The economic crisis has laid bare the problems that arise from the concentration of power, catastrophic weakening of institutions and atrophying of feedback channels. There is a fundamental need to change the foundations of governance, which in recent years have been radically reduced to a mechanism for redistributing resources from a single power center. But, as resources rapidly run dry, the mechanisms of the state are growing increasingly threadbare.
A Time of Divergence
The changes that occurred in 2003 and 2008 can not entirely be reversed. A return to the previous course of development, however, would be impossible without revisions and a reevaluation of what was undertaken at these points of bifurcation. If development follows the current course, it is all too likely that the political spiral will return us to a situation reminiscent of the political hangover of 1996-7, with an empty treasury, a weak Kremlin, regional barons and warring oligarchs.
Now is the time to prioritize the European vector in Russian foreign policy, not only in rhetoric but in real initiative. Actuating Russia's 'European choice' will demand serious changes, abandoning the haughtiness that has grown in recent years, the belief in Russia's uniqueness, the constant search for enemies, and so on. There are a range of issues where Russian, European and American interests are close or identical. Effective global governance requires a new approach to Euro-Atlantic security not only in Washington and in Brussels, but in Moscow as well.
Is Modernization Possible in Russia?
As has always been the case in Russia (and, indeed, in most of the world), any future modernization must be initiated from above and implemented from above. Any social coalition in support of such a project, as well as the project's locomotives, will be formed or strengthened as modernization itself develops. Successful modernization is almost always accompanied by the appearance of a qualitatively new economic and political configuration.
The Crisis in Regional Perspective
Crises can have a sobering effect, and so there is hope that a more rational approach will take hold in Russia's regional policy. In particular, there will have to be a recognition that there can be no new colonization of the eastern regions; it is impossible to turn back the clock and pretend that resources are unlimited. Reality forces a focus on developing major cities, ports and infrastructure corridors. The state will provide only pinpoint infrastructural support to the most effective resource projects, financed by private business.
Will There Be a 'Medvedev Thaw'?
The supporters of a 'thaw' are divided; they have no consensus about the expediency of pushing reform from above, or whether significant relaxation of control can be expected. Meanwhile, Russia’s historical experience suggests that the likelihood of liberal reforms increases in times of crisis. The question is who today is prepared to propose practical recommendations, of which the authorities could make use, if the ruling elite do actually feel the need to liberalize?
State Corporations: Another Institutional Experiment
The allocation of state corporations' property is extremely personalized, and management is delegated to high-level state officials and cabinet members. The result is the creation of personalized state ownership, in the sense that assets are managed not by an impersonal bureaucratic structure, but by specific individuals, selected – at least nominally – by the president of the Russian Federation. Property accrues to the state only to the extent that it is controlled by the head of state.
The Northern Caucasus: When the War Ended
Politicians in the Northern Caucasus have an interest in maintaining the Russian state: while they may try to ‘scare’ the Kremlin, they will never seek to destroy its power. But this play at confrontation with Moscow – of course, with certain limits, and largely rhetorical – will for some time remain one of the most effective means of acquiring concessions from the federal government. The federal elite is gradually coming to understand this and is thus formulating rules of the game, worrying simultaneously about the game’s potential to spin out of control.