Skip to main content

About this book

The ninth iteration of this go-to text offers a comprehensive and critical discussion of the most important developments in Russian politics. Covering key areas in domestic and foreign politics, ranging from established topics such as executive leadership, parties, and elections to newly pertinent issues of nationalism, protest, and Russia’s relations with its neighbours, the book reflects the changing nature of Russian politics in a world defined by ever-shifting balances of power and tensions over globalisation.

As well as covering key developments, the contributors – an expert and diverse team from both sides of the Atlantic – address important challenges of interpretation and analysis when it comes to Russia. Perhaps most importantly, the contributors show readers how to analyse Russia as Vladimir Putin continues a presidency marked by volatile relations with Western countries.

This textbook has been designed to be accessible to readers studying Russian politics and government at any level, whether as part of a course on Russian politics or comparative politics more generally.

Table of Contents

Chapter 3. Parliamentary Politics in Russia

Changes in the status and role of Russia’s parliament — known formally as the Federal Assembly — reflect the turbulent evolution of the post-communist political system. Mikhail Gorbachev’s democratizing reforms of the late 1980s transformed the Soviet parliament from a ceremonial adornment of communist rule into an arena of stormy debate and tense political confrontation in the 1990s when Boris Yeltsin was president. In the 2000s, however, under presidents Putin and Medvedev, parliament has largely reverted to its Soviet-era role as a rubber stamp for the leadership’s policy initiatives. In this transformation are reflected the hopes, contradictions, and failures of democratic reform. Still, while parliament is not the source of political legitimacy and authority for the state in Russia that it is in liberal democracies, neither is it quite the decorative window-dressing that it was in the Soviet era. Rather, parliament has become one of several sites in Russia’s political system where bargaining and deal-making among organized interests take place. It also gives Putin and the government reliable majorities for their legislative agenda. Of particular importance is the dominant position of the United Russia party in parliament: United Russia serves as the mechanism for converting the political needs and ambitions of members of parliament into a solid bloc of voting support for the Kremlin. The transformation of parliament’s place over the years since the communist regime ended tells us a great deal about the dynamics of power in Russia.
Thomas F. Remington

Chapter 5. Russia’s Political Parties and their Substitutes

Many observers expected Russia to develop a competitive party system rapidly after the USSR broke apart in late 1991. Russia was democratizing, the argument went, and the experience of Western countries had given experts little reason to question Max Weber’s classic aphorism that democracy was ‘unimaginable’ without parties (Weber 1990). Russian developments quickly challenged this view, however. A plethora of parties did spring up during the 1990s, with as many as 43 appearing on the parliamentary ballot in 1995 alone, but by the end of that decade their growth had stalled. Independent politicians continued to dominate the country’s most important posts. For example, only 3 per cent of Russia’s regional leaders, when running for re-election, chose to do so as party nominees between 1995 and 2000. Likewise, President Boris Yeltsin himself consistently declined to join any party after leaving the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1990.
Henry E. Hale

Chapter 7. Civil Society and Contentious Politics in Russia

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a massive gold-domed building that dominates the skyline of central Moscow. The current structure was built in the 1990s, with lavish financial support from the Moscow city government, to replace the former cathedral, which was demolished and turned into a public swimming pool by the Soviet government. As such, Christ the Saviour is a symbol of the new post-communist Russia constructed over the last 20 years, and in particular, it is an emblem of the return of the Russian Orthodox Church to its former place as a key pillar of the Russian state. Despite its staid appearance, on 21 February 2012 the Cathedral was the site of some unusual politics. Five members of a feminist art collective, performing as a punk band with the provocative name Pussy Riot, entered the cathedral and right in front of the iconostasis performed a song. Though they were quickly stopped by Church officials, that evening a video of the performance was posted on the internet under the title, ‘Punk Prayer: Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!’
Graeme B. Robertson

Chapter 11. Managing the Economy

The management of the Russian economy is becoming more difficult. Russia’s GDP growth, in common with that of other emerging economies, slowed in 2012–13. It had been in the range of 4–5 per cent per annum in 2010–11. In 2012 the rate of growth dipped to 3.4 per cent. At the time of writing the outcome for 2013 was not known, but it is likely to be of the order of 1.6 per cent. There is talk in Moscow of ‘stagnation’, and considerable concern about the near future. For an emerging economy that was growing at 7 per cent a year before the financial crisis this is a challenge, even in a world of slower growth.
Philip Hanson

Chapter 13. Foreign Policy

In the first few years after Russia became independent, its foreign policy tended to be incoherent. This reduced its effectiveness, limited its influence, and confused Russian citizens and their international partners. Incoherence is not uncommon in the foreign policies of new states and, in many ways, Russia was a new state and the 1993 Constitution was very different from the constitution in operation when it became independent. Not surprisingly, therefore, Russia had the problems all new states have of setting up foreign policy institutions, establishing how they should relate to one another and deciding what goals the state should pursue in its relations with the outside world.
Margot Light

Chapter 15. Trajectories of Russian Politics: An Interpretation

Since the Soviet collapse in December 1991, Russia has moved from communist rule to what will be regarded in this chapter as a new form of authoritarian regime, dubbed ‘competitive’ or ‘electoral’ authoritarianism. Regimes of this type proliferated around the world after the end of the Cold War not only due to a changing international environment but also because of the key role of elections as the main element of their domestic political legitimacy. These regimes incorporate multi-candidate and multi-party elections that are meaningful, and stand in contrast to ‘classical’ versions of authoritarian regimes (including communist ones), which are known for their non-competitive ‘elections without choice’. Under ‘competitive’ or ‘electoral’ authoritarianism, and in contrast to electoral democracies, elections are marked by an uneven playing field, based on formal and informal rules that construct prohibitively high barriers to participation, sharply unequal access for the various competitors to financial and media resources, abuses of power by the state apparatus for the sake of maximizing incumbent votes, and multiple instances of electoral fraud. These basic ‘rules of the game’ greatly contributed to other multiple deficiencies of contemporary Russian politics, outlined in previous chapters of this volume, such as weak and impotent political parties, heavily censored or self-censored media, rubber-stamping legislatures at the national and sub-national levels, subordinated and heavily biased courts, the arbitrary use of the economic powers of the state, and endemic corruption.
Vladimir Gel’Man
Additional information