Programme Paper

Project: Russia and Eurasia Programme

Andrew Wood
  • Despite initial optimism, the overall effect of Vladimir Putin's presidency of Russia has been to weaken Russia's political structures by substituting the potential for a set of independent institutions by a closed elite answerable principally to itself, with little interest in reform or modernization.
  • The lack of an autonomous legitimating ideology beyond a sense of national grievance, together with the absence of renewal within the ruling elite, has increased its tendency to distrust others, including its subjects, and to cling more insistently to its own received truths.
  • The Russian government's response to the economic crisis has been primarily tactical in nature. It has sought to avoid popular discontent through palliative measures to keep down unemployment and prop up often unprofitable industries in the hope that a return to global growth will again push up commodity prices. Even in the short term, this is a risky approach; there is a possibility that Russia's reserves may not last until growth picks up sufficiently. In the longer term, changes in the oil and gas market outside Russia, and a failure to invest in domestic production, will weaken a resource-based growth model.
  • Despite the rhetoric, there has been no attempt to launch a systemic modernization agenda in Russia. While the preconditions for renewal are well understood (political and economic competition, an independent judiciary, further liberalization including in the resource sectors, an effective anti-corruption campaign), none of these generalized aspirations have been fulfilled.
  • There looks to be little prospect in the next couple of years that economic or social pressures will push the elite towards reform. However, the chances of keeping such a shift under control will become more difficult the longer it is postponed.