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Archive for the ‘Russia 2012 Elections’ Category

Putin’s Third Term: Towards Instability?

Posted by democratist on April 24, 2012

April 24th 2012,

Democratist has sometimes been accused of being “theoretical.” We do not deny this charge. For us, using “theory” means the ability to generalize rational insight from experience.  Although not without limitation, any attempt to explain (and by extension change) the world without some kind of rational framework will amount to little, and incautious abandonment leaves one vulnerable to a variety of intellectual hucksters (post-modernists, nationalists, religious dogmatists, conspiracy theorists…).

In terms of International Relations, the most fruitful theoretical tools Democratist has encountered are those drawn from historical-sociology. Part of the reason for this blog is to apply insights drawn from that tradition to the contemporary world.

This explains the repeated importance we have placed on the revolutions of Arab Spring. For us, 2011 was a year of global historical significance – like 1789, 1848, 1917 or 1989/1991. As with those other historically conjunctural years, 2011 combined elements that are central to our view of the world; social conflicts, mass movements and (democratic) revolution. However, the events of 2011 also involved an additional aspect that we have not yet covered in any detail, but which is a cornerstone of our approach, and of particular relevance to the political trajectory of the countries of the CIS; the idea of international society as “homogeneity.”

What do we mean by “international society” and “homogeneity”?

Within the academic study of International relations over the last 40 years, there have been three main perspectives on what constitutes “international society”. These are;

i) It consists of relations between states (governments). Obvious examples include diplomacy and war.

ii) It consists of non-state links of economy, political association, culture and ideology (a favourite of “globalization” theorists).

iii) It consists of a set of ideological values shared by different societies and promoted by inter-state competition, producing international “homogeneity”.

While the first two perspectives are certainly essential to any understanding of international relations, and are regularly covered in the mainstream media, it is the third which comes from the historical-sociological tradition, and on which we focus here.

The basic idea of homogeneity is simple: As a result of international pressures, states are compelled through competition with one another over the long-term, to resemble each other more and more in their internal arrangements. Developments at the international level have an impact on the ideological legitimacy and stability of states domestically: Political and social change within countries have always been to some extent, and are now increasingly the result of external processes.

In Rethinking International Relations (1994), Fred Halliday uses this perspective to explain the end of the Cold War, or as he puts it, “…why a specific political and socio-economic system, one that was in broad terms equal to its rival in military terms, should have collapsed as it did, rapidly and unequivocally, and in the absence of significant international military conflict.”

Halliday argues that communism was successful, not only in the second world war, but in subsequent arms races and third world strategic competition. However, it was at the socio-economic level that the USSR came to be seen as a comparative failure, unable to match its Western competitors: By the 1980’s the domestic record of communism, as compared with its main capitalist alternatives, became a central dimension of Cold War rivalry, resulting in the Gorbachev’s attempts at reform, and the ultimate collapse of a unreformable system.

The key point is that it was an ideologically influenced change of direction by the leadership which brought about the USSR’s demise. Communism could easily have dragged on for another decade or two, but the leadership became convinced that the Soviet system was unable to catch up with the west, especially in terms of economic output and innovation. The subsequent opening of the USSR to foreign influences after 1988 as part of glasnost acted to alert the broader public to these problems, highlighting contrasts in living standards, which led to increased calls for change.

This brings us to the question of the extent that states have responded to international pressure to homogenize since 1991. For Democratist, it is clear that the idea of the democratic “good life” transmitted by popular culture, the media and, above all the internet, has become much more powerful over the last twenty years. Indeed, so powerful is this image, that leaders of many authoritarian countries have come to expend considerable resources in countering it with domestic and international propaganda (e.g. RT, Press TV etc).

International pressure for homogenization has therefore increased, with democracy taking on a far greater role as a factor for domestic legitimization and stability. The Arab Spring was witness to the growth of pressure for reform building due to a number of factors, but not least the example of comparatively politically and economically successful democratic countries. However, the regimes of the middle East proved resistant to reform, and therefore lost popular legitimacy and finally faced revolution.

Similar pressures have also manifested themselves in the former Soviet Union, with revolutions sparked off by rigged elections in a number of countries. However, in contemporary Russia, democratizing pressure remains weak as result the chaos and national humiliation of the 1990’s. This is commonly blamed on “dermokratiya,” while it was in fact actually more the result of the collapse of the command economy and massive corruption. And yet, as described in Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (Granta Publications, 2012), the Russian government has shown no serious willingness to reform over the last decade, and the untreated corruption of the 1990’s has in fact worsened.

It therefore seems unlikely that the government will embark on meaningful reform over the coming years, whilst homogenizing pressure for change will grow: As the Russian middle class gains in political confidence it will begin to demand the representation it is afforded in other countries, spurred on by technological change.

And while the possibility of a gradual transition to a more representative political system remains, the probability of a political crisis over the longer term if this does not materialize is growing.

Posted in Arab Spring, Colour Revolution, Democratization, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR), Russia 2012 Elections, Russia Propaganda | 6 Comments »

Russia 2012: Mr. Kudrin takes a (semi) stand.

Posted by democratist on April 23, 2011

23rd April 2011,

Some fascinating statements from Russian Finance Minister, Aleksey Kudrin at a meeting of the Board of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs on 21st April. These have so far received limited coverage in the Russian press, but we have pieced them together from reports in Izvestia and elsewhere.

Kudrin said he considers any GDP growth below 3% as tantamount to stagnation, and 3% -4.5% as “minor, unsteady” growth, because at less than 4.5% growth companies would have no time to update their fixed assets.

He stated the Russian economy is currently growing at about 3% and that investment growth is currently 8% – compared with the 30% annual increase he believes is required for modernization.

While the price of oil has climbed about 30% so far this year to $124 per barrel (auguring a dramatic improvement of Russia’s fiscal situation) Kudrin believes that a further increase in oil prices will have a negative effect on the Russian economy through inflation, and that petrostate model of development “has failed.”

He explained that the government has prepared several hypothetical scenarios for the economy, which include various possible price levels for oil, but in all the scenarios, the growth rate remains the same. He stated,”This is confirmation of the unfortunate fact that the price of oil, which before the crisis was an impetus for growth, is no longer such.”

Kudrin’s position is rather telling when compared with Putin’s statement to the Duma the previous day. Putin stated growth would be 4.2% this year, and much of his speech seemed to consist of assurances to various sectors of society that the state would soon lavish spending on them.

The model reflected in Putin’s speech then could be characterised as “back to 2008.” It is dependent on a continued growth in oil prices (or at least a continuation of the current price), and the distribution of the resultant wealth throughout Russian society in a nation-wide divvying up of the spoils. Despite some lip-service to technocratic modernization, there is little prospect that this is going to take place, leading to both stagnation and a continued withering of Russian industry, not least the high-tech sector, including military innovation.

In this light Putin’s position appears shortsighted – and Kudrin is strongly aligning himself with a liberalising agenda, without (as yet) openly backing Medvedev.

Will he go that far? Or is this just political manoeuvring designed to have a moderating influence on Putin? Either way Kudrin is levering himself into a more influential position which will become more evident and important as we move towards Parliamentary and Presidential elections over the next few months.

Posted in Autocracy and Innovation, Democratization, Hydrocarbons, Liberalism, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Economy, Russian Liberalization, Russian Politics | 3 Comments »

In the bag: Putin 2012.

Posted by democratist on April 20, 2011

20th April 2011,

Vladimir Putin’s constitutionally mandated speech to the Duma this morning once again provides additional evidence for our long-held view that the Russian 2012 Presidential elections will consist of an essentially contrived spot of “Putin Vs Medvedev” razzle-dazzle, designed both to keep the masses in check, and deepen the (not so far very successful) illusion of Russia’s “democratic turn” for the more gullible among potential foreign investors.

Although neither President nor Prime Minister has officially declared their candidacy, the language employed and themes covered by Putin this morning strongly imply a forthcoming announcement from the PM at some point over the next few weeks/months (Medvedev has already made similar noises).

In this regard, what was most interesting about today’s speech was Putin’s attempt to differentiate between his own “conservative” positions (stressing stability, social issues and sovereignty) and those of the “young reformer” Medvedev (liberalism, international co-operation, and modernization).

And yet, in reality there is little practical difference in terms of the policies that either candidate is likely to follow; both take their cue from the Russia 2020 policy document, first announced by Putin in February 2008 (i.e. just before Medvedev was elected). And in theory both seek to follow the ”innovation” scenario contained within it, which presupposes the development of a national innovation system, competitive human capital and regional development centers, and a comprehensive reform and investment programme.

So while Putin may have sought to present himself as a “conservative”, he also paid at least some lip service today the need to modernize Russia’s economy, improve the investment climate, fight corruption, increase labor efficiency, and indeed about the need for innovation.

Meanwhile if Medvedev were to gain a second term in office, he would almost certainly remain constrained in what he was able to achieve because of the influence of the PM, and those around him.

Whoever eventually wins, it has been evident for some months that the current system will remain in place – as well as the corruption and economic problems which are an integral part of it. However, with the recent rise in the oil price has come a renewed confidence for Putin and his backers (one of the implied messages of today’s speech was that the regime will soon have the cash to buy off any opposition within Russian society for the next few years). Subsequently, if Putin does decide to stand and the elections are not rigged to favour Medvedev (by no means impossible), he will almost certainly win.

Under these circumstances, “Putin Vs Medvedev” essentially heralds Vladimir Putin’s return to power next year, and on this basis Democratist now sees Putin returning to the Presidency in 2012.

Posted in Energy Politics, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Politics | 6 Comments »

Putin vs Medvedev 2012 – Update.

Posted by democratist on March 31, 2011

31st Match 2012,

Democratist has been greatly enjoying this rather groovy piece of satire from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHgQbrkS_is

Putin vs Medvedev on 2012? Where could they have got such an idea?

Posted in Democratization, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Politics | Leave a Comment »

The Arab Spring and “Structural Power.”

Posted by democratist on March 31, 2011

March 31st 2011,

A few days ago we noted Michael Cox’s recent restatement of the argument that, despite the current debate about it’s supposed decline, the US has managed to retain a great deal of “structural power.” However we did not explain this concept in any detail.

The notion of structural power was first put forward by the British academic Susan Strange in the 1970’s. In her classic States and Markets (1988) she defined it is as;

“the power to shape and determine the structures of the global political economy within which other states, their political institutions, their economic enterprises and (not least) their scientists and other professional people have to operate…Structural power in short confers the power to decide how things shall be done, the power to shape frameworks within which states relate to each other, relate to people, or relate to corporate enterprises.”

Essentially in Strange’s view, “structural power” is the power of a state to shape various kinds of international frameworks: For her, the advantages for the US of the dollar as the key post-War currency for international trade was the central example of structural power at work, because it allowed the US to run large deficits at reduced cost (a feature of the International Monetary System which continues to this day).

However, it has occurred to Democratist that beyond the realm of economics, the “Arab Spring” we are now witnessing may well represent the strengthening and maturing of a new and potentially far more important form of structural power, one that may well confer considerable advantages for the US, and the wider West over the coming years.

As Halliday argues in Revolutions and World Politics (1999), in addition to expressing the tensions that occur within societies in transition, revolutions are also a result of the pressures placed on traditional societies by international factors.

And over the last 20 years the international trend towards democratization – which therefore increases pressure on others to democratize – has strengthened markedly; the end of Communism, the enlargement of the EU, the continued democratization of Turkey,  the revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon – and now Tunisia, Egypt and (possibly) Libya.  These will all add to the already considerable domestic problems faced by developing autocratic states as an additional, and now heightened structural pressure for domestic reform, if revolution is to be avoided.

This trend has in turn been encouraged by a developments in IT and globalization;  Al Jazeera, Twitter, Wikileaks, Wikipedia and Facebook are all a part of this process.

But while the US has consciously (and sometimes counterproductively) sought to export democracy for much of the last century, a great deal of the attraction of democracy – its equation with modernity for increasing numbers of people throughout the world – has been partly independent of the United States’ actions. Rather the desire for freedom and egalitarianism which informed the French and American revolutions has taken on something of a life of its own – regardless of (for example) the US invasion of Iraq, or support for Hosni Mubarak.

Nonetheless, since democratization represents the development of an international framework within which states relate to each other, and one which seems likely to disproportionately favour the democratic West (no two democratic states have ever gone to war with each other), whilst placing an additional pressure on authoritarian competitors, this democratization has to be seen as a burgeoning form of Western structural power.

Posted in Democratization, Egyptian Revolution, Historical Materialism, International Political Economy, Jasmine Revolution, Libyan Revolution, Orange Revolution, Revolutions, Russia 2012 Elections, wikileaks | 4 Comments »

Russia: FDI and the forthcoming elections.

Posted by democratist on February 18, 2011

18th February 2011,

Democratist was fascinated by Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin’s speech in Krasnoyarsk yesterday.

According to Kudrin FDI into Russia fell to  $12-14 billion last year, the third successive year of decline since 2008.

“Direct foreign investment was one and a half times lower,” Kudrin said, “This is not much. In the best years it reached $27 billion.”

And he also stated that this has had a negative impact on President Medvedev’s “modernization” effort, and is holding back economic growth. “We will see in the coming years a stable growth of around 4% and above. However for Russia this – the level of a mid-ranking economy – is insufficient,” he said. “We need a significantly higher growth rate of 6-7%.”

For Democratist’s perspective, what is most interesting about these figures is that they cover the period before last December’s release of embarrassing Wikileaks cables which described Russia as “a virtual mafia state.”

Given the near-continuous (and frankly mostly warranted) bad press the Russians have been suffering over the past several months, it seems very unlikely that the much hoped-for Western FDI flows into Russia will recover any time soon.

So, what are the most likely effects of  continually declining FDI on Russian politics? Will Russia, as Kudrin (rather unexpectedly) suggested, decide to hold free and fair elections later this year, and in 2012 as part of a strategy for future liberalization?

Alas, this is unlikely. The nomenklatura has an intrenched fear of “instability.” Giving power away in any meaningful sense is largely anathema for Putin and his former KGB pals, regardless of the lessons that recent developments in Tunisia and Egypt may imply. Their main medium-term hope remains a (continued) rise in raw materials prices.

So while there may be some measured liberalization in the parliamentary polls set to take place in December, Democratist continues to maintain that the regime will probably try to leverage the Presidential elections due in 2012 as method for winning increased international legitimacy by enhancing the (not so far especially successful) illusion of Russia’s “democratic development” through a poll that apparently offers more political competition than was the case in recent years, but in reality whose parameters have been carefully determined in advance.

While the exact form this contest will take may be beyond even our predictive powers, Democratist continues to feel that the obvious choice will be a superficial competition between an emphasis on ”stability” or “modernization”; between Putin or Medvedev.

Posted in Democratization, Elections, FDI, Hydrocarbons, Jasmine Revolution, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Economy, Russian Politics | 3 Comments »

Will the Egyptian Revolution influence Russian Military Reform?

Posted by democratist on February 8, 2011

8th February 2011,

A stimulating piece by Pavel Baev in today’s Jamestown Eurasia Daily monitor . While we don’t necessarily agree with everything he says we found the following passage very interesting;

“What the crises in Egypt and Tunisia have demonstrated convincingly is that the outcome of a protracted confrontation could be determined by the attitude of the army, which was essentially absent from the streets in most of the “color revolutions” in the 2000’s. Putin has prioritized investments into strengthening the police and various special crowd-control units like OMON, comprised of professionals toughened by tours of duty in Chechnya. Putin cannot, however, count on the loyalty of the army, since the ongoing reforms have demoralized the top brass, antagonized the officer corps and incapacitated the combat units manned by poorly trained conscripts drafted for 12 months (Ezhednevny Zhurnal, January 17). The military are traditionally sensitive to external interference but the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia are clearly home-made, so that the US and the EU are at loss about denying support to their trusted allies who were never bothered by democratic values (Ogonyok, February 7).”

While Democratist does not see an Egypt-style revolution taking place in Russia any time soon, we think it will be interesting to see whether the regime considers the services of the OMON adequate to the task of keeping order in the event of a crisis, or alternatively whether the Tunisian and then Egyptian revolutions might have some impact on the course of military reform in Russia over the coming months?

Posted in Egyptian Revolution, Jasmine Revolution, Revolutions, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Military | 2 Comments »

Russia and the WTO: Not so fast, Seymour.

Posted by democratist on January 12, 2011

12th January 2011,

Last December’s agreement between Russia and the EU, and the subsequent speculation about potential accession to the WTO at some point in 2011, has prompted Democratist to cogitate upon the likely impact of international economic integration on Russia over the next few years.

While the agreement with the Europeans may have brought accession further towards reality, there remains a great deal of protectionist sentiment domestically within Russia. This is best exemplified by Putin’s own attempts last year to modernize domestic industry through a renewed emphasis on industrial policy (to be funded by raw materials rents). A lack of cash seems to have put paid to that strategy for the time being, but Democratist maintains that a rise in raw materials prices beyond a certain point will likely prompt a shift back towards protectionism.

However, while we cannot yet be fully sure that it will finally happen, the prospect of accession looks like being one of the Kremlin’s key trump cards for 2011. In the face of western investor scepticism, anger over the second Khordokovsky trial and the imprisonment of Boris Nemtsov, Medvedev will doubtless find it convenient to offer up the prospect of Russia’s eventual WTO accession as an indicator that the country is basically on the right, liberal path.

This will play well with many Western leaders as it appears to accord with liberal political theory. According to this perspective (often attributed in origin to Seymour Lipset’s 1959 classic Some Social Requisites of Democracy), WTO accession will act as an anchor for long-term reform and increase economic growth, leading to the consolidation of a democratically minded middle class. Seen in this light, the privatization program that began in Russia last year promises a lengthy pull-back by the state, and continuing rapprochement with the West as Russia seeks support for modernization.

But we might wish to refrain from opening the champagne for a second; Democratist has long argued that whether Putin or Medvedev wins the Presidential election in 2012, any liberalization in Russia will remain tightly constrained by the interests of the nomenklatura. The current government has demonstrated comprehensively over the past decade that the manipulation of public opinion is one of the few things they genuinely do well. In this regard, in contrast to the rosier expectations of some of our liberal friends, Democratist suspects it may take several decades for economic development to provide a basis for the promotion of the rule of law and a broader liberalization.

Additionally, WTO membership seems unlikely to do much to promote the diversification of the Russian economy away from reliance on raw materials without a concerted effort to tackle corruption. Given that the current regime has itself acted as an important facilitator and beneficiary of corruption since 2000, Democratist is of the opinion that change in this area will take a long time to emerge, and will face many serious setbacks. If parts of Russia’s backward (and still largely state-controlled) industrial sector start to lose out after the country joins the WTO, causing unemployment and unrest, this may also prompt a return to a greater reliance on industrial policy, or back to protectionism. 

As is so often the case, much depends on the price of hydrocarbons; Russia requires deep and potentially unpopular reforms to diversify its economy, but many among the elite seem to believe that, despite the apparent lessons of the Soviet period, the economy can be developed effectively (and painlessly) through state-led industrial policy. If the money becomes available again, this would presumably be the prefered option. However, if prices stagnate or decrease over the coming year or two, the prospects for economic reform within the context of WTO accession will be somewhat better (although they will still face resistance from elements within the elite).

Posted in Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Corruption, Russian Economy, Russian Foreign Policy, Russian Liberalization, Russian Middle Class, Russian Politics | Leave a Comment »

Belarus 2010: An “internal matter.”

Posted by democratist on December 20, 2010

December 21st 2010.

Democratist is disappointed and upset, but not especially surprised to learn of the results and fallout of yesterday’s presidential election in Belarus.

Since the signing of a series of economic agreements earlier this month, the Russians appear to have decided, in the words of Prime Minister Putin that “the Belarusian leadership has taken a clear course towards integration with Russia,” and suitably mollified, their desire for Lukashenko’s ouster has fallen by the wayside – for the moment at least.

Subsequently, reading between the lines of the OSCE’s sensibly diplomatic preliminary statement (which nonetheless provoked the ire of the newly confident Lukashenko), it appears that it was business as usual for the Belarusian electoral administration over the last few days, and the incumbent has been returned to office with just under 80% of the vote, according to the highly questionable official results.

Subsequently, seven of the nine opposition candidates that stood against Lukashenko have been arrested (including one who was dragged from his hospital bed after a police beating) along with 600 of the several thousand protestors brave enough to demonstrate against this charade of an election in Minsk last night.

While the Belarusian authorities have behaved abominably in both their conduct of the election, and the violent crackdown that has followed it, the reaction of the Russian government has served to underline their own extraordinary cynicism, and more specifically, Dimitry Medvedev’s real attitude towards the democratic process to which he paid so much rhetorical homage earlier this year.

According to Reuters, when asked, Medvedev described the Belarusian elections as an “internal matter,” and did not comment on the police crackdown.  He is quoted as saying, “I hope that as a result of these elections, Belarus will continue on the path of creating a modern state based on democracy and friendship with its neighbours.”

And for all its “strong condemnation” of the fraud and violence, and demands that the opposition candidates be freed, the West is left looking weak and ineffectual, with Lukashenko and the Russians the only game in town.

For the time being then, it seems that Belarus will only change when Russia changes its mind about Lukashenko. However, real support for democratization in Belarus (or indeed Russia) in Moscow is lacking, and will continue to be so, regardless of whether Putin or Medvedev wins in 2012.

Posted in Belarus, Elections, Electoral Fraud, Human Rights, OSCE, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Foreign Policy, Russian Liberalization | 5 Comments »

Russia 2012 Predictions: An Update.

Posted by democratist on December 9, 2010

9th December 2010,

Some months ago Democratist made the prediction that,

“From Putin’s perspective then, given that he has the domestic situation pretty much wrapped up, the challenge is to leverage the forthcoming elections in order to achieve the somewhat contradictory goals of maintaining internal stability, encouraging growth, innovation and foreign investment (in what has become a tougher international climate), and improving Russia’s international position and military capabilities….One way of moving towards achieving at least some of these disparate and contradictory goals (as well as preparing a future path for the longer-term achievement of the others) would be to use the 2012 elections to gain the regime increased international legitimacy by enhancing the ongoing illusion of Russia’s “democratic development” through a poll that apparently offers more genuine political competition than was the case in recent times (although one in reality whose parameters have been carefully determined in advance…In line with the image of a “limited” democracy that Russia is now promoting for itself internationally,  Democratist suspects that the 2012 elections will present a superficial electoral choice between an emphasis on ”stability” or “modernization”; which is to say a choice between Putin or Medvedev.

At the time, even we thought that we might have indulged in a spot of crystal ball-gazing too far, and that we would soon have to bury the offending piece deep within our archives, in the hope it would soon be forgotten.
 
But not so quick with the shovel: On Tuesday, Vedmosti came out with the following quote, at the end of an article speculating that Putin will lend his name to the United Russia party ticket for elections next year;
-
“Interviewed while on the visit to Poland and asked if he intended to run for the president again, Medvedev announced that it was possible indeed since he always stood for continuity. “There are others, however… people who might participate in this political process too,” he said without giving any names.”
-
An odd statement. Medvedev evidently does not just mean that there will be other candidates for the Presidency (it’s kind of obvious). He means that there are others who actually stand a chance of winning who might participate.

Who could that be?

Posted in Elections, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Liberalization, Russian Politics | Leave a Comment »

 
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