In the fall of 2010, the Carnegie Moscow Center gathered political analysts from Russia and abroad to discuss the outlook for Russia ten years down the road. The articles presented in this issue of Pro et Contra were written by the participants of that scenario-building exercise, each endeavoring to outline the potential for development in a given area of social, economic, or political life.
Hypothesizing the Third Cycle
Slow rates of economic growth (2.5—4 percent per annum) and sluggish or stagnant real incomes seem today to be the most likely inertial scenario for the next few years. The exhaustion of the current economic growth model necessitates not only a search for new models, but also an inevitable shift in dominant social sentiments and expectations, as well as the opportunities and strategies of elite groups. This shift, and its social and political consequences, will determine the basic content of the third cycle of Russia’s post-soviet history.
Russia in an Institutional Trap
Almost two decades of institution-building policies in Russia have brought the country to an “institutional trap,” with the domination of ineffective authoritarian political institutions. These institutions in their current form cannot be improved: they can only be destroyed. In immediate future, we will learn whether the existing institutions can be dismantled and replaced peacefully, or whether they will prove incompatible with the further existence of Russia itself.
Scenarios for the Evolution of the Party System
Russia’s leadership must recognize the need to change the character of the coalition that supports it. More precisely, they must come to be convinced that ignoring the “active minority” and “new protest” is dangerous, while incorporating these trends into the “political mainstream” in order to create a “coalition for modernization” might be more useful in the long run. This will be an exceedingly difficult decision for the Kremlin, as it contradicts the entire logic that has guided politics to date, demands relearning the skills of political horse trading, and, most importantly, requires more open and equal electoral campaigns.
The Army in 2020: Modern or Soviet?
The obvious difference between the Russian armed forces and other state institutions is that their effectiveness cannot be tested in peacetime. As a result, the citizenry may retain the illusion that those conscripts killed and maimed by hazing, as well as the billions of dollars in military spending, are not for naught. And that illusion, in turn, lowers the public pressure on the government. Most importantly, however, the future of the Russian army will depend significantly on the direction of the current process of military reform.
The “Russian Question” After the Fall of the USSR
Paradoxical as it may seem, the inconsistent and confused relations between Moscow and the ethnic republics of the Russian Federation, and the moderate and sometimes wholly ineffective policy towards ethnic Russians living in the “near abroad,” do more to support peace and security in the post-soviet space than do attempts to develop a coherent approach to building a nation-state. The idea of building a civic nation, after all, may be captured, and its civic aspect left by the wayside.
In the short term, the most likely immediate source of problems for the regime is an incompetent response to a natural disaster or large-scale industrial accident. If the federal government is unable to respond adequately to the problem, the result could be increased unrest in the regions questioning the legitimacy of the federal elites. Most likely one event of this nature would not trigger a legitimacy crisis, but several events in a short period could.
Is 2020 the Last Chance for the Northern Caucasus?
Resolving the problems of the Caucasus will take time, stretching well beyond the life of one generation, not least because there is no reason to believe that the level of terrorist activity will lessen in the next 15-20 years. However, the problems of the Northern Caucasus are not limited to terrorism: they involve economics, security, inter-ethnic relations, conflicts within Islam, and relations with the central government. The only way to understand how the Northern Caucasus may fit into the framework of a new Russian state is to address all of these issues together.
Russia and the World
The central drama of the next decade and beyond will be the struggle for the creation of a new global equilibrium, one that will likely endure well into this century. For Russia, the central drama will be whether it generate the imagination it will need to find a respectable place for itself in this new world order, the creativity to devise the policies that could bring Russia to that place, and the political will to execute those policies. This will ultimately determine whether Russia is at a new beginning or at the end of a remarkable run of success.
Russia and the New Europe “In-Between”
Removing the post-imperial pretenses to a zone of privileged influence would help ameliorate perceptions of Russia as the primary threat to sovereignty and political independence of Russia’s neighbors, as well as the personal positions of their leaders, which would in turn diminish the demand for external protection. And Russian leadership in regional reforms would make it a clear priority for EU neighborhood policy, as successful reforms in Russia would bring progress in the other countries, as well.
Alexander Golts, Christian Caryl