April 11, 2019

Trends and Directions in the Development of the Current Political Regime in Russia

At the initiative of the NGO “Centre for Russian Studies”, on April 5, at the Diplomatic Academy under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, was held an International Round Table themed “The Current Political Regime in Russia: Quo vadis?” The invited to this event international analysts, representatives of the diplomatic corps in Ukraine and experts of the Centre analyzed the most threatening for the security of Europe trends of domestic political development of the Russian Federation. They characterized the current political regime of Russia and forecasted the trends of its possible development. The Round Table also discussed the correctness of the conclusions about Russia's transformation into a totalitarian state, in particular, if it is compared with fascist states.

The current political system in Russia was deeply analyzed by Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor Mykhaylo Savva, Chairman of the Board of the Expert Group “SOVA” (who is at the same time an expert of the “Centre for Russian Studies”, Ukraine/Russia) and Doctor of Sciences, Professor Yuriy Fedorov, a representative of the Moscow's Russian Center for Policy Research (PIR Center), Italy/Russia. The moderator of the event traditionally was the Head of the “Centre for Russian Studies” Ambassador Volodymyr Ohryzko. Given the relevance of this issue for Ukraine and the geopolitical context of existing trends and experts' forecasts, we offer you to go through the theme raised by Professor M. Savva, the Head of the Expert Group “SOVA”, in his report “From Democracy Simulation to Neo-Totalitarianism”. At the same time, the content of the statement — in translation from Russian, with the preservation of author's style and terminology. The right to publish is agreed with the author.


Mykhaylo Savva: “From Democracy Simulation to Neo-Totalitarianism”

Chairman of the Board of the Expert Group “SOVA” Mykhaylo Savva
Chairman of the Board of the Expert Group “SOVA” Mykhaylo Savva

The main task of the speech is to back up with facts one of the directions of the scientific forecast of the dynamics of the Russian regime. The emphasis is on the word “scientific”, since it is unacceptable to mix the concept of propaganda and agitation and scientific forecast. Because huge volumes of propaganda information do not give us any reason for scientific forecasting. In the headline of the speech, there are two terms that are not in the same semantic plane. Unlike neo-totalitarianism, democracy simulation is not a type of political regime. Nevertheless, I have just mentioned these two points in the title, since the direction between them most clearly characterizes the vector under which the current Putin regime moves.

Democracy simulation is a characteristic of any undemocratic regime that has to maintain and demonstrate to the world certain forms (and forms alone, without any content!) of democratic institutions. Democracy simulation was observed even in clearly totalitarian regimes. For example, in the times of the Soviet Union, under J. Stalin, there was the Supreme Soviet (Supreme Council). Also, during the Reich there existed the Reichstag, which, however, had not convened for a meeting since 1943, but was considered to be a representative body, Hermann Goering as its speaker. In other words, completely undemocratic regimes resort to forms of democratic institutions in order to seem what they are not.

If we analyze the contemporary Russian regime, then it is, absolutely clearly and undoubtedly, authoritarian. Yes, there are some disputes as to what type of the regime it is. But I had the opportunity last year, within the framework of one of the researches by the Centre for Russian Studies, to make sure of it yet again. In particular, 17 characteristics of an authoritarian regime were identified. Why 17? Because to analyze a political regime according to three, five, seven characteristics does not make any sense. This is a very complicated system, and in order to be absolutely sure that the regime is authoritarian, a more detailed “subdividing” is required. Now, I will quickly touch upon these 17 positions in order to show the dynamics within this specific feature of the Russian regime.

Characteristic One: power is concentrated in the hands of one person or group of individuals and relies on the personality of the charismatic ruler. This is exactly what we have today in Russia. V. Putin is not the sole ruler, he is the center of communication and at the same time a public figure who manages a group of at least 15 people. And Mr. Putin is an extremely respectable person in this group, because some of its members do not even interact with each other because they do not tolerate each other. They need a communication center and, at the same time, they need some charisma they use.

This Characteristic remains stable, nothing changes here. And I would like to emphasize that this characteristic of Putin's regime is one of its weakest points. Relying on the personality of a charismatic ruler is always a problem of transferring power. In the case with Russia, this is the problem of the year 2024. It will be extremely difficult for a current administrative group to find a successor. While V. Putin's second regular term is running to its end. Therefore, 2024 is an absolutely inevitable point of bifurcation for the Russian political regime and for Russia as a whole.

Characteristic Two: the management system is characterized by a high degree of centralism. This tendency is increasing and at the moment, on a 10-point scale, it already reaches far beyond 5 points.

Characteristic Three: the alienation of the society from the authorities, which implies simulation of elections. An extremely interesting feature this is, and that is just the way it is in reality. But lately, as demonstrated by the elections of the autumn of 2018 and spring 2019, the trend of protest voting has been increasing. In particular, recently, a woman who was a technical candidate was elected Mayor of Ust-Ilimsk in Irkutsk region. There was an active candidate from the ruling party, and three housewives there, apparently in order to ensure that voters had no doubt about for whom to vote. Voters voted for one of the three housewives. That is, it is a typical vivid example of the protest vote, which in the municipal elections already declares itself in such a way that the entire Russian power vertical can do nothing about it.

Characteristic Four: The elite is formed in a way of co-optation. That is, despite the public opinion, those who are already in the elite are joined by new “players”. For the Russian regime, the most characteristic and vivid indicator is that the children of representatives of the current group are appointed to posts of ministers. For democratic regimes, such a thing is incredible, but the Putin regime is not democratic.

Characteristic Five: the principle of distribution of branches of power is ignored, the executive power dominates.

There is an interesting dynamics here. After the election of the new Gosduma (State Council) and since Mr. Volodin headed it as a speaker, the share of this representative body in the system of Russian power has increased slightly. But this is not the dynamics of the institution of power, it is a consequence of peculiarities of Vyacheslav Volodin's personality. The man seeks to be more influential, and if he “is put” on the Gosduma, it makes him more influential. It does not change the characteristics of the regime and does not mean that democracy in Russia has developed.

Characteristic Six: the rights and freedoms of citizens are proclaimed, but in practice they are limited, especially in the political sphere. The dynamics is negative.

Characteristic Seven: the state control extends to non-political spheres — economy, culture, religion, private life. For modern Russia, this Characteristic, along with the characteristics of authoritarian regimes, is a sort of exception. In Russia, for quite a long time, for quite a few years, the sphere of influence of the state extends far beyond politics itself and clean (honest — ed.) elections. Here, most clearly, we can see a trend towards neo-totalitarianism.

Characteristic Eight: the person is deprived of security guarantees in relations with the state. A famous old KGB employees' joke is well-known: if there is no criminal case against you yet, this is not your merit, it's our incomplete work. And this situation keeps getting worse.

Characteristic Nine: the policy is monopolized by the government, the regime suppresses opposition, allowing itself to use non-legal methods. The Characteristic is absolutely obvious, another evident manifestation of this trend was the day before yesterday's arrests of leaders of the protest rally in Ingushetia, who had been arrested for 10 days for allegedly breaking the rules of mass actions. But, as it was reported to me, their electronic devices had been confiscated. That is, while they are arrested, criminal cases are already being constructed on the basis of the information that will be found there.

Characteristic Ten: one party dominates the party system. Here — without comments. Yes, it's “United Russia”, although the trend of protest voting is increasing.

Characteristic Eleven: The authorities are tolerant of ideological currents that are loyal to the ruling regime. This is another Characteristic of the authoritarian regime, which is not very typical of the contemporary Russia.

Absolutely loyal ideological current, for example, is Protestantism. At present, it is harshly pursued. Several dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses, have not just been detained, but have already received terms of imprisonment under relevant criminal articles, allegedly for extremist activities, which is a vivid confirmation of this thesis.

Characteristic Twelve: the state sector of the economy is strictly regulated, but functions within the framework of the market. This is also a clear trend of neo-totalitarianism. The analysis of the activities of the State Corporation “Rostech” (one of the economic foundations of the current regime) alone, shows that it is not entirely market-oriented.

Characteristic Thirteen: the regime controls the media, which are allowed to criticize certain disadvantages.

Characteristic Fourteen: the power rests on a force that is sufficient to control the citizens. Without resorting to mass repressions. And this is true, there are no mass repressions. And even more so, din 2018, Russia had a positive record — the smallest number of people serving sentences in jails, since 1991. That is, fewer people are imprisoned every year. At the same time, the number of political prisoners remains relatively stable. Together with people who are persecuted for religious beliefs, this is about 200 people. And this figure has not changed for several years.

Characteristic Fifteen: all the power structures are totally uncontrolled by the public, which is absolutely obvious, and the creation of “RosGvardiya” additionally confirms this.

Characteristic Sixteen: the civil society is state-dependent, although it is permitted. In Russia, a unique monitoring system has been created, — the Presidential Grants Fund, which allocates annual funds of about 9 billion rubles. At the same time, the activity of foreign funds is prohibited. In fact, of all.

Characteristic Seventeen: the rights of representatives of national minorities are limited. A clear recent confirmation of this is the exclusion from the legislation of the norms on obligatory study of title languages of the Russian Federation subjects, where they are official languages.

So, according to most of these Characteristics, the Russian regime is authoritarian. At the same time, I emphasize that for this regime for several years the main instrument of control is simulation. The television picture of the world that people receive fundamentally differs from reality, but, as the results of the polls show, most Russians make a choice in favor of this TV “picture”.

As for the regime's dynamics. If we look at quantitative indicators, then 12 out of 17 Characteristics have a certain dynamics in the direction of rigidity. That is, this regime is moving from authoritarian to somewhere. The question is: where to? Not to one of those ordinary totalitarian regimes, which are passé everywhere. And not because the dictators have become kinder. Just the socio-technological environment has changed. That is, we are now talking about neo-totalitarianism, which has its own characteristics.

International Round Table “The Current Political Regime in Russia: Quo vadis?” International Round Table “The Current Political Regime in Russia: Quo vadis?”
International Round Table “The Current Political Regime in Russia: Quo vadis?”

Neo-totalitarianism relies on:

1) actual approval by the majority of citizens. People really vote for their leader, and this vote is ensured by propaganda. A well-known political joke: while in totalitarian regimes 80 % of success was provided by repressions and 20 % by propaganda, in non-totalitarian one the proportions are vice versa: 20 % — by repressions and 80 % — by propaganda. And it works, given the second characteristic of neo-totalitarianism:

2) active use of digital technologies. Any person in a modern society leaves a lot of electronic “traces”, and thus becomes more vulnerable and more controlled.

3) an interesting peculiarity of a non-totalitarian regime, — unlike banal totalitarianism, it encourages migration. It was difficult to break through the iron curtain in the times of the USSR. Neo–totalitarian regimes, on the contrary, “squeeze” the elite. This leads to its degradation, as a result — all that remains from the elite is groups — supporters of the current leader, his friends, relatives, etc.


I am answering the first question: where is the Russian regime drifting to? — to neo-totalitarianism. What does this mean to us?

In the long run, neo-totalitarianism as a must, with 100 % probability, leads to economic and social degradation and degradation of state institutions. A striking example is Zimbabwe, with Robert Mugabe. It is Zimbabwe that can be taken as a model situation for today's neo-totalitarianism and see on the example of Zimbabwe what will happen in Russia. But one should keep in mind that such regimes are stable in the short and medium term. That is, for a period of up to 5 years, the regime will, of course, continue. The nearest point of bifurcation for it is a complex problem of power transfer in 2024.


The second question and the answer to it. Will the Russian Federation collapse in the near future? No, it will not. Neo-totalitarian regimes, as I have already said, are stable in the medium-term perspective. That is, before 2024, the Russian Federation will not collapse, I am absolutely sure of it.

For quite some time I have been studying separatism. My first academic article on this theme appeared in 2001. And before and after that, I observed enough of separatism in its various manifestations. And so I can confidently state: for Russia, the only factor in the effectiveness of separatism is the weakness of the state center. Regardless of how it is called: imperial, Soviet, federal, etc. That is, if the center is strong, separatist tendencies that are latently present constantly, are not realized. And they will not be implemented until the catastrophic weakening of the federal center.


The third fundamental question and the answer to it. Is the Putin regime a fascist one?

No, of course, we cannot consider it a fascist regime. But the very formulation of this question — whether it is fascist — it, in terms of scientific analysis, does not make any sense. Why? Because there are nearly as many definitions of modern fascism as the authors who write about it.

If we talk about the dominant trend in English-language literature, then modern fascism is a palingenetic ultranationalism. That is, palingenetic is not a conservative ideology, it does not call for the revival of a nation. It calls for a new nation to be created. Recall: a new Aryan personality — Hitler, a new type of person — a “Soviet man” in the Soviet Union... But Putin's regime is extremely conservative. It, in this sense, is opposed to modern fascism. More precisely, it does not coincide with it.

So, if we draw one very short conclusion from these three, then it is necessary to prepare for the “problem-2024”. The period of preparation for the transfer of power and its transfer in the conditions of the Putin regime is the period of the greatest vulnerability of this regime.