Putin Putin's Domestic Policy Putin's Legacy Regime Change Regime Transformation revolution from above Russia Russia's ethnopolitics Russia's Muslim republics Russia's national autonomies Russia's national republics Russia's Revolution From Above Russian democratic opposition Russian Domestic Policy Russian Federalism Russian opposition Russian politics Stealth Authoritarianism Stealth Authoritarianization

Putin’s Stealth Authoritarianism and the Unfilfilled Prospects of Revolutionary Response

by Gordon M. Hahn

[[The article below was originally published in April 2004 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as Gordon M. Hahn, “Putin’s ‘Stealth Authoritarianism’ and Russia’s Second Revolutionary Wave,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Regional Analysis, Vol. 4, Nos. 14-16, 16, 23, and 28 April 2004, http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1344300.html.]

Revolutions often come in waves, in which revolutionary and less abrupt and disruptive transitional tendencies compete to determine the ultimate mode of regime transformation. Thus, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rollback of democracy and establishment of a soft, stealth-like form of authoritarian rule is not unusual among major regime transformations.

Transitions from authoritarian rule, as the first students of non-revolutionary regime change emphasized and many of their more teleological students seemed to forget, can lead to political democracy, a new form of authoritarianism (for example, from a military dictatorship to a civilian corporatist or one-party dictatorship), to revolutionary chaos, civil war, and/or totalitarianism.

Given such a high level of uncertainty and contingency in transitional/revolutionary situations and their immediate aftermaths, Putin’s stealth authoritarian Thermidor could set the stage for a possible second transitional and/or revolutionary wave succeeding the limited revolution from above of the 1990s.

Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves

The first Russian revolution emerged in embryonic form with the students “going to the people” in the so-called narodniki movement of the 1860s and deepened with the terrorist organization People’s Will (and others) emerging in the 1870s. The revolutionary terrorists succeeded in assassinating Tsar Alexander II in 1881 as he was preparing to promulgate a constitution that might have paved the way for what political scientists like to call a ‘transition to democracy’ imposed peacefully from above.

The revolution matured with the organization of revolutionary mass movements and political parties and exploded into the upheaval and violence of 1905. Tsar Nicholas II succeeded in temporarily aborting the revolution from below by presenting on 17 October 1905 his October Manifesto, which promised a national parliament elected by the people. However, he abruptly changed course by disbanding the State Duma and calling for new elections in July 1906 and again in July 1907, after elections produced parliaments that were be completely servile to the crown.

In doing so, Nikolai reversed what could have been a transition to democracy imposed from above and made unlikely a ‘pacted transition’ that might have been negotiated with moderate elements within the opposition after the first years of World War I brought further decay of the autocratic state and a new revolutionary upsurge from below. February 1917 saw the revolutionary seizure of power from below by a coalition of moderate and radical revolutionary movements.

With the ancien regime gone, ideological and political differences among the revolutionaries took center stage. The radical Bolsheviks seized power from the moderate-dominated Provisional Government of Aleksandr Kerenskii in October 1917, leading to a bloody civil war. In sum, the failure of Nicholas II to fashion a transition to democracy ended in the worst-case scenario: a revolutionary takeover from below followed by a communist coup. The interplay of revolutionary and transitional trends lasted for more than half a century.

Similarly, the French Revolution began a decade or so before the revolutionary seizure of power in 1789 and lasted at least until the so-called second French Revolution in 1830. The English Revolution’s first wave culminated in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, but saw several sequels until it was completed with the so-called great reform laws of the 19th century. Even the more peaceful American Revolution lasted decades, from the Boston Tea Party (1774) through the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, to the adoption of the 1789 constitution, the 1786-87 Shays Rebellion, the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion, and beyond. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Iranian Revolution has shown signs of developing a democratic second wave following its initial Islamic fundamentalist-nationalist revolutionary wave.

These revolutions from below produced strong states — whether totalitarian or democratic — and fundamentally new forms of rule that radically changed the relationship between rulers and the ruled. Each of these revolutions’ radical stage was followed by a “Thermidor” — a reaction to the revolution’s radicalism that led to a new equilibrium that was somewhat akin to the pre-revolutionary status quo. In all these revolutions, except for the first Russian revolution, this Thermidor was followed by a new revolutionary wave that consolidated many of the revolution’s changes.

Like these revolutions from below, the military-led Meiji revolution from above in late 19th and early 20th century Japan and Ataturk’s similar revolution in Turkey, also developed in waves. The former, initially a moderately authoritarian modernization project, evolved into a military-fascist regime that exhausted itself in World War II. Ataturk’s secularizing and modernizing revolution from above has spawned a democratic regime, the development of which has been uneven and unstable, interrupted twice by military coups before undergoing a next wave of democratization.

The second Russian Revolution of 1990-91 came not from below, but from above. From 1987 to 1991 Russia’s ruling class, the apparatchiks and nomenklatura of the Soviet Communist Party state, split over which path the USSR should take. This split ended in the revolutionary seizure of power by one group of bureaucrats — those running the Russian republic headed by Boris Yeltsin — from the crumbled regime coalition of hard-liners and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s reformers. This outcome came about in no small part because of the August 1991 party- and siloviki-led hard-line coup. That event scuttled a nascent transition pact — the Union Treaty — that was set to be signed by Gorbachev and nine union republic leaders on 20 August.

In both the destructive phase of dismantling the ancien regime and the constructive one of building a post-Soviet regime and state, Russia’s revolution from above co-opted thousands of former party-state apparatchiki, liberal and conservative alike. It also incorporated numerous Soviet-era institutions, including administrative, executive, legislative, judicial, coercive, and socioeconomic bodies and structures — in many cases without instituting any reforms and certainly without compelling lustration of personnel. Not surprisingly then, Yeltsin’s revolutionaries from above failed to consolidate the free market and democracy for which they claimed to be struggling. The former remains on shaky footing with a large state sector and a private sector whose leading players still benefit immensely from various forms of state largesse including access to state budgetary funds, fixed “competition,” and protectionism.

Moreover, many of the limited democratic gains of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras have been largely dismantled under Putin’s Thermidorian reaction. The soft nature of Putin’s Thermidor and stealth-like authoritarianism is largely a result of weak democratization during the first phase of Russia’s revolution from above, which was led by relatively conservative party-state bureaucrats with little or no understanding or commitment to democracy and free markets as such. The outcome, at least in the mid-term, is consistent with the weakly democratic or entirely anti-democratic nature of previous revolutions from above in Japan, Turkey, and Germany.

Putin’s Stealth Authoritarianism

It is now time to cease using the terms such as “managed democracy,” “illiberal democracy,” and even “hybrid regime” with respect to Russia. It is now clear that in the course of 2002-03, the regime in Russia underwent a gently imposed transition from its rather weak, “illiberal” democratic form of rule to a soft authoritarian regime. Although the distance from one point to the other is not great, it is significantly fraught with several theoretical and practical political implications. The emerging stealth-like form of authoritarianism that has emerged under Putin’s leadership is a very soft and consciously limited form of authoritarianism at present. Several features distinguish this minimalist “stealth authoritarianism” from both weak “illiberal democracy” and harsher forms of authoritarian and totalitarian rule.

First, Putin’s stealth authoritarianism is consciously implemented and constructed so as to be minimal, nearly imperceptible, and thus credibly deniable. Putin has imposed real limits on stealth authoritarianism and ensured that it operates behind a veneer of declared, if not always real, legality. On numerous occasions, Putin has rejected proposals for creating a sultanist form of personal rule based on a life-long term for presidency, a lengthening of the presidential term to two seven-year rather than four-year terms, and presidential appointment of regional chief executives. In a speech broadcast live on the radio on 19 December 2002 he said he has “no wish to place appointed personages at the head of the regions.” In a late 2003 statement, he by implication held open the door for a possible five-year presidential term. However, any such change would require the rather lengthy constitutional amendment process. It is unlikely that it could be completed by the end of his second term.

Almost all of the policies undertaken in constructing stealth authoritarianism have been couched in terms of establishing the law as supreme arbiter in the Russian state and society under the slogan “the dictatorship of the law.” Television stations are closed down, oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskii and his underlings are arrested, and political parties and candidates are refused registration or are barred from election campaigns allegedly because of illegal financial machinations or some other violation of the law, sometimes real, sometimes not. Internally, this reduces the opposition’s will to resist, and externally this facilitates a rather limited degree of international criticism, particularly from the West, where criticism and dissatisfaction could lead to limits on inter-elite contacts, trade, and business investment.

The Russian leadership’s ability to defend the new order with a straight face as democracy, even if “managed democracy,” is enhanced by its argument that its apparently illiberal actions are undertaken solely to strengthen law and order. Thus, according to a recent opinion poll conducted by the Russian agency VTsIOM-A, almost half of Russia’s citizens regard Putin as playing the role of guarantor of democracy and political freedoms, while 43 percent disagreed with this statement. Similarly, another such survey found that 51 percent of Russians do not see Russia’s “democracy gains” as threatened by anyone. Thus, an extraordinarily large number of Russians support democratic values and freedoms just as they support Putin, whom they do not see as a threat to democracy.

Second, Putin’s stealth authoritarianism is limited by a hegemonic rather than a monopolistic centralization of power. A pyramid of power has been constructed: the president is the leader of the presidential administration, the presidential administration is hegemon within the executive branch, the executive branch is the hegemon over the legislative and judicial branches at the federal (and regional) level of government, the federal level of government is the hegemon over the regions within the “executive vertical” of state power, and the state’s power far outweighs that of civil society.

The best example of the undemocratic nature of this situation is the federal legislature’s domination by representatives of the executive-branch bureaucracy, state enterprises, and state-allied businesses. The Federal Assembly’s upper house, the Federation Council, was reorganized to consist of appointed senators, who are appointed in the regions but under considerable pressure from the presidential administration and allied oligarchs. The lower house, the State Duma, is now controlled by a Unified Russia majority (306 of 444 deputies) that is dominated by former federal and regional civilian and power-ministry bureaucrats and representatives of state enterprises and Kremlin-allied business elites. The party of power is composed, run, and organized on the basis of the state bureaucracy, beginning at the federal level. Thus, until his election as Duma speaker, Boris Gryzlov headed Unified Russia and held the post of interior minister. As a result, one of Russia’s highest law-enforcement officials for several years violated federal law, which forbids officials of such rank to hold leadership posts in political parties.

At the regional level, the heads of 37 of Russia’s 89 regions occupied the top 37 slots in Unified Russia’s regional party lists for the 7 December 2003 Duma elections. After being elected to the Duma, these regional governors and republic presidents did not, however, take up seats in the State Duma, meaning that voters elected empty seats for the party, which then filled them as it pleased. Officials of state enterprises, the natural monopolies, and the recently Kremlin-tamed oligarchic financial-industrial groups account for 45 of Unified Russia’s 306 deputies in the Duma and 59 of the Duma’s 444 deputies. Declared holders of stock in such enterprises include 64 Unified Russia deputies and 92 Duma deputies overall. Thus, one-third of the Unified Russia’s Duma faction and of all Duma deputies overall have ties to state-connected big business. The Duma represents not elements of civil society, but factions within the state bureaucracy and the business community connected to it.

Nevertheless, some power is diffused to some institutions and executive-branch officials beyond the president and his administration. The courts on occasion still rule against state prosecutors, including one Putin-era high-profile espionage case and the Russian Supreme Court’s Presidium’s refusal to consider an appeal from Colonel Yurii Budanov, who was convicted of murdering a young Chechen woman by a lower court and sentenced to 10 years in prison. With the introduction of jury trials in certain cases, such setbacks for prosecutors could become a less rare occurrence. In addition, regional governors and legislatures are popularly elected and are still forced to take into account the situations in their regions, not just Moscow’s preferences.

Within limits, regional governors are allowed to shape the politics, political economy, and social development of their regions. Although the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party is inexorably coming to dominate the regional legislatures, the Kremlin still loses, or at least stays on the fence, in some elections for regional chief executives. The Kremlin has had to tolerate or cut compromises with several influential national-republic presidents, especially Tatarstan’s Mintimer Shaimiev and Bashkortostan’s Murtaza Rakhimov. However, such regional leaders’ power is strictly limited to the regional level as a result of Putin’s federative reforms.

Finally, the state has not placed any serious limits on the right of association, and on occasion public organizations succeed in pressuring the state to change course, as was the case with the recent review of the new federal law on compulsory automobile insurance.

The recentralization of federal-regional relations and the dismantling of former President Boris Yeltsin’s asymmetrical federalism, if not of federalism itself, is a third feature of the rollback of democracy under stealth authoritarianism. Federalism is the republican expression of the territorial and multinational character of large multi-communal states and societies. Throughout the 1990s, federalism and related consociational mechanisms helped contain communalism, that is, ethno-national, linguistic, and religious aspirations for self-determination and even secession — and inter-communal conflict, with the exception of the Chechen wars. The federal center managed under these federative and consensus-building institutions, however weak they were, to avoid major inter-communal conflicts among the country’s more than 100 nationalities and to limit self-determination aspirations to demands for internal self-administration in 31 of 32 national autonomies (the exception being Chechnya).

Yeltsin’s ad hoc “asymmetrical federalism,” like somewhat similar, though more developed and effective systems in Spain and India, afforded the regions — especially the ethno-national republics — considerable autonomy in their cultural, economic, and political affairs. Yeltsin signed 42 power-sharing treaties with 46 regional governments, most often the national republics, to provide much of this autonomy. In Tatarstan, this was enough, along with Shaimiev’s cautious and pragmatic political leadership (as compared with that of Dzhokar Dudaev in Chechnya), to prevent a second Chechnya on Russian territory, one that would have exploded the entire federation.

The federal-regional treaty-making process, while bringing in an element of consensual agreement and negotiation, was not well institutionalized or democratic. The federal and regional parliaments played no role in the adoption of such treaties, and the national populations were completely excluded from the process. Instead of parliamentary approval and several-stage-referendum process as occurred in the adoption of Spain’s statutes of autonomy, Russia’s power-sharing treaties and attendant agreements were purely inter-executive-branch affairs. State building, in other words, occurred in a way consistent with the pattern of revolution from above.

Still, this process, as well as other institutional arrangements, constituted an acceptable start to federation building. The various institutions needed to be improved, but under Putin they have been destroyed. Indeed, his federative reforms have rolled back all federative and consociational mechanisms, while leaving the facade of some federative institutions and consociational mechanisms in place. Thus, all 42 of Yeltsin’s federal-regional power-sharing treaties have been allowed to expire or were abrogated under Putin. It is unclear whether regions like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan that forged the power-sharing-treaty process at the founding of Russia’s asymmetrical federalism will be allowed to conclude new treaties with Moscow, and if they are, what if any autonomy and thus asymmetry those treaties will provide. However, a power-sharing treaty with an increasingly subdued Chechnya is now being negotiated with its fundamentally loyal leadership implanted by the Kremlin through the deeply flawed election of Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov.

Under Yeltsin, the Federation Council more or less performed the function it should in federal democracies: representing equally the interests of regions, and sometimes communal groups, as compensation for the unequal representation of minorities and small, less powerful regions in the lower house. The Federation Council was initially made up of two popularly elected senators from each of Russia’s 89 federation subjects. Later under Yeltsin, the council consisted ex officio of each region’s regionally elected chief executive and legislative assembly chairman. Under this method of selecting senators, they were still directly elected officials. The regional chief executive-senators were popularly elected in their regions, and legislative assembly chairmen-senators were popularly elected as deputies before being elected by the regional assembly as its chairman.

Putin reorganized the Federation Council so that instead it is comprised of two appointees from each of the 89 regions: one appointed by the region’s chief executive, the other by the region’s legislature. Appointees rarely come from among the ranks of elected regional officials, such as deputies from the regional legislatures. Indeed, they are often appointed under intense pressure from the Kremlin, using its full panoply of administrative resources, compromising materials, and political as well as financial inducements. Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, a Putin ally, was elected a senator from St. Petersburg in just this way. Indicative of Putin’s ability to pack the upper house is the representation of the Republic of Tuva (Tyva). Both of its senators hail not from Tuva, but from St. Petersburg: Lyudmila Narusova, the wife of Putin’s onetime mentor, deceased St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, and Sergei Pugachev, head of St. Petersburg’s Mezhprombank, who has close ties to Putin, the Russian Orthodox Church, and former and present Federal Security Service (FSB) officials. Thus, the institution of an upper house remains, but it has been shorn of its federative function.

The Yeltsin-era “arrangement” allowed for clear violations of his own 1993 constitution and federal legislation, making for an “unofficial” or illegal asymmetry in Russian federalism. Regional constitutions and laws violated federal norms even after Russia’s Constitutional Court struck down the offending regional norms. The federal government joined in the orgy of illegality, signing federal-regional bilateral treaties that frequently violated its own constitution.

However, all this compensated for the potential of hyper-centralization under the Russian Constitution. It specifies and sets aside a long list of powers solely for the federal government and another long list of joint federal-regional powers, but it gives to the regions sole power over whatever is left. The limited leftovers for the regions combined with the constitution’s other stipulation that federal law takes precedence in the event that federal and regional laws on issues coming under joint federal-regional competence contradict each other means that the degree of decentralization rests entirely on Moscow’s willingness to decentralize.

Under Putin such willingness has disappeared. Asymmetry has been eliminated, and regional autonomy has been reduced to a minimum by forcing regional constitutions and laws into conformity with their federal counterparts. This means that centralization has returned with an absurd vengeance. Thus, federal law now dictates the size of traffic-violation fees in Tatarstan.

Moreover, whereas under Yeltsin, regional autonomy was backed up with the necessary material and financial base, Putin has recentralized state ownership and federal-regional interbudgetary relations. The Yeltsin administration’s federal-regional treaties and attendant agreements that gave property, land, and special tax breaks to many regions, especially the national republics, no longer function. Whereas under Yeltsin overall federative fiscal policy maintained an approximate 50-50 balance between revenues kept in Moscow and those distributed to the regions, under Putin the ratio has reached a much more centralized ratio of 67-33 in favor of the center.

Under Yeltsin, an element of consociational or consensus rule (as opposed to majority rule) was deployed within the federal legislative process through a form of the “minority veto.” Any piece of draft federal legislation could be forced into a federal-regional “conciliation procedure” if in more than one-third of Russia’s regions, the executive or legislative branch protested a draft law going through the federal parliament. Putin has raised the bar for regional vetoes of draft legislation and reversion to the federal-regional conciliation procedure. Now both branches of one-third of Russia’s regions must challenge a draft law to take it off the table and send it into conciliation. This is virtually impossible to achieve given the Kremlin’s co-optation of the regional governors and republican presidents through various carrots (third terms or more) and sticks (administrative resources and “kompromat”).

Moreover, not only have Putin’s federative reforms undermined the institutional containment of communalism, some of his other policies threaten to provoke ethno-political mobilization and conflict. Amendments to Russia’s laws on political parties and elections were reformed in ways that impinged on communal minorities’ political rights. Political parties based on minority ethnic, religious, or linguistic groups are forbidden from running candidates in elections.

This will not necessarily achieve the integrative goals set out by the administration. The leading Muslim party simply renamed itself and managed to get registered to run in December’s elections to the State Duma, rather than disband or merge or join in a coalition with a more generic party. The ban on such parties is likely to alienate ethnic and religious minorities, especially the Muslim nationalities, from the political process. Such policies, because they impinge on the most basic level of communalist aspirations for autonomy — those spheres directly related to their national identity — provoked considerable outrage from Tatars and other nationalities.

In addition, the Kremlin has sought, though often failed, to institute more assimilative cultural, education, and language policies in relation to its non-Russian identity groups. There was the Education Ministry’s failed effort to introduce a mandatory course on Russian Orthodoxy in Russian elementary schools. There was an effort to ban Tatarstan’s plans to convert Tatar from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. There also was a failed attempt to forbid Muslim women from wearing headscarves when being photographed for their passports. The failure to implement such policies suggests again the real limits of authoritarianism in its soft, stealth-like form under Putin. However, should such policies be pursued further against the background of continued weakening and dismantling of core communalism-containment mechanisms, Putin risks a backlash by national minorities and autonomies.

Fourth, autonomous associations, including opposition political parties, are allowed to exist within society. However, the opportunities for parties and autonomous organizations to shape policy and pursue political office and power are limited by a mix of legal (institutional design such as election laws) and illegal measures (the misuse of administrative resources). Under stealth authoritarianism there are no arrests of opposition activists or bans on opposition parties, as under hard authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.

Instead, the laws on elections and political parties are designed to limit the ability of parties with no access to state resources to function, and state institutions — including election commissions, prosecutors, police, and the courts — tilt their actions in favor of the Kremlin and its allied parties and candidates. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia, for instance, was disproportionately represented as compared to other parties on numerous regional election commissions prior to the December 2003 State Duma elections in violation of the law.

More interestingly, the administration of President Vladimir Putin has encountered considerable success in creating corporatist structures to co-opt and marshal the resources of various professional and social groups and their representative associations. In a sense, the party of power, Unified Russia, is an extension of stealth authoritarian corporatism to the realm of the Russian bureaucrat. In business, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) has been infiltrated by oligarchs loyal to Putin and essentially subordinated to the Kremlin’s will. Instead of functioning as an independent business leaders’ association at least occasionally in opposition to the authorities, it has become a Soviet-like transmission belt passing to the authorities ideas on legislation that are in their interests on a tactical level, while leaving the strategic and much of the tactical levels under the Kremlin’s full control. Nothing symbolizes the RSPP’s taming more than its mild criticism of the 25 October arrest of one of its leading members, YUKOS CEO Khodorkovskii, and its complete silence after Putin demanded that the RSPP and others “cease the hysterics” surrounding the Khodorkovskii case. The “hysterics” on the RSPP’s part consisted of a request to meet with Putin. Subsequently, a proposal emerged, perhaps from the presidential administration, to merge the RSPP with the two other leading business associations in an apparent bid to fashion a universal “business vertical’ under the Kremlin’s full control.

Similarly, upon Putin’s arrival to power, the Kremlin created a state-sponsored Media Union, headed by nomenklaturshchik Aleksandr Lyubimov, as an alternative to the independent Russian Union of Journalists to co-opt representatives of the mass media.

The Kremlin has also played favorites with competing associations of the Jewish and Muslim communities, respectively. The Kremlin created a pro-Kremlin Jewish organization, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR), and ensconced as its head Rabbi Berl Lazar. The rabbi was associated with Sibneft oil company head and Chuktoka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich and with diamond magnate Lev Levaev, both of whom were willing to eschew politics upon Putin’s demand. This was untrue of the main backers of the hitherto leading Jewish organization in Russia, the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) — Gusinskii and Khodorkovskii. Since Gusinskii’s forced exile, the RJC fell into decline, and the Kremlin’s FJCR has emerged as the leading association of Russian Jewry, more readily able to lobby the Kremlin because its creation was the brainchild of presidential administration deputy head Vladislav Surkov.

Among Muslims, the Kremlin first co-opted the Central Spiritual Board of Muslims (TsDUM) headed by Talgit Tadzhuddin. However, in the wake of Tadzhuddin’s declaration of jihad against the United States after the beginning of the war in Iraq, the Kremlin switched horses and now has co-opted the Council of Muftis, headed Ravil Gainutdin. Previously, the council had been competing feverishly with TsDUM for the Kremlin’s favors, charging Tadzhuddin with ties to Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in an effort to discredit the competing suitor. The co-optation of corporate associations is achieved largely through the use of state largesse, which is now enjoyed by the Council of Muftis. Gainutdin is now the Kremlin’s choice when it endeavors to showcase Muslims’ loyalty to Moscow in various media and at various forums. The most recent sign of the Kremlin-Gainutdin relationship came during the recent presidential campaign. When the Kremlin sought to ensure a high turnout, it gave Gainutdin the nod for a television appearance calling on all of Russia’s Muslims to vote.

The fifth and perhaps most important element of stealth authoritarianism is the often subtle — but sometimes heavy-handed — use of state administrative resources against targeted autonomous opposition actors who are prepared to use their financial and other resources to assist opposition forces. The Prosecutor-General’s Office, the Interior Ministry, the Federal Tax Service, and the Federal Security Service (FSB) are often the agents of this selective law enforcement. They are deployed, often in collusion with the courts, to pressure such actors and to redistribute property in favor of supporting clans and against opposing ones.

Thus, there are no mass arrests of autonomous and resource-rich capitalists or bans on private ownership of business, as under communist totalitarianism. The Putin regime has forced into exile and/or arrested oligarchs Gusinskii, Boris Berezovskii, and Khodorkovskii for alleged violations of the law especially during the 1990s privatization of state assets. Meanwhile, oligarchs who likely committed similar acts in the past but who now promise to stay out of politics or support the Kremlin and its allies are allowed to thrive: Pugachev, Vladimir Potanin, Oleg Deripaska, Vagit Alekperov, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and others. The same is true of regional governors and other officials who break the law.

The selectivity of the law enforcement organs’ activity and its political intent was signaled early in Putin’s tenure by his betrayal of his so-called godfather, Berezovskii. It is of particular interest that on 4 November 2000 federal prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against Berezovskii related to the Aeroflot case, involving the laundering of money through the then-Berezovskii-controlled airline. This occurred shortly after Berezovskii had brought Putin to power by promoting Putin as Yeltsin’s designated successor and by funding the new pro-Putin Unified Russia party.

After Berezovskii refused to afford Putin independence from the so-called Family, he was charged with a series of criminal violations and forced to flee the country. Shortly after his self-imposed exile, Berezovskii was again charged in connection with case involving the Swiss company Forus, which was a part of the original Aeroflot money-laundering investigations, bringing the Putin-Berezovskii relationship full circle.

The sixth feature of stealth authoritarianism and the most important in terms of defining the present form of rule as one that is more authoritarian than democratic is the direct application of administrative resources and other so-called technologies during elections to create outcomes in the Kremlin’s favor. Administrative resources are used by the authorities to limit the campaign venues for opposition candidates, to shape the field of candidates and parties that may participate in any given election, and to help in general to determine the outcome of the election so that the need to engage in massive electoral fraud is largely eliminated. Such methods take care of the problem posed by allowing opposition parties to exist. Where there is an opposition party, there is no problem, paraphrasing Stalin, because opposition parties’ and candidates’ chances of winning are reduced to near nil.

How does administrative -resource work get done? In the last days of November, some 10 days before the 7 December 2003 State Duma elections, the administration of St. Petersburg reportedly summoned all the heads of St. Petersburg’s raions and warned them that if they did not produce a high vote for Unified Russia their jobs would be on the line, according to a local elections official who spoke on condition of anonymity. This strong-arm method was exercised down the administrative chain of command. Administrative heads told department and committee heads to rally votes for Unified Russia or else. They, in turn, pressured the heads of enterprises, universities, schools, and other institutions dependent on budgetary funding to produce votes for the party. Thus, school principals were warned that if they did not secure the votes of their students’ parents, repairs to the schools’ physical plant would not be funded.

During the presidential campaign, presidential candidate and Motherland bloc leader Sergei Glazev charged in a March 2004 letter to Putin that the administrations of Moscow, Ulyanovsk, Samara, and Penza oblasts and those of “a number of other regions openly demanded from officials dependent on them under the threat of being firing that they ‘secure’ no less than 70 percent of the ballots in your favor and a turnout of no less than 70 percent.” Thus, during a campaign swing in Nizhnii Novgorod, a contract permitting Glazev to hold a press conference was torn up just before the event and electricity was cut off to the premises. Just two days earlier, during a campaign stop in Yekaterinburg, authorities evacuated the building where he was holding a news conference, claiming there had been a bomb threat.

Administrative pressure during the 2004 presidential campaign went so far that a hospital in Khabarovsk Krai reportedly refusing to admit patients who could not produce absentee ballots This gambit was undertaken apparently in response to an order from the Health Ministry’s local department instructing state-budget organizations under its charge to help get out the vote because the Kremlin feared might not turnout might not exceed the 50 percent required to validate the poll.

Extra insurance against second rounds or in favor of large parliamentary majorities is provided by a subtle form of falsifying election results. Voters are increasingly reporting, especially on talk shows on radio stations like Ekho Moskvy, having strange encounters at the polls. After receive their ballot, they decide to inquire of the election worker whether other family members of voting age have cast their votes already. They are told that they have and are presented the voting roll showing a check next to each name of the family member, indicating that they have voted. Upon returning home, the recent voter asks everyone if they cast their ballots, and to the mild shock of all, one or more say they did not vote. On one of last year’s election days, I visited a voting station with a Russian friend who cast his vote, and we returned to the family’s apartment and had this very experience.

How are these additional votes inserted into the results if election observers from opposition parties and international organizations are eyeing every stage of the vote count and reporting process? The short answer is that election observers do not watch every stage of the process. This was acknowledged in a report sent from the Central Election Commission (TsIK) to the Communist Party (KPRF). That party, along with Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), conducted an alternate vote count, found meaningful discrepancies with the official results using the same official voting protocols, and appealed to TsIK to investigate. TsIK reported to the KPRF that the divergence in the two counts came about when local “additional protocols” (povtornye protokoly) were composed by the election commissions in the absence of observers, who earlier had received copies of the primary protocols. This would allow commission members under administrative pressure to produce a particular outcome to insert a different vote count based in part on votes assigned to registered voters who failed to come to the polls. Importantly, such practice not only produces or enhances desired election outcomes, it also boosts the turnout, which is increasingly important given the high level of voter apathy and fatigue.

A wide variety of other administrative pressures and dirty technologies, however, make falsification either unnecessary or a matter of fine tuning an extra percentage point or two. Instead of banning political parties, those other than Unified Russia that perform political tasks that assist Unified Russia are allowed to benefit from state administrative resources, despite the fact that they reduce the vote for the party of power. This reinforces the appearance of a democratic multiparty system. In many races candidates appear whose sole purpose is to file lawsuits against opposition candidates during the campaign. Instead of arresting or otherwise harassing opposition candidates, the Interior Ministry mildly harasses the opposition’s campaign workers on a carefully targeted basis. The presidential administration presses supporters of opposition parties and candidates to cease participating in their election campaigns, offering a careful mix of carrots and sticks. Sticks often include threats to begin criminal or corruption investigations or to leak kompromat about their targets. The same tactics are used to get the most viable candidates to drop out of races.

The dubiously constitutional apparatuses of the federal districts’ presidential envoys are used in various ways as well. Federal inspectors to the regions try to persuade supporters of opposition parties and candidates not to support their campaigns through various carrots and, most likely, sticks. Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko was reportedly doing the Kremlin’s bidding in early 2004 by seeking out kompromat on Motherland-Patriotic Union leader Glazev as he ran for the presidency against Putin in the March 2004 election and by blocking his access to buildings where he could meet with journalists during a campaign swing in Nizhnii Novgorod. FSB officers reportedly also harassed police officers accompanying Glazev at the time until they presented their police identifications.

The use of administrative resources, falsification, and dirty technologies — while characteristic throughout the Russian Federation — are particularly prevalent in the national republics, oblasts, and okrugs. Even political scientist Dmitrii Oreshkin, hired by the TsIK to analyze the results of the presidential election on national television on election night, wrote in the election’s aftermath that, in addition to the effect of a “managed electorate” in the republics, “there is no reason to doubt that administrative resources were applied to the final result.” He added that this amounted to at least a 10-15 percent increase in the vote for Putin, giving him the 71.2 percent he got nationally, according to official figures. This means that the distorted vote in these regions, plus more limited administrative resources and dirty technologies in the remaining republics ensured Putin’s first-round victory.

A highly disproportionate share of Putin’s take in the 2000 presidential election and of Unified Russia’s more than 37 percent of the vote in December’s State Duma elections came in national autonomies. In the 2004 presidential election, the national autonomies, especially the national republics where the titular ethno-national group is Muslim by tradition, produced record-breaking returns for Putin that could not be achieved by anything approaching democratic methods. Only six of 32 autonomies produced a percentage vote for Putin less than his national 71.2 percent: the republics of Buryatia, Marii El, Sakha, Khakasia, and Chuvashia, and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.


The Vote for President Putin in Russia’s National autonomies in the 2004 Presidential Election (as a percentage of the total vote). Regions with percentages higher than Putin’s national average are indicated in bold.



Republic of Ingushetia                                 98.2

Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria                 96.5

Republic of Daghestan                                94.6

Republic of Chechnya                                 92.4

Republic of Bashkortostan                        91.8

Republic of Tatarstan                                 82.6

Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia       82.3


Republic of Mordovia                                91.4

Republic of North Ossetia                        91.3

Republic of Tuva                                        87.5

Republic of Kalmykia                                79.2

Republic of Altai                                        76.6

Republic of Adygeya                                76.4

Republic of Udmurtia                              76.0

Republic of Karelia                                  74.1

Republic of Komi                                     73.6

Republic of Sakha                                    69.8

Republic of Marii El                                  67.3

Republic of Chuvashia                            67.1

Republic of Buryatia                               66.5

Republic of Khakasia                             61.4


Chukotka                                                87.2

Yamalo-Nenets                                     84.5

Koryak                                                    84.3

Aginskii-Buryatskii                              83.5

Komi-Permyak                                     81.5

Evenk                                                     81.1

Taimyr                                                   79.1

Nenetsk                                                76.9

Khanty-Mansiisk                                74.8

Ust-Ordinskii Buryatskii                   72.8

Jewish Autonomous Oblast             67.9


In nine autonomies, the Putin vote exceeded 85 percent, including in seven republics — five of them Muslim-titular. All seven of the republics gave Putin more than 82 percent of their votes, and five exceeded the astonishing 90 percent barrier. Even the so-called democratic stronghold of St. Petersburg is catching up with the national autonomies, giving Putin 75.1 percent. This not only indicates the extent of pro-Putin St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko’s loyalty, it also marks a growing trend toward stealth authoritarianism outside the autonomies, as region after region comes under the control of pro-Kremlin chief executives and Unified Russia-dominated legislatures. That “only” 69 percent of Muscovites voted for Putin is a rather dim bright spot.

Election campaigns in the autonomies, especially the republics, now often resemble those held in the sultanist Central Asian regimes of leaders like Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov or Turkmenbashi Saparmurat Niyazov in Turkmenistan. These men head the two most authoritarian regimes in the FSU. Similar regimes in Russia’s autonomies apply in healthy doses what might be categorized as covert and overt administrative resources. Covert administrative resources are those rooted in the patrimonial structures left over from the Soviet regime through which voters are mobilized on state farms, state industrial enterprises, and within other state or state-connect organizations to turn out and vote in a particular way under the unspoken threat of material punishment — wage cuts, wage delays, difficulties in obtaining enterprise-provided social services, dismissal — by the enterprise’s management. Such resources are more deployable in rural areas than urban ones and where native elites resisted reforms and did not aggressively oppose Yeltsin’s revolution from above, fearing nationalist liberation revolutions from below.

One example of the overt use of administrative resources will have to suffice. In Tatarstan, elections to the republic’s parliament, the State Council, were held on 14 March simultaneously with the Russian presidential election, in which, as noted above, Putin won 82 percent of the republic’s votes. On 3 March, Yelena Chernibrovkina, the editor-in-chief of the local weekly newspaper “Puls zhizni,” a newspaper tied to the republic’s Party of Life branch, issued a statement detailing how administrative resources were deployed in the republic. During the night of 28-29 February, some 30 people in civilian clothes seized 143,000 copies of a special pre-election edition of the paper, along with pre-election materials highlighting three of the party’s candidates to the State Council — numbering 20,000 copies for each candidate. Also seized were 38,000 copies of a Tatar-language insert for the newspaper.

The head of the local Party of Life branch (the party is led at the federal level by Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov) is Refget Altynbaev, the former mayor of Tatarstan’s second largest city, Naberezhnye Chelny, and subsequently Tatarstan’s senator to the Federation Council. He was appointed to the Federation Council by Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev in order to remove him from the local political scene, where he was considered by most political observers to be the main challenger to Shaimiev. He was removed from the Federation Council in 2003, as he began to develop ties in Moscow as a springboard for his return to Tatarstan politics. Moreover, Altynbaev has declared his intention to run for the Tatar presidency in 2006. Although as the legal situation now stands, Shaimiev cannot run for a fourth term, Altynbaev could foil Shaimiev’s attempt to have his handpicked successor — likely to be present State Council Chairman Farit Mukhametshein — elected the next Tatar president.

The pattern of the newspaper seizure suggests official involvement. Quoting from Chernibrovkina’s statement:

“Unknown automobiles shadowed the truck carrying the editions from Ioshkar-Oly [capital of the Republic of Marii El] where the paper is printed. Police stopped the truck with the copies for three hours to check documents along the way in Zelenodolsk. No violations were found, and the truck traveled on.

“However, at the city limits of Kazan militia again stopped the truck at a control post. Upon traveling to the control post after a telephone call, ‘Puls zhizni’ Editor in Chief Yelena Chernibrovkina and journalists from the newspaper discovered the entire edition lying on the side of the road in the wet snow. Unknown people in civilian clothes guarded the paper; according to the editor’s count, they numbered 32.

“Not one of them presented identification to the editor, documented grounds for why the newspapers were seized, or gave any verbal explanation. Then the officials of the editorial board called the police. The people in civilian dress did not present any documents to the police who arrived in a patrol car in five minutes. Instead, walking further away, they quietly explained something. The patrol car slowly drove away, the police promising to send detectives. However, the detectives never came.

“A little to the side of newspapers stood two high-ranking police officers of the Tatarstan Republic. However, they also refused to explain what was going on or to present their identification to the chief editor of ‘Puls zhizni,’ stating that they had ended up there accidentally.

“In the course of more than four hours — from 9 p.m. to nearly 2 a.m. — the unknown civilians four times placed and replaced the newspapers around in the wet snow, sorting them by number, sticking tape to each pack, and signing and numbering each one. In the course of this, part of edition was ruined.

“At 2 a.m. the editor was given a copy of a protocol describing how the truck had been stopped and searched, and the editions of the newspaper ‘Puls zhizni’ had been found on the side of the road. According to the protocol, it was drafted by senior lieutenant of the administration for the fight against economic crimes of the Interior Ministry of Tatarstan. No basis of any kind for the seizure of the editions of ‘Puls zhizni’ is indicated in the protocol. Nevertheless, the entire edition of the newspaper, including the insert and the three special editions, was taken away.”

Leaders of the Tatarstan regional branch of the Party of Life and the editorial staff of “Puls zhizni” charged that the incident is a “conscious violation of the federal laws on the mass media, on political parties, on the basic guarantees of electoral rights and the right to participate in referendums of citizens of the Russian Federation, as well as of the republic’s law on elections of peoples’ deputies of the Republic of Tatarstan.”

They also charge that “this is hardly the first attempt” in Tatarstan to harass the party. In July 2003 a special commission of the Executive Committee of the Party of Life went to the republic to “sort out the numerous facts of violations of the law on political parties and discrimination against members and allies of the Party of Life because of their party allegiance.” Nor apparently was it the last. In the days following the seizure of the newspaper’s election editions, police continued to harass the paper, visiting its office three times a day.

When the inflation or deflation of voter-registration records to suit the authorities is added to these methods, the picture is complete. It appears that the number of registered voters was willfully deflated prior to the presidential elections by 900,000 as compared to those for the December Duma elections in order to help guarantee that the turnout would reach the necessary 50 percent.

In sum, under stealth authoritarianism, Russian elections are in danger of losing even the smallest element of fair competition. Since free and fair elections are the minimal requirement for qualification as even an “illiberal” democracy, we have grounds for characterizing the condition of the regime under Putin as more authoritarian than democratic. Some might argue that the same methods were used under Yeltsin. They would be correct, except that these methods were used far more sparingly and nearly as much against the Yeltsin administration as in its support. Suffice it to say that throughout most of the Yeltsin era, the State Duma was dominated by a majority that opposed the executive branch.

Beginning with the rise of Putin to the premiership and the formation and victory of Unified Russia in the 1999 Duma elections, this balance was changed. With Putin’s victory in the 2000 presidential and Unified Russia’s in the 2003 Duma elections came the gathering of most, and then all, state administrative resources into the Kremlin’s direct or indirect control, the end of pluralism, and the onset of stealth authoritarian rule.

The limits of authoritarianism here are that, as noted above, the Kremlin still loses or at least plays on the fence in some elections of regional chief executives and lets the campaign play out as it will with limited interference from Moscow. Last year, a coalminers’ union leader won the Norilsk mayoral election against a candidate backed heavily by Kremlin-tied oligarch and Norilsk Nickel owner Vladimir Potanin, head of the Interros financial-industrial group.

Most recently, the Kremlin seems to have lost or at least refrained from aggressive interference in three gubernatorial races. The careful calculus made by the Kremlin in executing stealth authoritarianism is reflected in the fact that each race was in a less-than-strategically-vital federation subject. On 4 April incumbent Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov was defeated by comedian and television personality Mikhail Yevdokimov. Putin gave a halfhearted performance during a televised meeting with Surikov days before the vote in a lackluster effort to save the governor. At the same time, however, there were rumors that Yevdokimov was backed by EES and its director, Anatolii Chubais.

On 28 March, in Ryazan Oblast, Colonel-General and former commander of the Airborne Forces Georgii Shpak, a leader of the recently left-center Motherland election bloc, defeated foreign intelligence Colonel Igor Morozov, a member of Unified Russia. However, ambivalence appears to have plagued the Kremlin here, as the campaign manger of Shpak’s campaign was Unified Russia Duma Deputy Mikhail Babich. Thus, the Kremlin’s strategy here and in some other cases appears to have been to play on both sides and let the best candidate win.

In an even less clear case, Arkhangelsk Governor Anatolii Yefremov was soundly defeated in a runoff against local dairy factory director Nikolai Kiselev, although the Kremlin appeared rather complacent about this campaign. Moreover, last spring then-presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Matvienko was harshly critical of the state of affairs in the oblast and of Yefremov’s administration. Kiselev has stated insistently that he supports President Putin, so the outcome there might actually have been to the Kremlin’s liking.

Seventh, under stealth authoritarianism there are precisely calculated limits on freedom of the mass media and access to information. Although all nationwide television channels are now state-owned, privately owned radio, newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals remain free. The symbol of the Putin regime’s seizure of the commanding heights of the mass media and space below set aside for free expression is Yevgenii Kiselev, whose “Itogi” weekly political analytical program on Gusinskii’s NTV marked the heyday of Russian independent national television in the 1990s. After Gusinskii’s forced self-exile and the takeover of NTV by Gazprom’s media-holding company, Kiselev’s staff and program moved to Berezovskii’s TV-6. After it was closed down, Kiselev turned up as editor of the weekly “Moskovskie novosti,” which is now controlled by jailed oligarch Khodorkovskii.

The national television company NTV and the radio station Ekho Moskvy, which are owned by state-controlled natural-gas monopoly Gazprom, are allowed a certain measure of editorial freedom. NTV’s weekly political talk show “Svoboda slova,” or “Freedom Of Speech,” hosted by former RFE/RL journalist Savik Shuster is an island of free speech in an otherwise largely tightly controlled national television system.

Although regional leaders have been tied to the murders of some journalists, federal authorities have not been caught ordering in physical violence or the mass imprisonment of journalists covering the sensitive issues in a fashion critical of the Kremlin. One exception is the murder of Novaya Gazeta journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, whose murderers are now on trial, though those who may have ordered the crime, such as former Defense Minister Ivan Grachev, have been left untouched. Occasional harassment is the rule, and a few selective cases have been used to put journalists on notice. “Novaya gazeta” journalist Anna Politkovskaya and French journalist Ann Niva continue to go back and forth between their Moscow apartments and the war-torn Chechen Republic — although not without occasional harassment and even threats — and to publish their newspaper reports on alleged Russian war crimes in the region and the federals’ acquiescence in them.

Since most Russians get almost all of their political news from national television, the Kremlin’s control of this resource gives the authorities a distinct advantage in shaping the background against which Russians develop their political points of view, make decisions on political life, and cast ballots. In the Duma elections in December and the presidential election in March, Unified Russia and Putin received the bulk of television airtime devoted to politics and elections. They received an even higher proportion of positive television time, as subtly crafted negative reports were used to discredit opposition candidates or comical reports were devoted to them in an apparent effort to boost the time appropriated to covering opponents with lending them any political gravitas in the process.

In the Duma election, for example, a relatively long report repeated several times highlighted a beheaded statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin restored with a sculptured head of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. During the presidential election campaign, state television focused most of its coverage on Putin, and completely ignored the potentially most dangerous opponent, Sergei Glazev. State-controlled ORT broadcast an entire, 40-minute speech by Putin to a gathering of his campaign workers — essentially a free campaign advertisement courtesy of Russian taxpayers.

Eighth, Putin’s stealth-authoritarian Thermidor has included a marked increase in the prominence of the siloviki. However, it is unclear whether this increase involves the replacement or the supplementing of the civilian party-state apparatchiki incorporated into the new regime from the old under Yeltsin. At any rate, according to Stephen White and Olga Kryshtanovskaya, the percentage of military and secret-services representatives has gradually, but markedly increased from the time of Gorbachev’s perestroika, a process that began under Yeltsin and gained momentum under Putin. In 1988, siloviki made up 4 percent of the ruling elite; in the early Yeltsin period (1993), they made up 11 percent; in the late Yeltsin era (1999) — 17 percent; and under Putin in 2003 — 25 percent. Under Putin, they account for 9 percent of Duma’s deputies, 15 percent of Federation Council senators, 10 percent of the regional elite, and 33 percent of the federal government.

Here again there is a limit on authoritarianism. This is a far cry from a military or secret police junta or a neo-fascist revolution from above run by one of the siloviki. No military or secret-service body runs the country. At most, the Security Council has emerged as an important body. Although it at times has ventured into non-military and non-security issue areas, it also includes many civilian officials. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov was once a member (although he almost certainly has past ties to the KGB) of the council, and now former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is the council’s secretary. But the council’s stature is somewhat diminished by the fact that it seems to be a refuge for officials on the way out of high politics. Thus, Vladimir Rushailo became council secretary after his removal as interior minister in favor of Putin ally Gryzlov. Rushailo received no appointment after being replaced as secretary by Ivanov in March 2004. A similar fate likely awaits Ivanov.

One power ministry has extraordinary influence outside its own policy sphere: the Federal Security Service (FSB). It has emerged to dominate the other power ministries. Aside from greater increases in its budget, representatives of the FSB have now taken over the leadership of the other two key ministries: defense and interior. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is a former KGB and FSB operative from Petersburg and Putin’s closest associate. Putin recently appointed another former KGB operative, Rashid Nurgaliev, to head the Interior Ministry. Along with the FSB itself, now all three main power agencies are headed by FSB alumni.

In addition, Fradkov is reported to have had ties to the former KGB in his capacity in the Soviet foreign-trade sphere and as a deputy minister in the post-Soviet Foreign Trade Ministry, a sphere usually set aside for those vetted, if not trained in KGB/FSB educational institutions. Moreover, the recent promotion of Dmitrii Medvedev to head the presidential administration marks the ascension of another bureaucrat with secret-police ties, although this is little known even among experts. According to a former KGB general, the Law Faculty of Leningrad State University, from which both Putin and Medvedev, hail was “a smithy of cadres for the KGB’s Leningrad Directorate, and Dmitrii Medvedev regularly rendered legal services to the Petersburg chekists and, while doing so, became close to current FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev.” Medvedev then was hired by Putin when the latter was appointed in 1990 to head the Foreign Economic Relations Department of the Leningrad City Executive Committee, headed by Sobchak. Before their arrival, that department served, according to the same former KGB general, as a cover for the city KGB’s reserve.

Putin’s soft authoritarian regime not only risks a long stagnant period of muddling through, it also opens up the possibility of further transformation, either by way of a second revolutionary wave of democratic transformations or by way of further counterrevolutionary transformation into a harsh authoritarian or totalitarian form of rule.

Russia’s Next Revolutionary Wave: Democratic or Anti-Democratic?

Any next revolutionary wave in the second ‘Russian revolution’ could take the moderate form of a peaceful democratic revolution from below or a violent red-brown revolution from below or above. Let us briefly look at each of these possibilities and roughly measure their likelihood in light of present trends and possible future developments.

A second democratic revolutionary wave seems unlikely simply to follow the first wave’s path from above. Rather, if it is to come, then it is likely to come from below. There are simply too few democratic forces remaining within the state apparatus. The power ministries are not divided and demoralized as they were during perestroika. It would likely come along lines of the Philippine, Czech, Serbian, and Georgian models and could very likely bring real democracy and economic prosperity to the peoples of Russia. A revolution from below was able to sweep aside the tsarist autocracy and the coalition of February 1917 contained genuine democratic elements. It should also be recalled that although the Soviet/Russian revolution of the 1980s-90s ultimately came from above, there was an emerging popular revolution from below percolating in society, which lent important, although sporadic support to the revolutionaries from above when they prompted Democratic Russia to mobilize demonstrations.

A Russian democratic revolution from below would likely come as a result of a serious fiscal and economic crisis brought about by a sharp decline in global oil prices, perhaps accompanied by a political crisis related to the situation in and around Chechnya. There are several reasons for regarding such a crisis as a potential spark for a second democratic revolutionary wave. First, there is a burgeoning middle class with rising expectations about the coming European lifestyle to which it believes it is entitled. In general, Russian citizens regard the authorities as ultimately responsible for in bringing such a lifestyle to fruition. A recent survey found that 68 percent of citizens believe that the state is responsible for providing a dignified job and lifestyle.

Second, the information revolution has not really fully arrived in Russia. As ROMIR Monitoring Director Andrei Milekhin notes, Russia’s mobile-telephone revolution — 40 million of the 145 million population now have cellular phones — is destined to be followed by ones related to the more politically explosive instruments of the information revolution, the Internet and cable television. Milekhin expects that before the next federal election cycle, many more Russians will have access to 100-150 television channels, instead of the present 5-10. Although regular Internet use and even access is still largely confined to a fraction of the population of Russia’s largest cities, access can be expected to expand rapidly especially when wireless technology becomes cheaper and accessible to the entire Russian middle class and beyond. This is possible by the end of the decade.

The widespread access to these information resources could begin to negate much of the advantage the authorities have gained through their monopoly of national television. The middle and entrepreneurial classes, their financial resources, and the new technologies could combine to organize a viable peaceful revolution from below. Similarly, such an opposition could prove a substantial enough partner to force a muddling or failing regime to negotiate a transition pact.

A red-brown revolutionary wave, on the other hand, is a more likely to come from above and be more moderately nationalist than fascist if it comes sooner rather than later. A long decline in the economy and the decay of the state, possibly including increasing interethnic and/or interconfessional (Russian Orthodox versus Islamic), would more likely bring radicals from outside the state apparatus to power on the backs of elements from within the security forces. The growing role of the security forces combined with the coming succession of what they view as “their” president and a financial or economic crisis could prompt such forces to undertake a palace, constitutional, and/or armed coup and establish a totalitarian regime.

These forces’ view, supported by the military and many civilian bureaucrats, of an emerging foreign threat from Muslim fundamentalists or even Western powers could add fuel to the red-brown revolutionary fire from above. The neo-communist element of radical statists and nationalists in Russia is in part a leftover from the old party-state apparatchiki who still hold sway inside the Russian apparat and a reaction to the uncontrolled privatizations under Yeltsin. This would tend any such revolution from above to engage in a major nationalization campaign of all large enterprises but allow small- and medium-sized private businesses to continue. Interestingly, a recent survey found any red-brown revolutionaries from above would likely find considerable support below for nationalization. Three-quarters of 2,500 survey respondents believed that all the key branches of industry — including the fuel-and-energy complex and the railroads — should belong entirely to the state.

The prospects for a red-brown revolution from below are less obvious at this time, but in the long-term could be realized, given continued growth of nationalist and xenophobic sentiments within society. A recent survey revealed some grounds for this concern. It found that unmet rising expectations are leading to a search for scapegoats. A profound desire to be rich on the model purveyed by television commercials and media reports about the lifestyles of the so-called New Russians and of some non-Russian ethnic minorities of Russia is combining with an average salary of under $200 per month to produce a gap along the lines of Ted Robert Gurr’s “relative deprivation” hypothesis for why men rebel. The survey showed that not only did two-thirds of Russian citizens agree that the majority of the rich in Russia are thieves and that one can only become rich in Russia by violating the law, three-quarters of Russians expressed a desire to be rich even at the cost of violating the law.

A more tangible manifestation of these attitudes appears to have been registered during recent elections to the city assembly of Krasnoyarsk, when the party of aluminum baron and alleged crime boss Anatolii Bykov received broad support. His party took a plurality of the vote, defeating in the process the local branch of Unified Russia, a sign — if a less than pure one — of residual pluralism underlying Putin’s stealth authoritarianism. Bykov himself was elected once again to the Krasnoyarsk Krai Legislative Assembly, despite having been convicted of ordering a murder. In short, a certain cynicism, immorality, and even criminality could be being produced by Russians’ sense of relative deprivation.

In addition, the survey found that these attitudes are combined with a rather strong inclination to blame certain ethnic minorities and therefore with support for restricting their civil and political rights. Thus, 42 percent subscribed to the view that “national minorities have too much power in our country.” One-fourth of respondents felt that the rights of certain minorities should be limited. Of these, 60 percent thought that the rights of Caucasian nationalities should be limited; 51 percent felt the same about the Chinese; 48 percent about Vietnamese; 47 percent about Central Asians; 28 percent about Africans and Jews; and 18 percent about Tatars.

Another survey carried out by VTSIOM-A in 2003 found that 21 percent of ethnic Russians support the view that “Russia is for the Russians” and that this slogan should have been implemented long ago. Thirty-two percent said it should be implemented, but within reasonable limits. Only 18 percent opposed the idea, 14 percent have not given it any thought, and 8 percent found the question too difficult to answer.

Emil Pain, director of the Center for the Study of Xenophobia and Extremism, has warned that expressions of obeisance before Moscow by native elites and titular nationalities in the union republics, which stands in such stark contrast to the parade of sovereignties of the late 1980s and early 1990s, is deceptive. “The political forces for future ethnopolitical explosions may be accumulating under the cover of today’s demonstrations of loyalty by the leaders of the national republics,” Pain said.

This is particularly true when one considers that Putin’s federative reforms, combined with his other reforms, have created a mix of terminated republican sovereignty, limited ethno-cultural autonomy, greater ethno-national grievances, and potential regional liberalization. All this opens up the possibility for ethnopolitical mobilization in the republics.

Putin’s federal reforms have democratized legislation and constitutions in the regions, including in the more authoritarian national republics. This opens up space over time for new political forces to come to power in the republics should the center loosen up on other aspects of its federal policies, the party system, and its election policies. This is a potentially explosive mix if combined with a possible growing ethnic-Russian chauvinism. These forces could be mobilized by the rollback of republican sovereignty and autonomy, as well as by any official favoritism to Russians or official or social ethnic-Russian discrimination against national minorities, especially Muslim minorities. The present international climate contributes to the growing potential for a “clash of civilizations” in Russia along these lines.

Potential discrimination against Muslim Tatars is of particular interest since they are the second-largest nationality in Russia and are numerous in various regions throughout Russia, including large internal diasporas in Moscow, St. Petersburg, along the Volga, and in eastern Siberia. Moreover, Tatarstan, where Russians slightly outnumber Tatars, has been at the forefront of the drive to allow national republics special rights within the federation. Relations between Muslim Tatars and ethnic Russian Orthodox Christians in Tatarstan have become more strained recently than at any time since the collapse of the USSR and the rise of the Tatar independence movement, which was successfully quelled by the nuanced policy of Shaimiev — who walked the tightrope between Moscow’s demands for state integrity and separatist demands for independence by negotiating with Yeltsin broad autonomy for the republic.

Thus, some ground is laid for Russian-Tatar ethno-political conflict, though the likelihood, no less imminence of such a conflict is still rather limited and should not be overstated. Combine this with legal and illegal immigration by Caucasians, Chinese, and other nationalities apparently becoming increasingly unpopular among ethnic Russians, and a dangerous ethnopolitical stew may be brought to a boiling point.

Final Thoughts

The strategies to which Putin seems attracted — economic transition or revolution from above without democratization — have a limited life span. The Chinese path, upon which many among the Russian elite would like to build a modernization strategy, has not yet proven itself successful, simply because China has not reached or passed through the critical juncture of political transformation. In foregoing the democratic gains of the late 1980s and 1990s, Russia could be making a fatal mistake by risking having to go through this stage yet again. The danger is particularly great given Russia’s infrastructure crisis and its multi-national society and state territorial-administrative structure.

There are several reforms that Russia needs to make and that Putin might undertake that could play into the hands of one revolutionary orientation or another. Military and Interior Ministry reform would harm the interests of military and police officers, creating greater incentives for an armed coup and a neo-totalitarian revolution from above. On the other hand, housing, health, electricity, and pension reforms could mobilize middle-class and other elements to form a broad-based democratic revolutionary coalition from below. The same could be true if economic performance and/or financial vitality were to sharply decline as a result of a substantial fall in world oil prices, a bungled effort to dismantle the so-called natural monopolies, and/or major land reform.

Here, the ideological orientation of the revolution and especially its regime-institutional outcome would hinge on the balance of attitudes, the quality of organization, and the capabilities of movement leaders both within society and, more importantly, within the revolutionary coalition itself. This is what makes the outcome of any revolution, whether coming primarily from below or from above, difficult to predict.

In addition to new waves of change, the soft nature of Putin’s authoritarianism thus far leaves open the possibility of long stagnant period of “muddling through,” followed by a non-revolutionary return to democratization dictated by a powerful state leader along the traditional historical Russian pattern.

To date, it must be said, this approach has never succeeded in bringing democracy to Russia. Russian history is littered with failed reforms and failed nascent or consciously attempted imposed transitions from above, beginning with Tsar Alexander I at the beginning of the 19th century through Alexander II and Nicholas II to Gorbachev’s perestroika. Which form Russia’s next wave of change will take will be the product of numerous unknowns and contingencies.

Finally, there is one last, but seemingly highly unlikely, possibility: Putin reverses course in his second term and aids his successors in avoiding the fates of Alexander I, Alexander II, Nicholas II, and Gorbachev, as well as that of Weimar Germany. However, despite Putin’s promise to strengthen democracy and the multiparty system on the evening of his 14 March presidential election romp, this alternative seems the least likely of all.

[[Gordon Hahn is a William J. Fulbright visiting professor at the School of International Relations of St. Petersburg State University, Saint Petersburg.]]


About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an analyst for Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago, Ill.), http://www.geostrategicforecasting.com; member of the Executive Advisory Board at the American Institute of Geostrategy (AIGEO) (Los Angeles, Calif.), http://www.aigeo.org; and a senior researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group in San Jose, California.

Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War”. Previously, he has authored three well-received books: The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution. Dr Hahn has also been a Contributor to Russia-Direct (www.russia-direct.com) and an analyst and consultant for Russia – Other Points of View (San Mateo, California), www.russiaotherpointsofview.com.

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