This issue of Pro et Contra reviews Putin’s two terms as president and the problems that accumulated while vast intellectual, financial and administrative resources were invested in the construction of the political system Russia has today. The writers analyze the inheritance that Russia’s new head of state will receive, regardless of the shape of the ruling coalition.
Corporatism vs. Regionalism
In the two terms of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, the country has been transformed from a free-for-all of regions to a free-for-all of state corporations. The currently consolidating model of a corporativist oligarchy embodies the primacy of corporatebureaucratic interests over those of the state as a whole. While the previous system had legitimate, if poorly functioning, mechanisms of regional representation, the representation of corporate interests is neither formalized nor legitimated. The corporations simply reshape for their own needs existing institutions, such as the Federation Council and, with the introduction of proportional representation, the State Duma.
The Unacceptable Successor
In order to prove his ability to control the elite as a distributor of resources, the new president will have to alter significantly the current distribution. Moving resources and property from one set of hands to another is the only way the ‘successor’ will be able to claim his full inheritance and follow Vladimir Putin’s path from successor to successor maker, building his own ‘loyalty vertical’ in the process. And the reverse is true, too: if he resolves to maintain the current distribution of property, the new president will in effect refuse the mantle of arbiter of property rights. Such a refusal, however, would allow a return by property holders and other resource distributors into the political game, as their property rights will have been proven stronger than the president’s ‘right of force’.
Russian Elites and Free Radicals in the Kremlin
Vladimir Putin intends not only to remain very much in charge right up until the end of his second term, but also to maintain a significant degree of influence on state policy even after he leaves the presidency, including through the use of personnel. With a weak successor, as the founding father of the current political regime Putin will remain, if not a political demiurge, then at least the main arbiter between the ‘free radicals’ who currently make up his inner circle. That being the case, none of them will be able to take a dominant position.
The Constitution and Russia’s Political Life
The new president has, as yet, no basis on which to transform the way power is configured in Russia, i.e. to undertake true constitutional reform. The problem is that the current ruling class (from which the successor hails, regardless of his prior place of employment) sees no causal relationship between the uncertainty of politics – from which the elites suffer alongside society at large -- inefficient management, corruption, the weakness of parliamentary institutions, the legal system and so on, and the constitutional structure of power.
Russia’s ‘Nano-Party’ System
An optimistic view of the development of the political party system would see a withdrawal from today’s ‘nano-parties’ and a gradual expansion of pluralism, the growth of party competition, and, eventually, an increased role for parties and the parliament in political life. In such a scenario, competing elite and societal interests would be able to do battle for power without risk of unbalancing the political system. A pessimistic view would see the stagnation of the current setup, maintaining the monopoly of a single ‘party of power’, which over the years would become increasingly artificial, coupled with the bureaucratic repression of clearly developing pluralism.
Sloth and Cowardice in the Russian Parliament
While Russia’s constitutional design may be unfortunate from the point of view of institutional development, it is nonetheless not an insurmountable obstacle to democratization. Even the simple, formal performance of the Federal Assembly’s constitutional functions could seriously alter the political climate in Russia for the better. Moreover, the increasing complexity of Russia’s social and economic structure, the growing ambitions of various sectors of the elite, and the deepening failure of the vertical bureaucracy to manage the country will also militate for an increased status for the parliament within the political system.
The Crisis of Gubernatorial Appointments
For governors, the 2004 reform that did away with direct elections for regional leaders appeared to be a long-awaited respite, a true salvation from direct elections, However, the past year has shown that the current system for removing and appointing governors is becoming less and less predictable, while the position of the governors themselves is becoming less assured. Each of them can at any moment be removed from office. If things continue to develop in this direction, not only will the center be unable to manage the system of appointments, but the governors themselves will be disinclined to play the increasingly risk game of “he trusts me, he trusts me not”.
Coalitions and Conflicts of Interest
On a rhetorical level, modernization has broad support and almost no opponents, although each has his or her own interpretation of what it means. In actuality, strategies of modernization are among the most difficult – and thus the least likely – to be achieved. Modernization presumes significant costs for many actors, while the positive effects for the country and the economy are delayed, requiring patience on the part of citizens. Modernization is impossible without strengthening civil society, without the parallel institutionalization of the market and the state, and without increasing the effectiveness of business.
Reforms in Russia: A Business-Eye View
Andrey Yakovlev, Timothy M. Frye
In the early 2000s, the Russian economy managed to break out of the barter trap. However, increased external competitive pressures are again creating policy choices. One could react to increased competition through new defense mechanisms, such as the informal business networks that are evidently consolidating in the regions. In that case, modernization will push ahead, but the emphasis will be on one’s own resources, while all external investors will be viewed with suspicion. In the long term, however, such tactics risk setting Russia back in time.
Bottlenecks in the Russian Economy
By reserving control over infrastructure for itself and limiting the inflow of private investment, the state takes full responsibility for the development of this sector of the economy. However, there are serious doubts as to the sufficiency of the budgetary system to manage a sharp increase in infrastructure financing, leaving aside the low efficiency of the practice itself, and the lack of modern management techniques among state structures.
The Social Risks of Political Inertia
The key factor for the enactment of even minimal social reforms will be whether the incoming political elite will take upon itself responsibility for the fate of the country, rather than plunging into a new round of property redistribution, arranging for themselves a comfortable living, including in various cozy corners of the non-Russian world. Unfortunately, the 2007-2008 political campaign is unlikely to bring a responsible elite to power. And that means that Russia will be unable to avoid another round of economic, social and political upheaval.