With political stability more or less achieved in Russia, there is a discussion going on about the future of the country. In a recent article titled ‘the duet and the crown’, newspaper Kommersant focuses on two important think tanks which published their views (within two weeks of each other) on where Russia should be in ten years. Author Dmitri Kamyshev, who is the editor of Kommersant’s weekly Vlast’, explores the political implications of the recommendations made by both think tanks. Will the period of shared power in the tandem (the duet) end? And if so who will become the new president (get the crown)? It is interesting to see that in a period, in which Medvedev seems to flex his muscles, Kamyshev will not exclude a return of Putin to the presidency.
Presidential “Think Tanks”
Before we look closer at Kamyshev’s article, it is necessary to say something about the two think tanks. The first one, the Center of Strategic Studies (CSS / ЦСР) was established in 1999 by the soon-to-be president Vladimir Putin for the development of socio-economic reforms. The first director was German Gref (the current director of Sberbank), he headed the center until the early 2000’s. After Gref, the center was headed by many high-ranking Russian politicians including Arkady Dvorkovich (current advisor of president Medvedev) and Elvira Nabyullina (the current minister of state property). The budget of the center is unknown, however, in 2004 the center received 3.25 million rouble from Vladimir Putin’s election fund and in 2010, the government gave the center 13.6 million rouble. The main report of the center was published in 2000; it was called “Strategy for the Socio-Economic Development until 2010”. Experts say that of all the advices, about 36-40% was put into practise. This included improving the standard of living and doubling the GDP (with the latter only partly accomplished). Advices that were not implemented include developing local self-governance and diversification of the economy. Over the past few years, the center was involved in reforming the pension system and creating a national payment system.
The Institute of Contemporary Development (ICD / ИНСОР) was founded in March 2008. The institute is seen as the intellectural center of Dmitri Medvedev, who is the chairman of the board of trustees. The supervisory board includes people from the Center of Strategic Studies (Dvorkovich and Nabyullina). The center has a budget of 160 million rouble. The institute has published three reports over the pas four years including ‘Democracy: developing the Russian model’, ‘Russia in the 21st century: the image of a desired tomorrow’ and ‘Strategy 2012′. Most of the idea’s of the center are still seen as futuristic (like abolishing the Interior Ministry, the traffic police and the secret service) but others, like membership of the WTO and moving closer to NATO, are being put into practise right now. The most recent one, ‘Strategy 2012′ was an attempt by the center to create a pre-election program for Dmitri Medvedev. The CSS is a government institute (Putin) whilst the ICD is a presidential institute (Medvedev).
In the past two weeks, both centers have published their views with regard to the future of Russia. The report by the Institute of Contemporary Development (Strategy 2012) is a comprehensive plan to transform Russia into a bright place of modernity. The other report by the Center of Strategic Studies (‘The political crisis in Russia and the possible ways to develop Russia’) is a shorter one but contains a dire warning. At the same time, both reports focus on what Russia’s main objective should be: to stay ‘in the group of world leaders’ (as stated by ICD) and ‘to complete the transition to a group of economically developed countries’ (as stated by the CSS).
This is where the similarities stop: the reports differ greatly in both form and content. The report by the ICD is, in fact, an election program for Medvedev, which covers all the main sectors of domestic and foreign policy. The CSS document is more an ‘emergency plan’, a document on an inexorably impending disaster. But that is why the CSS document looks so interesting. It is not about what may be or not be but about what will certainly happen and has been happening/developing for the past eight months.
According to the experts over at the CSS, the following is happening. First of all, there is a ‘catastrophic decline’ of confidence in Dimitri Medvedev, Vladimir Putin and United Russia. Since, the decline concerns all kinds of area’s of the Russian political system, this means that there is a process of delegitimization going on. The authors state that to reverse or pause this trend, Russia will need to resume rapid and sustained economic growth but this is not likely to happen in medium term. On the contrary, the institute predicts a serious fiscal crisis coupled with a high inflation.
Secondly, according to its own research, the CSS foresees that a ‘growing rate of people’ is going to vote for some third party (not Medvedev or Putin, see charts at the bottom of this post). This means that without severe control over the candidates for the 2012 presidential elections and the use of other administrative sources ‘Medvedev cannot be re-elected, nor any other Putin successor’. In this sense the report by CSS is flatly at odds with that of ICD which insists that there is no alternative to Medvedev as the candidate of the party of progress. The CSS predicts that even when Putin would be the candidate of choice, the Kremlin would need to rely on administrative resources more than ever before. The extensive use of administrative resources would however only accelerate ‘the process of delegitimization of power’, thereby effectively blocking the abilities of the new president to perform his functions in a very difficult situation.
Finally, there are quantitative changes in people’s opinion: ‘the idea that the situation in the country is improving, has virtually disappeared from the debate’ and the overwhelming opinion is the idea that ‘the country is bad’. In these circumstances the (likely) return of Putin in the Kremlin may lead to the disappointment of many supporters of the current tandem ‘in both politics and even on the whole political system of Russia’. This may well lead to a boycott of the elections or protest voting.
The authors of the CSS report come to a, for the Kremlin and the White House, disappointing conclusion: the federal election of 2011-2012 ‘will cause a very severe blow to the legitimacy of power due to the obvious fact of political manipulation’. A political crisis will erupt and this will have the same characteristics as the end of the 1980’s, rather than the late 90’s.
What is to be done?
The scale of the proposed measures to save the country differs greatly as well. The ICD institute thinks in terms of radical liberalism, bringing the Yeltsin system back, creating a contract army only and disbanding the Interior Ministry as well as the FSB. The CSS is much more limited and couples new policy initiatives with moderate democratization. Whilst the idea’s of the ICD institute are widely seen as too radical and questionable in terms of the implementation of its initiatives, the ideas of the CSS are seen as much more realistic, even though its idea’s too are often seen as revolutionary.
For example, the seemingly innocent proposal to ‘modernize the political system and stimulating/creating a new cohort of political leaders’ involves a series of unimaginable steps. In particular the CSS speaks about the ‘rejection of any attempts [at any price] to achieve a parliamentary majority of United Russia’ and ‘shaping the post-election coalition government, backed by two or more parties’ (similar to the government of Yevgeny Primakov in 1999). In addition, the CSS advocates establishing parties to ‘represent the interests of the middle class in Moscow and other cities’ and ‘the redistribution of responsibilities between the president and parliament’ in favor of the later. Also, to make room for new leaders in Russia, the experts consider it possible ‘to increase the interval between the parliamentary and presidential elections’. The CSS argues that if the elections of the parliament and the president are both held within a short timeframe, this would impede modernization of the political system. If the next president gets elected in a ‘not a quite legitimate way’, the president will be politically weakened and faced with an inability to effectively manage the country’ and ‘any action will be met by stiff resistance of the population’.
What does this mean?
As a whole, nothing is fundamentally new in these conclusions: some people have already voiced heavy criticism of the current state of affairs and painted a grim picture of Putin’s Russia. The most surprising is that the CSS was established in 1999 as a think tank of the future president Putin. So, here we have people who are working for the government (receiving state money etc), who according to Kamyshev ‘say the same things only people like Boris Nemtsov (and other former politicians from the 90’s) used to say’.
However, some experts cited by Kommersant have another opinion. These studies (by the CSS and ICD) seem to reflect the views of a considerable part of the Russian elite who are seriously concerned about their future after 2012. One group genuinely believes that to solve all problems, the modernizer Medvedev needs to be re-elected. The second group thinks that the tandem did not change anything for the better and that problems will only be solved if Medvedev, Putin and all the other potential successors leave the political arena. Both groups do agree however that something needs to be done with the managed democracy. Because a system which is based on the services of millions of ‘cogs in the wheel’ (people) which interact on the basis of a strictly enforced policy is bound to lead to more failures.
Such ‘system failures’ (when the cogs do not run as they are supposed to) occur with increasing frequency in Russia (like the unexpected revelations of an ordinary employee at the Chamovnitsjeskij court on the second trial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev) and there is a distinct problem with the different signals from the top (like in the case of Libya). An even better example of this example of hampering ‘cogs in the wheel’ is the recent row (war) between the prosecutor’s office and the investigative committee in connection with the illegal gamble racket in Moscow. Because of the uncertainty surrounding 2012 the investigative committee did not hesitate to point out the involvement of the son of the prosecutor-general (Yuri Chaika). If the ‘cogs in the wheel’ were properly coordinated from the center, this would have never happened.
What will happen?
By looking at the reactions of the authorities on the two high-profile reports one can try to predict the future of the proposals of both reports. There are three main options: ignore the reports, believe the outcomes (and put them into practice) or reconsider the proposals.
If the authorities choose to ignore the reports and refuse to implement the ‘necessary political changes’ Russia will be hard hit in the future which will lead to a loss of control and the country’s disintegration. The authors of the CSS modestly abstained from describing this crash into more detail. The second option of implementing the proposals has more merit. Kommersant however argues that the government will most likely won’t accept all the recommendations and that they will be adopted selectively. This is all the more likely because some of the idea’s of the report by the CSS were already voiced before the report was published.
For example, in a recent statement, Vladislav Surkov (first deputy head of the presidential administration) said that is likely that United Russia will not be able to achieve a constitutional majority. In this sense, one can see the Kremlin’s willingness to endorse ‘more honest’ parliamentary elections. Also, there are persistent rumors that a high official is going to lead the party Just Russia which was mentioned in the CSS as well (to create a party for the middle class).
On the other hand, the idea’s of a coalition government or a redistribution of responsibilities between the president and the parliament is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
The most surprising results, according to experts, can happen if the authorities follow the third way: they will not listen to the advices of the CSS but will creatively rethink some of its recommendations. After all, the main aim of this document is to organize the return of Vladimir Putin to the post of president.
Because he is the only guarantee for stability. Putin could cope with issues like ‘delegitimizing power’ and other imaginary consequences of ‘unfair’ elections are concerned. Putin would simply ‘clear out the house of enemies’, a battle which he has waged multiple times already. Kommersant points out that the third option has become more likely because the chairman of the committee (CSS), Vladimir Churov, has recently been re-elected; the rest of the board was re-appointed as well. Boris Ebzeyev, a Medvedev man, who was thought to initiate reforms of the election system, was reappointed as well, but only as a ‘simple researcher’. It seems that Russia is ready for a second presidential term of Vladimir Putin.