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About this book

The 9th iteration of this go-to textbook on contemporary Russian politics offers comprehensive and critical discussion of the country’s most recent developments, providing substantive coverage of the key areas in domestic and foreign Russian politics. Ranging from established topics such as executive leadership, parties and elections, to newer issues of national identity, protest, and Russia and Greater Eurasia, it reflects the changing nature of Russian politics in a globalising world defined by ever-shifting balances of power.

Building on the success of previous versions, Developments in Russian Politics 9 is an established text for modules on Russian politics. Its chapters can also be used as standalone or supplementary reading at various points throughout courses on comparative government and politics. Accessibly written, and compiled by an international team of specialists, it will appeal to both undergraduate and postgraduate students from across the world.

Table of Contents

1. Politics in Russia

Russia re-emerged as an independent state in 1991, and in the course of nearly three decades it has been engaged in a monumental act of nation and state building. It was never going to be easy to create a capitalist democracy from scratch, but in the event the process has been dramatic and contradictory. Everything had to be created anew, including the party and parliamentary systems, legally defensible property rights, a new class of entrepreneurs, and above all the constitutional framework and the rule of law. The adoption of the constitution proved protracted and divisive, accompanied by a violent conflict between the last Soviet parliament (the Congress of People’s Deputies) and president Boris Yeltsin in October 1993. The constitution adopted in December 1993 still bears the scars of this conflict. Having defeated the parliamentary forces, Yeltsin introduced strengthened powers for the executive presidency that remain to this day. In addition, Russia needed to find a new place in the international system, one that corresponded to its own vision of itself as a great power but also took into account the concerns of its new neighbours, the 14 former Soviet republics that were now independent states.
Richard Sakwa

2. Presidency and Executive

When Vladimir Putin passed Leonid Brezhnev on 12 September 2017 to become the longest–serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin, he was fully positioned within the polity and society as Russia’s paramount leader. As a paramount leader, Putin enjoyed the strong – unchallengeable – support of both the governing elite and the mainstream population that ensured he could govern Russia regardless of the official position held. In September 2017, the Russian population and elite were already anticipating the next presidential election, held in March 2018. The electoral outcome was clear, even if the particulars of the candidates running, voter turnout, and margin of Putin’s assumed victory were to be determined. In all public opinion surveys of the period 2014–early 2018, strong majorities of Russians indicated they would vote for Vladimir Putin’s return to a second term of his second presidency (and hence, his fourth term overall).
John P Willerton

3. Political Parties

The story of Russian democracy can be told through its political parties. Observers had high hopes for democracy when the Soviet Union broke apart. After all, Russia’s new leaders seemed committed to building a democratic state and a stable multi–party system. But these hopes were soon dashed. Many parties did emerge, but they were disorganized and effervescent. Outside the State Duma, political parties played little role in politics. As a result, Russia’s weak parties were unable to serve as reliable mechanisms of accountability and representation.
Ora John Reuter

4. Parliamentary Politics in Russia

In the early 1990s, parliamentary politics was at the heart of Russian politics. It was the deadlocked battle for supremacy between the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, and the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Ruslan Khasbulatov, that ended with the shelling of the White House – the then-seat of Russia’s permanent parliament. This violent confrontation ultimately claimed the lives of many in Moscow, with upper estimates reaching 1,000 people (see Chapter 6). Now, the Federal Assembly is dismissed as a mere ‘rubber stamp’ – a body that unthinkingly nods through decisions made by the Presidential Administration and the government. What changed? How did we get from violence to passivity, from parliament being at the centre of political life, to it (apparently) playing a largely peripheral, symbolic role?.
Ben Ben

5. National Identity and the Contested Nation

In this chapter, I define nationalism as the ideology of promoting the interests of a particular nation. Among these ‘interests’ are that the territory of the nation should correspond to a state, and that the nation should govern itself and protect its identity. This definition of nationalism can therefore include both movements that contest the status quo by stating that these two conditions are not met, on the one hand, and state initiatives to consolidate statehood by merging it with nationhood, on the other. In the case of Russia, these two trends exist in parallel, with several interplays at work.
Marlene Laruelle

6. Protest, Civil Society and Informal Politics

June 12 is a holiday in Russia to mark the anniversary of the declaration of independence of Russia from the Soviet Union. In 2017, the holiday offered tourists and visitors to the Russian capital the opportunity to view two different narratives about Russian politics. One narrative told the story of the great victory in World War II. The central streets of the capital were filled with hundreds of people dressed in World War II uniforms, with period weapons, tanks and military installations. Many of the people came from Russia’s vibrant community of war re-enactors – people whose hobby it is to re-enact famous military battles from Russia’s history – and they were there for (yet another) state-sponsored celebration of Russia (and the Soviet Union’s) victory in World War II, a period that is increasingly being used as a legitimizing story for Russia’s current rulers.
Graeme B Robertson

7. Russia, Media and Audiences

In contemporary Russia, the media scene is one of demoralization of many and struggle to preserve professional standards for fewer. The decade of the Yeltsin administration in the 1990s, though rife with corruption, is viewed by journalists as a ‘golden time’. Compared to what came after, it is accurate. Paradoxically, it was the lack of institutions and the incapacity of the state that allowed more room to manoeuvre, space to adopt new ways, openness to expressions of new sets of values. It is that phenomenon that made the period one of freedom of the press that the journalists snatched from the dying Soviet empire and the chaotic administration of the first years of the Russian Federation.
Ellen Mickiewicz

8. Assessing the Rule of Law in Russia

Recent years in Russia have witnessed a series of politicized arrests and trials in Russia that have left the reputation of law and the courts in tatters. The widespread arrests of participants in anti-Putin protests in 2017, including the detention of organizer Alexei Navalny as he left his house, are only the latest examples. Navalny was also tried and convicted on embezzlement charges in 2014 as part of a series of high-profile cases, the outcomes of which were generally thought to be preordained by the Kremlin. It followed the convictions of the members of Pussy Riot for their anti-Putin stunt in a Moscow cathedral in 2012, and the fraud conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky for tax evasion and fraud in 2005 and subsequent dismantling of his oil company, Yukos.
Kathryn Hendley

9. A Federal State?

Federalism in Russia has always been a contested concept. Regional elites and ‘democrats’ or liberal politicians have seen the division of power and decentralisation of some policy making as a precondition for effective governance and further democratisation of the political system. Communists and Russian nationalists have viewed regional autonomy or a genuine sharing of powers with the regions as first steps towards the disintegration of the country. For many it conjures up memories of the collapse of the Soviet Union, as Soviet republic leaders took power through elections and forced concessions from Mikhail Gorbachev that set in motion the weakening of central power.
Darrell Slider

10. Managing the Economy

For the past few years Russian economic policy has been dominated by two concerns. The first is the country’s deteriorating economic performance. The second is the falling out with the United States and Europe. The first concern has prompted a search for a new economic ‘strategy’ that would enable the nation’s output to grow faster than the world average. The slowing growth of 2013–14, the decline of 2015–16 and the prospect of growth at less than 2% a year into the 2020s are lumped together, in current Russian political parlance, as ‘stagnation’. The worry underlying this use of the word is not that Russia is literally standing still but that the nation’s share of world output has been falling and is expected to fall further.
Philip Hanson

11. Inequality and Social Policy in Russia

In early 2012, a team of policy experts from several Moscow think tanks issued a report on the economic and social challenges facing Russia, called ‘Strategy-2020’ (Strategiya-2020). The report called for a new model of economic growth and a fundamental reorientation of social policy. The report was produced by a team of some 1,500 experts convened by Vladimir Putin to advise the government on policies through 2020 and beyond. It concluded that the country’s current economic system was close to exhausting its potential for further growth and that a new model of growth was required based on entrepreneurship and competition; that inequality in incomes and access to benefits was excessive; that the shrinking of the workforce and aging of the population threatened the pension and health care systems; that high economic growth was needed to finance increased social spending and increase investment in human capital, but that such reforms could in turn fuel growth; and that, in order to alleviate redistributive tensions, the groups on whom the tax burden fell most heavily must have greater institutional opportunities for participation and representation in policy-making.
Thomas F Remington

12. Russian Foreign Policy

Russian foreign policy has undergone tremendous transformation over the post-Soviet period. While Moscow initially sought closer cooperation with its former Cold War enemies, especially with the US, a quarter of the century later Russia’s relationship with the West has dramatically deteriorated, with a large number of analysts on both sides describing the tensions as a new Cold War. To understand this major change, this chapter will begin by examining how Russian foreign policy works. It will then proceed to look at how Russia’s understandings of the international environment and of its foreign policy priorities have evolved since 1991. The third part will focus on major shifts in Russia’s foreign policy. The chapter will then discuss Russia’s dilemmas in its relations with key international actors. Finally, the chapter will conclude by considering possible explanations of change and continuity in Russia’s foreign policy.
Valentina Feklyunina

13. Security, the Military and Politics

For more than two decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s status as an important actor in global security affairs appeared to be in terminal decline. As a country that could barely muster enough military power to suppress an insurgency within its own borders, as the troublesome wars in the Chechen republic had demonstrated, it seemed that its influence had been reduced at best to the immediate neighbourhood. As a result, throughout much of the 1990s and 2000s, little attention was paid in the West to developments in Russian security and military affairs. During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, if the subject was addressed at all, analyses were largely limited to the study of failed military reforms and the continuing decay of the armed forces. When Vladimir Putin was elected president in spring 2000, the attention of observers was drawn to developments in the country’s force structures – quasi-military organisations other than the regular armed forces tasked predominantly with internal security – and in particular to the role of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Putin’s close ties to this service and the rising numbers of officials with a background in the FSB, the so-called siloviki, became a popular subject of inquiry.
Bettina Renz

14. Russia and its Neighbours

From the moment the Soviet Union legally ceased to exist on 25 December 1991 the issue of how the new post-Soviet Russia would relate to its freshly independent neighbours has been highly fraught, within the region, in Russian domestic politics, and in Moscow’s relations with the West. Three decades later, particularly following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and subsequent intervention in eastern Ukraine, the issue is more contested than ever. Despite the passage of time and the cementing of a number of trends, the future of the region, referred to here as post-Soviet Eurasia (i.e. the former- Soviet republics minus the three Baltic states), remains highly uncertain, with a number of scenarios possible.
Samuel Charap

15. The Continuing Evolution of Russia’s Political System

Russia is clearly not a democracy. But Russian politics does not easily reduce to the alternative concepts Westerners most frequently use to describe it. Terms like dictatorship or kleptocracy all capture some element of the system, but miss the logic that actually drives its behaviour. For example, much like calling Putin a new ‘tsar,’ simply branding Russia ‘authoritarian’ puts too much emphasis on Putin’s own role. He is clearly the most powerful figure in Russia today, but he cannot just do as he pleases. Studying his personality alone will yield only a poor guide to Russia’s behaviour. Similarly, concepts like ‘kleptocracy’ or ‘mafia state’ do satisfy an urge to condemn bad practices while highlighting some consequential behaviours. But there is just too much going on that cannot adequately be described through the logic of stealing or criminality, such as the passage of far-reaching anti-smoking legislation and the introduction of jury trials.
Henry E. Hale
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