Spring 2017 issue of Dædalus: “Russia Beyond Putin”
Essays explore Russia under Vladimir Putin and the prospects for significant political change today and in the post-Putin era
|Russian military honor guard from the 154th Commandant’s Regiment stands at attention during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, June 26, 2009. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy.
Following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the alleged Kremlin-backed interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the United States has refocused on Russia and its enigmatic leader: What motivates Vladimir Putin? Why did the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations fail? What potential is there for significant political change in Putin’s Russia? And what could Russia look like once he is no longer in power?
Putin’s long and eventful reign began in 2000 and is now well into its second half. In October 2017, he will turn sixty-five, while his country observes the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution that toppled tsarism and eventually swept the Bolsheviks to power.
Amidst these milestones, and with Putin poised to retain his leadership role for another ten to fifteen years, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences invited a multidisciplinary group of authors with expertise in modern Russian history, politics, and society to share their views on what Putin’s Russia represents today—and what the future may hold for Russia and the international community once he is no longer in power.
The Spring 2017 issue of Dædalus on “Russia Beyond Putin,” guest edited by George W. Breslauer (University of California, Berkeley) and Timothy J. Colton (Harvard University), is now available for order through MIT Press. Learn more about this issue in the table of contents below and access four of its articles for free.
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Table of Contents
Introduction by Timothy J. Colton (Harvard University)
The year 2017 marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, a reminder that wrenching change has been the rule, not the exception, in modern Russia. As the Putin era winds down, there is potential for fundamental and meaningful change in Russia, but it is not inevitable. Nor will change necessarily be of the sort Western observers would approve. This introduction to the issue poses the question, explored in depth in subsequent essays, of whether fundamental change in Russia would overhaul the system, or modify or improve it without transforming it. And, if change occurs, whether it will be toward a more open and democratic political order, a more closed and authoritarian political order, or destabilization and disorder. The next ten to fifteen years may see the close of Putin’s long and eventful reign, inviting us to think afresh about Russia’s political future.
Paradoxes of Putinism by Timothy J. Colton (Harvard University)
Since taking charge of Russia’s government almost two decades ago, Vladimir Putin has pursued systemic stability above all else, and with it, he has achieved economic and demographic recovery. But societal growth has been juxtaposed with the state’s growing rigidity and control-mindedness. And the accumulation of economic, social, and foreign-policy problems raises questions about the sustainability of the current regime. Timothy J. Colton explores Putin’s tenure through several core paradoxes, including that Putin’s personal popularity has not always been matched by confidence in his policies and that Russia bucks the global trend that links social and economic modernization to political democratization.
The Prospects for a Color Revolution in Russia by Valerie Bunce (Cornell University)
From 1998 to 2005, six “color revolutions” took place in postcommunist Europe and Eurasia that led to the defeat of authoritarian incumbents or their anointed successors, the empowerment of opposition forces, and the introduction of democratic reforms. Similar to and in close proximity of those regimes, Russia is a logical candidate for such a color revolution. Indeed, personalized rule makes Putin’s Russia vulnerable. Yet Putin has been extraordinarily effective in preempting the possibility of an opposition victory in Russian presidential and parliamentary elections. Valerie Bunce weighs the mixed possibilities and offers her assessment of the likelihood of a color revolution overthrowing Putin’s Russia.
Russian Patronal Politics Beyond Putin by Henry E. Hale (George Washington University)
For centuries, Russian politics have been shaped by patronalism: a social equilibrium in which personal connections dominate, collective action happens through individualized punishments and rewards, and trends in the political system reflect changing patterns of coordination among nationwide networks that typically cut across political parties, firms, nongovernmental organizations, and even the state. Henry E. Hale argues that the hallmark of the Putin era has been the increasingly tight coordination of these networks’ activities around the authority of a single patron. Further, Hale finds that Russia is unlikely to escape the patronalist equilibrium in the short term. Rather, longer-term transitions through diversified economic development and integration within the Western economy could open the door.
The Next Mr. Putin? The Question of Succession by Fiona Hill (Brookings Institution)
Vladimir Putin, the person and the president, is the wild card in Russian politics, and his eventual departure could be utterly destabilizing. Russia’s main problem is thus determining who or what replaces Putin as the fulcrum of the state system in the decade ahead. Fiona Hill considers potential successors, and answers the question of whether “Putin’s Russia” – a hyperpersonalized presidency supported by informal elite networks – can transform into a depersonalized system rooted in formal institutions with clear, predictable mechanisms to mitigate the risks of a wrenching presidential succession.
The Russian Siloviki & Political Change by Brian D. Taylor (Syracuse University)
The siloviki – Russian security and military personnel – are a key part of Team Putin, but they are not a unified or coherent group. Brian D. Taylor suggests that the siloviki, as a conservative force supportive of the status quo, lack the attributes that would allow them to bring about fundamental political change in Russia. Efforts to maintain the stability of the existing political order are likely to be reactive, divided, and behind the scenes.
Putin-Style “Rule of Law” & the Prospects for Change by Maria Popova (McGill University)
While the law is highly consequential in Russia, its use tends to be arbitrary, expedient, and instrumental, rather than predictable and principled. But Russia’s legal regime is unlikely to undergo major evolutionary change and may outlive Putin’s tenure. Maria Popova suggests that, if a positive shift were to take place, Russia would inch toward authoritarian constitutionalism. But if Putin’s regime weakens, the politicized use of the courts against both dissidents and political competitors within the authoritarian coalition will increase, and Russia could revert to the legal nihilism that characterized previous periods of its history.
Ideas, Ideology & Intellectuals in Search of Russia’s Political Future by Elena Chebankova (University of Lincoln)
The intellectual discourse of any state can function within two broad paradigms: consensual and pluralistic. While the Western political system broadly rests on the politics of liberal consensus, Russia’s history engendered the politics of paradigmatic pluralism: a number of radically different politicointellectual frameworks struggle for the dominant discourse. Elena Chebankova argues that, due to the nature and substance of these models, fundamental change of Russia’s dominant discourse, along with its main politicoinstitutional parameters, is unlikely within the next ten to fifteen years.
Is Nationalism a Force for Change in Russia? by Marlene Laruelle (The George Washington University)
There are three categories of Russian nationalist actors: nonstate actors, whose agenda is anti-Putin; parastate actors, who have their own ideological niche, not always in tune with the presidential administration’s narrative, but who operate under the state umbrella; and state actors, in particular, the presidential administration. Nonstate actors, who embody Russian ethnonationalism and whose agenda is anti-Putin, pose a serious threat to the regime. But the Kremlin is not “frozen” in terms of ideology, and its flexibility allows it to adapt to evolving situations. Marlene Laruelle suggests that one of the most plausible scenarios is the rise of a figure inside the establishment who would be able to prevent the polarization of Russian nationalism and could co-opt some of its slogans and leaders, gradually channeling the official narrative toward a more state-controlled nationalism.
The Atlas That has Not Shrugged: Why Russia’s Oligarchs are an Unlikely Force for Change by Stanislav Markus (University of South Carolina)
Russia’s oligarchs are demanding more accountability from the political elites and improved relations with the West. But Stanislav Markus claims that they lack the capacity to effect systemic change; their competition for rents divides them and gives them insufficient leverage against Putin. This essay considers the prospects of individual oligarchs who have nevertheless pushed openly for liberalization or tried to effect incremental change, in spite of financial and legal repercussions from the Kremlin.
From Boom to Bust: Hardship, Mobilization & Russia’s Social Contract by Samuel A. Greene (King’s College London)
How and why loyal Russian citizens – who make up more than 80 percent of the adult population – come to find themselves on the barricades is something of a puzzle. Rather, the ability of the Russian system to maintain political stability in the face of prolonged economic hardships depends on Russia’s “social contract”: a peculiarly disengaged relationship between Russian citizens and their state. Though Russian citizens clearly understand the failings of the political system and leadership, their inactivity and antipathy toward the country’s ruling elite reflect decades of institutional dysfunction. Samuel A. Greene suggests that this could lead to an increase of grassroots protest movements, but questions whether reactive civic mobilization can lead to a proactive process of bottom-up agenda setting.
Russian Revanche: External Threats & Regime Reactions by Keith A. Darden (American University)
Since the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, Russian elites have increasingly seen the United States as a distinctively threatening power with a strategy to exploit civic organizations, ethnic groups, and other forms of domestic pluralism to overthrow unfriendly regimes. And with each new crisis in U.S.-Russian relations, Russian leadership has tightened controls over society, the press, and the state. Keith A. Darden asserts that the aggressive U.S. promotion of democracy abroad has produced the opposite effect: successive Russian governments pursuing greater military and intelligence capacity to intervene abroad, and tightening authoritarian controls at home to prevent foreign exploitation of the internal pluralism that emerged in the wake of Communism.
Images of the Future by George Breslauer (University of California, Berkeley)
Despite the hope of Russia evolving into a liberal democracy after the collapse of Communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Putin’s regime, after Gorbachev and Yeltsin, came to represent a “de-democratization” or authoritarian consolidation. A democratic breakthrough toward the rule of law is now seen as highly unlikely in the coming decade, though many proceed with guarded optimism. Excluding liberal democracy (rule of law), George Breslauer presents a range of alternative futures, including the possibility of continued authoritarian constitutionalism (rule by law), patronal authoritarianism (expedient use of law), or Russite or imperial fundamentalism (legal nihilism). He concludes the issue by combining the diverse arguments presented by the authors in this volume with his own judgments and beliefs about Russia’s future.
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Dædalus was founded in 1955 as the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. It draws on the enormous intellectual capacity of the Academy, whose members are among the world’s most prominent thinkers in the sciences, humanities, arts, and social sciences, as well as the full range of professions and public life.
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