CAMBRIDGE, MA | April 4, 2017 — 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?
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, 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 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 societal growth has been juxtaposed with the state’s growing rigidity and control-mindedness. 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’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.
Essays in the Spring 2017 issue of Dædalus include:
- Introduction by Timothy J. Colton (Harvard University)
- Paradoxes of Putinism by Timothy J. Colton (Harvard University)
- The Prospects for a Color Revolution in Russia by Valerie Bunce (Cornell University)
- Russian Patronal Politics Beyond Putin by Henry E. Hale (George Washington University)
- The Next Mr. Putin? The Question of Succession by Fiona Hill (Brookings Institution)
- The Russian Siloviki & Political Change by Brian D. Taylor (Syracuse University)
- Putin-Style “Rule of Law” & the Prospects for Change by Maria Popova (McGill University)
- Ideas, Ideology & Intellectuals in Search of Russia’s Political Future by Elena Chebankova (University of Lincoln)
- Is Nationalism a Force for Change in Russia? by Marlene Laruelle (George Washington University)
- The Atlas That has Not Shrugged: Why Russia’s Oligarchs are an Unlikely Force for Change by Stanislav Markus (University of South Carolina)
- From Boom to Bust: Hardship, Mobilization & Russia’s Social Contract by Samuel A. Greene (King’s College London)
- Russian Revanche: External Threats & Regime Reactions by Keith A. Darden (American University)
- Images of the Future by George W. Breslauer (University of California, Berkeley)
Print and Kindle copies of the new issue can be ordered at: http://www.amacad.org/publications/daedalus.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Interim Chief Communications Officer