Russian Elections: Uncivil State

Next month the Russian people take part in the first stage of a new electoral cycle. Parliamentary elections for the new Duma and the presidential poll next March mark a potential watershed in the political development of the largest and most important of the post-Soviet states. They go to the heart of a question that has engaged western policy-makers since the collapse of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago: Russia’s democratic progress. To some observers, the elections are staging posts in an inexorable if uneven process of democratisation. For others, they are an elaborate scam in which form and illusion pass for substance, and political democracy and a civil society are mere labels of convenience.

The World Today
6 minute READ

Bobo Lo

International Relations Analyst, Independent

The debate over Russia’s democratic bona fides extends beyond the political to embrace the larger question of what kind of state and society it is. President Vladimir Putin asserts that his country is an integral part of a universal civilisation faced by common threats and challenges, but critics find such claims hard to square with Moscow’s conduct of the Chechen war and the limitation of media freedom.

There is much talk of normalisation, yet it is unclear how far western political and moral norms have taken hold among the elite, let alone the general population. Does Putin mean what he says about building democracy and a civil society? Or is his long-term vision essentially paternalist and authoritarian, incorporating democratic elements but driven by historical traditions of top-down governance?

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