The views expressed are those of the
Author and not necessarily those of the
UK Ministry of Defence
Dr M A Smith
The election of Vladimir Putin as president of the Russian Federation on 26 March 2000 should resolve the issue of who is to lead Russia for at least the next 4 years, and probably longer. Putin's inauguration on 7 May marks the formal beginning of his presidency, and he is likely to start charting his own course for Russia. Whilst he may avoid any drastic break with the Yel'tsinite legacy, Putin is likely to make changes that could significantly alter Russia's socio-political and economic landscape.
The election of Putin and
the Duma election of December 1999 were very probably an accurate expression
of the will of the electorate. However it remains an open question as to
whether the Kremlin would allow its own candidates to be defeated, or if
defeated, whether they would submit to the verdict of the electorate and
step down. The Duma election of December 1999 was a highly managed affair,
with the state media showing considerable favour towards the pro-Putin
Yedinstvo (Unity) movement and strong pressure was put on the electorate
in some regions of Russia to vote for Putin in the presidential election.
It seems reasonable to argue that although Russia possesses many of the
key characteristics of a democracy, she does not possess them all, as it
is not clear whether the Kremlin establishment's presidential candidate
can ever be removed from the presidency if the electorate so desires.
The Russian political system under Yel'tsin and so far under Putin remains a curious hybrid, combining elements of authoritarianism with elements of representative democracy, along with arbitrariness and kleptocracy. To the extent that it is democratic, it may be described as an "administered democracy." Vitaly Tret'yakov defines "administered democracy" as a "democracy (elections, choice, freedom of speech and the press, changing of leaders of the regime), which is corrected by the ruling class." By "corrected" Tret'yakov presumably means the ruling class's interference to ensure that presidential elections have the correct result. Sergey Markov outlines the concept in relation to Putin's presidency further in an article he wrote in March 2000, entitled "manipulated democracy." Markov considered that Russia's administered democracy under Putin has the following traits:
The significant feature
of administered democracy is that it does not enable the electorate to
remove from power the current president, and administered democracy could
perhaps be better described as a form of elective dictatorship. A useful
comparison could perhaps be made with the Mexican political system prior
to the presidential election of July 2000. The pre-2000 system was ostensibly
a pluralist multiparty democracy, yet was dominated by the Institutional
Revolutionary Party, which won every election from 1929 to 1994, and until
the change in attitude in 2000, was unlikely to permit any rival party
to win a presidential election. The old Mexican political system has been
described as a "hybrid regime type withÖcareful democratic reformist strategies
constituting aspects of the system that moderate its basic authoritarian
features." This definition could arguably be applied to the contemporary
Russian political system.
THE PUTINITE STATE
Putin is a gosudarstvennik (statist), who advocates an extremely strong state. He favours a powerful presidency and is opposed to any constitutional reform that would weaken it vis-à-vis the legislative branch of power. He has spoken in favour of prolonging the presidential term from four years to seven years, and says that this change should be approved by the population (presumably in a referendum) and should apply to the president elected in 2004.
He appears to desire a paternalist state, which closely supervises political, economic and social processes in Russia. In his December 1999 essay Russia at the Turn of the Millennium, he wrote:
He says that the state should play a strong role in overseeing economic reform. He says that he intends to make "the Russian state an efficient coordinator of the countryís economic and social forces, balancing out their interests, optimizing the aim and parameters of social development."
He wishes to make the state more efficient, and advocates the following measures:
Putinís expressed wish to combat corruption and organised crime may well be used to neutralise opponents. On 20 April, Anatoly Chubays said that "it will be necessary to undertake colossal, very difficult efforts to reduce the number of civil servants, increase wages, and conduct a merciless, total anti-corruption campaign, which will be accompanied by criminal trials and the jailing of many high-level state officials." The raids on Media-Most which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskiy, an oligarch opposed to Putin, and on the Internet Service Provider Xenon in May 2000 could form part of a trend to intimidate the media and opponents of the current leadership. The arrest of Vladimir Gusinsky in June 2000, ostensibly for fraud, could also be viewed in this light.
Putin's own comments on the possible introduction of legal sanctions for Russian citizens having too close ties with foreigners is also reminiscent of a state that does more than use the media to influence the opinion of its citizens and manipulate the outcome of elections. On 14 April he said:
A further indication of
Putin's interest in exercising greater control over political processes
in Russian society can be seen in the role possibly envisaged for the presidential
administration (administratsiya prezidenta - AP). There are proposals
to enhance the role of the AP in the political system, making greater use
of the internal security organs to do so. If implemented, the AP would
play a similar role to the CPSU in the pre-Gorbachev political system,
where it acted as the guiding and leading force of society. This would
further enable the Kremlin to neutralise any possible threats to its hegemony
emanating from the Duma, political parties, media and regional leaders.
PUTIN AND THE REGIONS
Putin has already moved decisively to enhance the power of the Russian state by seeking to establish greater federal control over the regions. Throughout the 1990s, power haemorrhaged from the federal government to the 89 regions of the Russian Federation. The federal government in Moscow was unable to enforce effectively its will throughout the country. Putin is already acting more decisively than Yel'tsin to reverse this trend, and strengthen Russian statehood. There was speculation that Putin might abolish elected governors and instead appoint them. However he has dismissed this notion. He has instead taken several other measures.
Yel'tsin was unwilling to block monetary transfers from the federal budget to regions that defied Moscow, Putin may be more willing to do so. Putin is also more likely than Yel'tsin to insist on appointing personnel to local branches of federal agencies. Yel'tsin had been content to let regional governors make the appointments. Putin has talked about financing all levels of the judicial system from the federal budget, which would reduce the influence of regional bosses over the courts.
Not long after his inauguration on 7 May, Putin criticised regional leaders for disregarding the federal constitution. He ordered Bashkortostan to bring its constitution into line with the federal one, and overturned decrees issued by the president of Ingushetia and the head of the Amur region.
The most significant step
so far, however, has been the presidential decree issued on 13 May, which
created seven districts (okrug), each one headed by a presidential
representative to ensure that federal government policy is enforced in
the regions. This enables Putin to ensure control over the regions through
means of a presidential appointee, whilst also maintaining the principle
of elected governors. Putin has also introduced bills to parliament that
will enable the federal president to dismiss regional leaders and dissolve
regional parliaments that enact laws that contradict the federal constitution.
These bills are currently being discussed by parliament.
THE FEDERATION COUNCIL
Putin also intends to reform
the Federation Council. It is proposed that regional governors and chairman
of regional legislatures will no longer sit in the Federation Council.
They will be replaced by directly elected senators. By being deprived of
the right to sit in the upper house of the national parliament, governors
and presidents will be deprived of legal immunity, which will thus make
them more vulnerable to legal pressures from the federal centre.
Under Putin, the government (ie cabinet of ministers) will play a technical role, largely concerned with implementing and overseeing economic reform. The government is headed by Mikhail Kasyanov, a financial specialist. Several ministries and state committees have been abolished: this appears to be part of Putinís drive to streamline the state machine. He has cut the number of ministries from 30 to 24 and the number of government agencies from 39 to 33. He has also abolished the post of first deputy prime minister and cut the number of deputy prime ministers from seven to five.
Putin appears strongly committed to a liberal economic reform strategy. In April 2000 he appointed Andrey Illarionov as his personal economic adviser. Illarionov is strongly committed to liberal economic reforms. The Russian government is optimistic about Russia's growth prospects. In April, Putin noted that the country's economy was developing better than was envisaged in the 2000 budget. He commented that the economy had grown at about 8 per cent in the first quarter of 2000. He argued that it gave reason to suppose that the forecasts for Russia's economic development would be better and the economy would develop more energetically in 2001.
In December 1999 Putin set up a Centre for Strategic Studies headed by German Gref to develop an economic reform plan for Russia. This plan, entitled Russia's Development Strategy to the year 2010 was completed in May 2000. The development strategy aims at a drastic modernisation of the Russian economy in order to avoid the danger of Russia finding itself on the periphery of the civilised world as a result of its growing lag in the social, technological and economic fields. The strategy aims to more than double average per capita incomes and increase the percentage of people who have assumed responsibility for their own well-being.
Gref's plan envisages large-scale deregulation resulting in the unfettering of business initiative which will hopefully lead to the development of small and medium sized businesses. It also envisages a substantial reduction in the state's role as a provider of social services to the population. Gref argues that the implementation of his plan must ensure an average annual growth of GDP of at least 5-6 per cent up to 2010. This will make it possible to increase GDP by at least 70 per cent by 2010. He says that in some years growth may accelerate to 8-10 per cent. Economic growth must exceed the growth of the world economy.
The development strategy
is extremely ambitious in its scope and optimistic, probably excessively
so, in its expectations. The government is likely to modify it, but it
is likely that any initial economic strategy adopted by the government
will be extremely liberal in orientation. The first steps taken by the
government indicate its desire to pursue such an approach. If reform plans
become bogged down, or fail to bring the desired results, then Putin may
find himself under pressure to shift towards a more dirigiste approach.
Unlike Yel'tsin, Putin is likely to have a good working relationship with the Duma. Pro-presidential forces are stronger in the Duma elected in 1999 than the ones elected in 1993 and 1995. The Duma voted to accept Putin's nomination of Mikhail Kasyanov as prime minister by a strong majority (325 votes to 55. There were 15 abstentions). The Yedinstvo movement led Sergey Shoygu, minister of civil defence and emergency situations is effectively a pro-Putin party and will render him loyal support in the Duma. Putin also enjoys support from the Zhirinovskiy Bloc, and qualified support from the Union of Rightist Forces (URF). The Otechestvo movement led by Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov was initially opposed to Putin, but it now gives conditional support to him.
The CPRF only provides
ritual opposition. More principled opposition comes from Yabloko, but this
movement is too small to be able to make any decisive impact. Relationships
between the different Duma factions remain fluid, and there have been talks
between Yabloko and the URF about forming an alliance. This may result
in some elements of the URF opposing Putin.
It is quite likely that the Yedinstvo movement will become a tool of the state under Putin. He attended the founding congress of Yedinstvo in February 2000. Shoygu described Yedinstvo at this founding congress as a conservative movement and compared it to the Gaullist movement in France and the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party. Shoygu and Yedinstvo strongly supported Putin in the presidential election campaign. Yedinstvo transformed itself into a political party at its congress in May 2000. At this congress, Nash Dom Rossiya, the Party of Russian Unity and Accord and Vsya Rossiya all merged with Yedinstvo. The new party claims a membership of 120,000, making it the second largest party in the Russian Federation after the Communist Party. It has the second largest faction in the Duma, with 84 deputies (the CPRF has 88).
Putin attended the May congress. Although he is not a member of Yedinstvo, and like Yel'tsin, he is likely to remain officially "above party," he sees Yedinstvo as an important ally. In his speech at the May congress, he called upon Yedinstvo to become a "bulwark" of state power. He urged that it expand its membership so that the population can be closely linked to the state. He said:
It is unclear what Putin's
relations with the oligarchs will be. He was strongly supported by Boris
Berezovskiy during the presidential election campaign. During the campaign
Putin said that the state should not show favour to the oligarchs, that
they should be equal before the law. However, given the strong control
they exercise over the economy, it will be extremely difficult for him
to reduce their economic and political power, should he desire to do so.
The only oligarch who has so far been severely dealt with since Putinís
election is Vladimir Gusinskiy, who is opposed to the president.
Putin desires to develop an ostensibly democratic system, but which is in essence authoritarian. This is partly motivated by the need to prevent centrifugal tendencies from undermining the statehood of the Russian Federation. He wishes to develop a streamlined and more efficient state machine; in contrast to the bloated state machine of the Soviet and Yel'tsin eras. The need to combat corruption and organised crime and also to neutralise legitimate political opponents may result in increased coercion. An indication of how this system intends to deal with political processes in society may come in autumn when elections are due to take place in several regions.
Putinís semi-authoritarian political system intends to administer a programme of extremely liberal economic reforms that aim at bringing about a rapid development of the Russian economy. In this respect Putinís regime can be compared with the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1973-1989), which implemented extremely radical free market reforms. If Putinís economic programme imposes heavy social costs on Russian society, then an authoritarian system may well be necessary in order to prevent any possible resistance to the programme.
If economic reforms fail,
and society becomes disenchanted with Putin, then the temptation to utilise
more authoritarian methods and possibly seek scapegoats will become stronger.
Putinís use of the Chechen conflict to propel himself to power indicates
the potential ruthlessness of his leadership, and a resort to more authoritarian
methods should not be ruled out.
The Conflict Studies Research Centre
Directorate General Development and Doctrine
Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
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