hudson reports and has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Foreign Policy, among others. His media appearances include the BBC and CNN, as well as hosting Hudson’s award-winning Making a Killing podcast.
Paul Massaro is the senior policy advisor for counter-corruption and sanctions with the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). His work has advanced the recognition of corruption as a national security threat. He has worked on over 13 pieces of counter-corruption legislation and facilitated the founding of the Congressional Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy and the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy. Massaro is regularly quoted and published by major media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, POLITICO, and Foreign Policy, and he speaks frequently on panels, podcasts, and broadcasts about corruption, sanctions, and European security policy.
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