It is rather easy to find compromising information about the majority of Russian politicians irrespective of political affiliation. In established democracies, even just accusations of impropriety often end political careers. In Russia, however, connections with organized crime, financial machinations, shadowy lobbying, discrepancies between income and assets, plagiarism, dubiously secured academic degrees, infidelity, and so on rarely ruin political careers. In fact, there are many cases in Russia when even seriously compromised officials continue to hold their posts for years, and some are even promoted. Thus, to what extent does “reputation” matter in Russian politics? Why does a bad reputation fail to serve as an efficient mechanism for ending the careers of unscrupulous politicians?
This memo examines the factors that shape conventional meanings of reputation in Russian politics, explores why dishonest and compromised politicians are not removed, and investigates the influences the Internet has on the reputations of public figures. First, there is no clear public understanding of the criteria for political reputation in Russia today. Second, loyalty trumps character in the recruitment policy of today’s ruling regime. Finally, opposition leaders, who often use the Internet to expose scandalous cases, seem unable to persuade the public of their own moral superiority over supporters of the Putin regime. [...]