The collection explores Russia under Vladimir Putin and the prospects for significant political changes today and in a post-Putin era.
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?
|A 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.|
The long and eventful reign of Vladimir Putin began in 2000. 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 after the 2018 presidential election, a multidisciplinary group of authors–with expertise in modern Russian history, politics, and society–share in the latest issue of Dædalus their views on what Putin’s Russia represents today–and what the future may hold for Russia and the international community after he leaves the scene.
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), begins by asking: Is fundamental change in Russia possible? Would it overhaul the system, or modify or improve it without transforming it? And if change were to occur, will it necessarily be change Western observers would approve of?
“From day one, the declared priority of Russia’s second president–it is no exaggeration to call it a sacred priority for him–was to engineer political and social stability,” writes Timothy Colton in his essay “The Paradoxes of Putinism.” With systemic stability, Putin has achieved economic and demographic recovery. But development on the part of Russian society has been juxtaposed with growing rigidity and control-mindedness on the part of the state. 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 a global trend that links social and economic modernization to political democratization.
In her essay, “The Next Mr. Putin? The Question of Succession,” Fiona Hill (Brookings Institution) argues that Vladimir Putin, the person and the president, is the wild card in Russian politics. Moreover, after what could be a quarter of a century in power by 2024, Putin’s departure could be utterly destabilizing.
“Russia Beyond Putin”
Russia’s political problem is determining who or what replaces Putin as the fulcrum of the state system in the decade ahead. Hill examines whether Putin’s Russia–a hyper-personalized presidency supported by informal elite networks–can be transformed into a depersonalized system rooted in formal institutions with clear, predictable mechanisms to mitigate the risks of a wrenching presidential transition.
In “Russian Revanche: External Threats & Regime Reactions,” Keith A. Darden (American University) explores the origins of Russia’s renewed distrust of the United States and apparent military belligerence, and connects them with Russia’s increasingly authoritarian domestic rule. Darden explains that since the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, Russian elites have increasingly seen the United States as a distinctly threatening power seeking 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. 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 exerting authoritarian controls at home to prevent foreign exploitation of the internal pluralism that emerged in the wake of the collapse of Communism.
While post-Soviet law is highly consequential in contemporary 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 revolutionary change and may outlive Putin’s tenure. In her essay, “Putin Style ‘Rule of Law’ & the Prospects for Change,” Maria Popova (McGill University) suggests that if positive change 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 in its history.
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. In his essay “Images of the Future,” George Breslauer (University of California, Berkeley) presents a range of alternative futures to liberal democracy (rule of law), 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 issue with his own judgments and beliefs about Russia’s future.
Other essays in the issue explore the ability of the Russian system to maintain political stability in the face of prolonged economic hardships; the types of Russian nationalist actors and their potential as facilitators of change; and the potential role for the siloviki–Russian security and military personnel–in challenging Putin’s rule or transitioning to a new form of government.
Academy members may access an electronic copy of this Dædalus issue by logging into the Academy’s website. For more information about Dædalus or to order copies of “Russia Beyond Putin,” please visit http://www.amacad.org/daedalus.