Following a blistering December speech in which Vladimir Putin pledged to “de-offshore” the Russian economy, Russia’s president on Tuesday submitted a new law to parliament that would ban state officials and their families from owning foreign financial assets abroad.
The legislation is centrepiece of an effort by Mr Putin at fighting corruption in the Russian state, which has risen to the top of the political agenda in his third term.
Some commentators also noted that the new law put the issue of patriotism squarely before the political class in a way few previous measures had, and came amid a string of legislation aimed at ridding Russia of foreign influence – this includes everything from a ban on US adoption passed in December to a proposed law prohibiting foreign citizens from criticising the government on state television.
“This is seen as an important test for the elite, to see where their loyalties lie,” said Masha Lipman, a political expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, the think-tank. “But it has to be treated carefully, because many may decide that it is not only safer for their money abroad, it may also be safer for them.”
Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and opposition activist, said corruption had become the number one political issue for Mr Putin.
“Every sociological poll puts corruption at number one priority,” he said. “Putin has been forced to react.” However, he said the new law was merely a “populist measure” that had few teeth.
Experts said that there were numerous ways still to get around the ban, which applies to spouses and underage children of bureaucrats, but not to parents and siblings or adult children.
Many Russian officials have been found to own foreign property, which is held in the names of relatives.
On Tuesday, Mr Navalny drew attention to the issue by publishing documents on his blog which appeared to show that Vladimir Pekhtin, the chairman of the ethics committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, had a share in an expensive Miami flat bought by his son, which was not included in a declaration of his assets which all deputies file. Mr Pekhtin denied the accusation, however Mr Navalny stands by it.
Mr Navalny last year published documents that showed that Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s investigative committee, similar to the US FBI, had a flat and a business in Prague until 2009, which the man later admitted was true though he said he had made no income from it and violated no laws.
A ban on holding of foreign property which was in an earlier version of Tuesday's law which had been prepared by a group of parliamentarians, was conspicuously absent from Mr Putin’s version.
“You must understand that the bureaucracy has ways to push their own interests,” Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti Corruption Committee, a privately funded organisation, said of the softening of the law.
In Mr Putin's December 12 speech, which was applauded so wildly by the dignitaries in the audience that he had to ask them to be quiet, Mr Putin had called for a ban on owning foreign financial assets but said that all property should be declared, and the source of the income used to purchase the property should be explained.
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