Report – No11 – 02 March 2012
Nabi Abdullaev, Mikhail Krutikhin, Aleksandr Kynev, Lilia Ovcharova, Simon Saradzhyan, Andrei Zagorski, Natalia Zubarevich
edited by Sabine Fischer
The mass protests in Moscow and other Russian cities after the parliamentary elections on 4 December 2011 shattered long-standing assumptions about the Russian political system and the apathy of Russian society. They raise new questions about the evolution of Russian society and state-society relations. These are extremely serious issues not only for the protesters and external observers, but also for a Russian leadership whose legitimacy is at risk and who, in one way or another, will have to react to this vocal expression of discontent and demand for change.
This EUISS Report features contributions from a group of Russian authors with outstanding expertise on important Russian domestic and foreign policy issues. They all contributed analytical papers to the Institute’s ‘Russia Insights’ series, which were published online during the weeks before the parliamentary and presidential elections. Therefore, some of the papers where written before and some after the public protests started. Together, they provide valuable insights into Russian politics and society and into the country’s economic system as well as into Russia’s foreign policy posture. The result is a very complex picture combining elements of dynamism, stasis and stagnation.
Over the past ten years the Russian political system has been systematically manipulated and tailored to the needs of a small ruling elite whose main strategic goal is the preservation of their political power and access to economic resources. The proverbial ‘power vertical’, completed during Vladimir Putin’s second presidential term, works at the national as well as the regional level.
As Aleksander Kynev demonstrates in his analyses, ‘the party and electoral system today reflects the ruling elite’s efforts to centralise and control’. Electoral and party legislation have become increasingly supportive of United Russia, the so-called ‘party of power’, and increasingly restrictive and discriminating vis-à-vis other parties. This development has severe consequences for the political system and state-society relations: on the one hand political parties have been unable to evolve into stable political entities with a clear profile and substance. As a result the State Duma has degenerated into a rubber stamp forum for the political leadership. The Kremlin on the other hand, has lost all connection with the population (and vice versa). The Russian people are unable to use elections as a means to communicate their wishes to the state, while the state is not attuned to changing societal moods, which explains why it was taken by surprise by the protests after the Duma elections.
Natalia Zubarevich confirms this assessment of the dysfunctionality of the power vertical for the relationship between the centre and the regions. She diagnoses the approaching end of the ‘informal social contract’ between the political leadership and Russian society, whereby Moscow guaranteed low-level economic stability through financial transfers and subsidies to the majority of economically underdeveloped regions. In the light of the economic crisis and growing unemployment, the centre will find it increasingly difficult to face the challenges inherent in Russia’s unreformed federal structures, which are geared to control and co-opt regional elites but do not contribute to the improvement of the quality of governance, regional development and modernisation […]
The authors of this report agree that President Medvedev’s attempts to promote the idea of modernisation in the Russian discourse have done little, if anything, to change the flaws of the political and economic system and to better connect state and society. On the contrary, more often than not they consider Medvedev as ‘part of the problem rather than the solution’ (Krutikhin) […]