Who is Governing Russia? Actors and Institutions

It is very hard not to know anything about Russian politics. The conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine, information war and interfering in elections, the Skripal case and the sanctions, the Helsinki Summit of 2018… — You really cannot escape hearing something about Russian political life. But what about governance, the actual running of the country? How much do we know about how present-day Russia is governed?

According to various domestic and international assessments, the quality of governance in Russia is still very poor. Why? The problem has been recognised and assessed numerous times but why is it so hard to tackle?  How do authoritarian politics affect the mechanisms of governing the Russian state? Are the mechanisms and patterns of governance the same in the central government and in the regions? These questions were addressed in a major FiDiPro conference held at the University of Helsinki in June 2017 and now discussed also in a special issue of the journal Russian Politics (2018, vol.3, No.2), edited by Vladimir Gel’man.

The seven articles of this special issue can be divided into two categories: Russian Federation-wide and sub-national. As for the federal level, the contribution by Kirill Rogov discusses “the art of coercion” in Russia demonstrating that the increase of scope of repressions in Russia during the 2010s by and large performed signaling functions in order to promote fear among Russians and to avoid the rise of disloyalty of elites and masses alike. Jussi Lassila contests the common view of Putin as a populist, and Vladimir Gel’man analyzes what he calls a “technocratic trap” in Russia: the limited reach of influence of experts and bureaucrats on policy process,  what might be achieved thru a more technocratic model, and what are the constrains of this model.

Sub-national dimension of governance is discussed by Andrey Starodubtsev, who points out flaws of the model of centralized hierarchical control in territorial governance in Russia. He demonstrates that this model causes aggravation of the principal-agent problems and provides counter-productive incentives for regional officials. Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, using the data of survey of entrepreneurs in different regions, claims that gubernatorial turnover increased corruption perceptions among business people, given the increase of political instability in the provinces. Fabian Burkhardt and Alexander Libman uncover the logic of promotion of state officials with military and security background (so-called “siloviki”) to key positions due to effects of self-selection among rent-seeking bureaucrats. Last but not least, Irina Busygina and Mikhail Filippov state that the poor quality of national governance in Russia has a very uneven geographical effect across the country and undermine the competitiveness of most of Russia’s regions in the global economy.

Although the overall picture of governing present-day Russia looks rather dismal, the in-depth analysis of its causes and effects is worth further exploration. Scholars from the Aleksanteri Institute will continue research on the subject within different research frameworks and disciplinary perspectives. These topics will be in a focus of discussions at the new international workshop on governance in Russia, scheduled to take place at the Aleksanteri Institute on 4—5 October 2018.