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Brookings Institution Press | 2018 | Daniel Treisman, [2] W.Z.

The New Autocracy

Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin's Russia


Contents -- [pdf-4]

Preface -- [pdf-6]

1 Introduction: Rethinking Putin’s Political Order -- [pdf-8]
Daniel Treisman

2 Inside the Kremlin: The Presidency and Executive Branch -- [pdf-35]
Maxim Ananyev

3 Not Just a Rubber Stamp: Parliament and Lawmaking -- [pdf-55]
Ben Noble and Ekaterina Schulmann

4 The Siloviki in Russian Politics -- [pdf-87]
Andrei Soldatov and Michael Rochlitz

5 Regional Elites and Moscow -- [pdf-112]
Nikolay Petrov and Eugenia Nazrullaeva

6 The Role of Business in Shaping Economic Policy -- [pdf-138]
Natalia Lamberova and Konstantin Sonin

 7 Media in Russia: Between Modernization and Monopoly -- [pdf-159]
Maria Lipman, Anna Kachkaeva, and Michael Poyker

8 Public Opinion and Russian Politics -- [pdf-189]
Kirill Rogov and Maxim Ananyev

9 The Courts, Law Enforcement, and Politics -- [pdf-214]
Ella Paneyakh and Dina Rosenberg

10 Civic and Political Activism in Russia -- [pdf-243]
Anton Sobolev and Alexei Zakharov

11 Crimea: Anatomy of a Decision -- [pdf-271]
Daniel Treisman

About the Contributors -- [pdf-291]
Index -- [pdf-294]


Preface -- [pdf-6]
- In the fall of 2014, Treisman recruited several Russia-based political analysts to do research on Putin's regime.
- The team met at two workshop conferences --in Los Angeles (March 2015) and New York (June 2016).

1 Introduction: Rethinking Putin’s Political Order -- [pdf-8]
Daniel Treisman
- Various views: Politburo 2.0; KGB-siloviki; kleptocracy; the system-sistema; competitive authoritarianism.
- The presence of siloviki actually peaked around 2008 and then fell, with individuals from private business mostly filling the gap.
- The leading Russian politicians benefit from massive corruption and links to organized crime.
- Between 1999 and 2011 as incomes grew, Russia became a land of consumers, with chain stores and multiplexes  spreading  across  the  country.
- By 2011, Russians had 1.8 cell phone subscriptions per person and 55% were on the Internet.
- Between 1999 and 2011 trips abroad increased from 13 million to 33 million a year.

- SUDDEN STOP and reversal in 2012 -- With Russia sinking into stagnation, the Kremlin had to replace Putin’s old appeal based on surging prosperity and progress with a new one based on national pride, traditional values, and a sense of  external  threat.
- Anti-Western sentiment soared after the annexation of Crimea.

- INFORMATIONAL AUTOCRACY -- In the past dictators tried to control the population through terror, propaganda, and comprehensive censorship.
- Modern dictators such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Viktor Orban in Hungary (see Balint Magyar's Mafia State)  attempt to convince citizens that they are competent and benevolent leaders.
- To sustain the dictator’s popularity, the authorities must persuade citizens that any social or economic problems are caused by external enemies or domestic saboteurs rather than the incumbent’s own incompetence or corruption.
- It was civilian political consultants who recruited trolls to plant pro-Kremlin comments on blogs and websites.

- DEGENERATION -- Putin-appointed "curators" try to impose the Kremlin's agenda. They make many errors.
- In justifying Russian intervention in Ukraine, he claimed that Kharkov had been part of the tsarist province of Novorossiya (Kremlin 2014). It had not.
- This pattern resembles the deterioration that sets in when a single authoritarian leader has been in charge for a long time.

- LOOKING AHEAD -- Russia is an informational autocracy.
- There is an unstable balance between two forces: the transformational social impact of modernization and the attempt by the Kremlin to enlist modern media and technology to preserve an archaic structure of power.
- There also seems to be a growing desire to define Crimea as a special case. -- Decreasing support for its annexation.
- Kadyrov of Chechnya has demonstrated the ability to deploy thousands of battle-hardened fighters to Ukraine and to stage violent special operations in Russia and abroad.

2 Inside the Kremlin: The Presidency and Executive Branch -- [pdf-35]
Maxim Ananyev
- The political role of the siloviki is more limited than sometimes thought.
- THE EVOLVING EXECUTIVE -- gives detailed exposiition.
- A SUPER-PRESIDENTIAL CONSTITUTION? -- Legally "yes", but the Duma controls purse strings.
- A SECURITY SERVICE STATE? -- A detailed examination of the siloviki.
- DICTATING POLICY? --"Yes" if Putin is adamant and "no" if he has no strong position on the subject.
- CONCLUSION -- Things are far from transparent as above analysis indicates.

3 Not Just a Rubber Stamp: Parliament and Lawmaking -- [pdf-55]
Ben Noble and Ekaterina Schulmann
- The Duma serves as an opportunity for executive, bureaucratic, and other powerful non-legislative actors to contest their competing policy preferences.
- REALLY A RUBBER STAMP? -- Analysis of bills introduced that are either vetoed or passed.
- ELITE BATTLEGROUND -- Manipulation in the background by powerful individuals.
- CONCLUSION -- We must be careful not to make generalizations.

4 The Siloviki in Russian Politics -- [pdf-87]
Andrei Soldatov and Michael Rochlitz
- The authors examine the contention of Karen Dawisha and others that political decisions are made by Vladimir Putin and his KGB cronies, the siloviki.
- RUSSIA’S FORCE MINISTRIES: FROM SOVIET TIMES TO PUTIN -- Yeltsin failed to successfully restructure the KGB, GRU, etc.
- PUTIN’S RECONSOLIDATION? -- The initially favoured FSB (old KGB) is being challenged by the FSO, etc. for influence (and funding).
- SECURITY PERSONNEL TAKING OVER THE STATE? -- The siloviki comprised 20% of state elite in 2008, which  has decreased since then.
- A UNITED LOBBY FOR FAVORED POLICIES? -- The various agencies compete fiercely for access to Putin, corrupt income and influence.
- A COMMON WORLDVIEW? -- Yes; they all favour a strong centralized state; belief in foreign enemies; Russian Orthodox Church.
        The  conflict in Ukraine is between Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy. The Russian Orthodox Church maintains close links with various security agencies.
- EXPLAINING THE AUTHORITARIAN TURN -- Increased dramatically after invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Extensive discussion about Ukraine.
-  CONCLUSION -- Older siloviki augmented by youner ones and civilians like Surkov and nationalist businessman Malofeev funding Donbas volunteers.

5 Regional Elites and Moscow -- [pdf-112]
Nikolay Petrov and Eugenia Nazrullaeva
- Federalism has been virtually eliminated, but it has not been fully replaced by authoritative centralization..
- CENTER AND REGIONS SINCE THE SOVIET DISINTEGRATION -- Putin's "greater central power" replaced Yeltsin's "more regional autonomy".
- THE PARADOX OF THE CHECHEN REPUBLIC -- Ramzan Kadyrov is absolute ruler of Chechnya in exchange for supporting Putin.
- SUBJECTIVE RATINGS OF REGIONAL LOBBYING -- Highest ratings for Moscow, St. Petersburg, Chechnya, Tatarstan.
- SUCCESSFUL LOBBYING IN THE REGIONS -- Importance of region is perhaps more important than the personality of governors
- HOW REGIONAL ELITES LOBBY -- Few regional bills presented to Duma (20-50%) get passed (10-17%)
- CONCLUSION -- Despite  Putin's centralization policies, the regions do maintain some influence.

6 The Role of Business in Shaping Economic Policy -- [pdf-138]
Natalia Lamberova and Konstantin Sonin
-3 periods: 1999-2003 attempts at institutional reforms, abandoned, Yukos case; 2003-08 high oil prices, 2008-09 financial crisis, bailouts led to increased nationalization; 2009-14 more money for security and military.
- Members of the inner circle receive 142 times more money in contracts than unconnected individuals.
- BUSINESS POLICY INPUT IN THE EARLY PUTIN YEARS -- Khodorkovsky-Yukos =  Putin power; significant tax reforms implemented.
- BUSINESS INFLUENCE IN THE AGE OF NATIONALIZATION -- Some of the elite benefited, others lost; oil, titanium, banks, aviation, shipbuilding
- PERSONAL CONNECTIONS AS A BUSINESS ASSET -- Connections to "right" people help; connections to "wrong" people hurt.
- REFORM BY STATE CORPORATIONS-- As reforms failed, Putin had cronies to create corporations to implement pet projects.
- CONCLUSION -- Improved quality of life, less bureaucracy; elites enriching themselves; do not expect economic reforms from the top.

 7 Media in Russia: Between Modernization and Monopoly -- [pdf-159]
Maria Lipman, Anna Kachkaeva, and Michael Poyker
- By 2010 all media outlets controlled by the state, Gazprom and Kovalchuk; more control and aggressive propaganda since annexation of Crimea in 2014.
- MEDIA MODERNIZATION -- Censorship to openness (1991), back to censorship (2014);  by 2010 TV became entertainment; embraced the Internet.
- CONSOLIDATING CONTROL -- Gusinsky and Berezovsky into exile; news coverage increasingly censored; little free expression.
- PUTIN’S RETURN AND CRIMEA -- Since 2012, control still more severe; since Crimea, anti-Ukrainian propaganda dominates.
- POLITICS OR CRONYISM? -- Oligopoly "informational autocracy" favours political motives; but these Oligarchs are cronies of Putin.
- WHY HASN’T THE SPREAD OF THE INTERNET LED TO MORE OPPOSITION? -- Putin sees threat in Internet; increased control.
- HOW EFFECTIVE IS THE KREMLIN’S MEDIA STRATEGY? -- Since Crimea, anti-Ukrainian fabrications are shocking; truth redefined.
- CONCLUSION -- Two interweaving trends: multibillion-dollar business with centralization under Kremlin control; solidly entrenched.

8 Public Opinion and Russian Politics -- [pdf-189]
Kirill Rogov and Maxim Ananyev
- Putin manipulates public opinion to keep his ratings high and garner support for his policies,
- A BLOCK OF ICE FLOATING BACKWARD OR THAWING HERE AND THERE? -- Orthodox-fueled conservatism illusion; most not religious.
- TRANSITIONAL CYCLING TOWARD MODERNITY -- WVS survey: Before 2014 most Russians preferred democracy, but alsostrong leadership.
- THE ACHILLES HEEL OF RUSSIAN MODERNIZATION -- Benefit of privatization not evenly spread.
- THE KREMLIN’S COUNTERATTACK -- Since 2012 "modernity" replaced by "traditional values"; "Crimea" dominates propaganda agenda.
- CONCLUSION -- Rather than the reflection of some historically rooted cultural predispositions, Russian public opinion today is primarily an outgrowth of the recent past and current political institutions; Putin has sought to turn back the clock.

9 The Courts, Law Enforcement, and Politics -- [pdf-214]
Ella Paneyakh and Dina Rosenberg
- In addition to corruption, oligarch control, etc. the justice system suffers from "internal incentive scheme"; some progress, butgenerally negative evaluation.
- WHAT THE CONVENTIONAL IMAGE MISSES -- Corruption, raiding, 88% conviction rate; citizens can sue government (86% successful)
- PERVERSE INCENTIVES -- High conviction rate is rewarded, prosecutors pick easy targets to "fulfill quotas"; low quality of legal personnel.
- THE COURTS, LAW ENFORCEMENT, AND CENTRAL POLITICAL DECISIONS -- Attempts at reform have failed; resistance by judges and elite.
- PUTIN’S THIRD TERM -- Judicial shakeup allowed creation of National Guard subordinate to Putin, who also controla the Constitutional Court.
- CONCLUSION -- Reform is hindered by both the existing judicial system, as well as Putin's totalitarian tendencies.

10 Civic and Political Activism in Russia -- [pdf-243]
Anton Sobolev and Alexei Zakharov
- In past 5 years civic activism has increased, despite tightening political controls. Putin is adamantly opposed to foreign-supported NGO's.
- RUSSIA’S “WEAK” CIVIL SOCIETY -- Independent civil society weak during Soviet and Yeltsin eras; foreign funding of NGO's is prohibited.
- IS RUSSIA SHORT ON TRUST? -- 27.8% od Russians said that people could be trrusted compared to 23.2% average for other countries.
- IS RUSSIA SHORT ON CIVIC PARTICIPATION? -- WVS survey: 18.5% all categories, but 9.8% excluding parties and labour unions in 2011.
- IS RUSSIA SHORT ON PROTESTING? -- Yes; between 1012 and 2014 protest sentiment dcclined sharply; after "Crimea" ir was criminal offence.
- STRATEGIES OF CIVIC ACTIVISM: PETITIONS -- Increasing, especially on Internet; more successful on regional or municipal levels.
- STRATEGIES OF CIVIC ACTIVISM: ELECTION MONITORING -- 2011-2012 for presidential election; less activity for local elections.
- STATE COUNTERMEASURES -- Mixture of repression, co-optation and imitation; federal funding for NGO's that support Putin: patriotic, ROC, veterans.
- CONCLUSION -- Russia’s civil society is in the process of modernization; although number of activists are increasing, the authorities maintain control.

11 Crimea: Anatomy of a Decision -- [pdf-271]
Daniel Treisman
- Treisman suggests 4 scenarios as to why Putin invaded and annexed Crimea. [W,Z.: None of which are completely convincing, in my opinion.]
- THE OFFICIAL LINE -- [All of Putin's explanations are obvious lies.]
- KEEPING NATO OUT -- Before the occupation of Crimea, Ukraine had no prospects of becoming a NATO member.
- REBUILDING THE EMPIRE -- [In my opinion, this scenario is the most convincing but incomplete.]
- RAISING THE RATINGS -- Although Putin's ratings did jump after the invasion, this is not a convincing scenario.

- MUDDLING THROUGH -- Novorossiysk and Sevastopol were put on alert on 18Feb2014, and orders to begin "peacekeeping operations" in Crimea were issued on 20Feb2014. Treisman  then paints a realistic picture of what happened next. The military operation was executed very efficiently and smoothly. [Because Ukrainian leaders refused to issue orders to resist.] The political operation was developed on-the-fly. Vice Admiral Belaventsev (a friend of defense minister Sergei Shoigu) arrived in Crimea on 22Feb2014, pressured the incumbent prime minister to resign and tried to replace him with Leonid Grach, a trusted elderly Communist. According to Grach, he was supported by Shoigu, the FSB, the GRU and, presumably, by Putin himself. Unfortunately, the local power brokers insisted that Sergei Aksyonov (known by his underworld nickname "Goblin") be appointed Prime Minister, such taht Belaventsev had to withdraw his offe to Grach.

- After his appointment, Aksyonov agreed to hold a referendum on 25May2014 on the issue  that Crimea "is a self-sufficient state and is a part of Ukraine on the basis of treaties and agreements" [That is, revert to its autonomous status in 1991.]
- On March 1, 2014 Crimea’s parliament rescheduled the referendum forward from May 25 to March. Then, five days later, the deputies advanced it again, to March 16, 2014, and they changed the question to: “Are you for the unification of Crimea with Russia with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation?” [That is, full unification with Russia.]

- CONCLUSION -- Surprisingly, Treisman concludes that : " Russia’s Crimea operation does not look like the climax of a revanchist campaign."
- As for NATO, he makes the absurd postulate: "A more plausible fear was that a post-Yanukovych government would cancel the lease on the Sevastopol base and demand that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet leave."
- [Yeltsin had agreed that the Black Sea fleet would be moved from Sevastopol to Russian territory in 2017. In 2010, Yanukovych extended the lease to 2042. Since there is no way that Ukraine could force Russia to remove its fleet, it would be stupid for Ukraine to make such a demand. However, Ukraine could have insisted that Crimea remain a nuclear-free zone.]
- Also surprising, although Treisman refers to Orthodox imperialist Malofeev, the Night Wolves motorcyce gang and odd Cossack units as participants in the Crimea operation, he does not refer to Igor Girkin's presence for several weeks prior to 20Feb2014 and several weeks thereafter, until he moved on to the attempted annexation of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Neither does he refer to the attempted annexation of the Kharkiv oblast and later the Odesa oblast.
- However, Treisman does accurately describe that: "Finally, the Crimea operation and the insurgency in eastern Ukraine served as a testing ground for the regime’s strategy of manipulating information" ... "Russian fake news sources worked overtime ... three hundred Russian journalists and media executives secretly received medals from Putin for their Crimean coverage."


Will Zuzak analysis of the situation in Ukraine since 1991

- In the 1980's, Yuri Andropov and the Soviet elite realized that the Communist system no longer worked and wanted to make a transition to a market economy.
- Gorbachev, with his glasnost and perestroika, tried to make a gradual smooth transition.
- However, Boris Yeltsin and the leaders of the other 15 Soviet Republics demanded dissolution of the Soviet Union.
- With the urging of Western so-called "advisors" to utilize "shock therapy", they decided on crash privatisation, which led to poverty, the creation of fabulously rich Oligarchs in cahoots with flourishing organized crime and an impoverished general populace.
- In my opinion, Boris Yeltsin truly did want to make a transition to a Western-style democracy and market economy. And he truly did want to respect the independence and territorial integrity of the 15 former Soviet republics.
- Unfortunately, a very large fraction of Communist believers and Tsarist Russian Empire enthusiasts that were entrenched in the bureaucracy throughout the Soviet Union  dreamed of recreating the Russian Empire. Vladimir Putin was and remains one of these. With his appointment and election as President of the Russian Federation in 2000, he was in a position to implement his dreams.

- The situation in Ukraine was very similar. From 1991 to 2000, the Russian Empire chauvinists that were entrenched in the Ukrainian bureaucracy kept a low profile, but retained their allegiance and ties to Moscow. This was compounded by Russian-based organized crime (RBOC) with their connections to Moscow mafiosi and the proliferation of Oligarchs with allegiance to Moscow. Together, they did everything possible to subvert the establishment of democratic institutions and the development of a healthy market economy in Ukraine.

- With the advent of Vladimir Putin in 2000, I suspect that a detailed program to subvert Ukraine's independence and to re-integrate Ukraine into the Russian world was developed and implemented. Everything was going to plan (with the hiccup of the Orange Revolution in 2004 and Viktor Yushchenko's presidency) with the election of Viktor Yanukovych in 2010.

- Unfortunately for Putin, the Revolution of Dignity (Euromaidan demonstrations between 21Nov2013 and 22Feb2014) disrupted Putin's long-term plans. He was forced to adopt Plan B.
- Viktor Yanukovych had been playing both sides of the fence as he blatantly abused his office as President to increase his own and his families wealth at the expense of Ukrainian  citizenry. During the summer of 2013, he negotiated a Association Agreement with the European Union. Putin was forced to provide a $3 billion bribe to induce him not to sign the Agreement. This led to the Euromaidan protests by peaceful university students initiated via Email by Mustafa Nayyem on 21Nov2013.
- Putin decided to terrorize the demonstrators into submission by brutally beating the students on the night of 29/30Nov2013, which led to the massive demonstrations by Kyiv residents and Afghan war veterans on Sunday, 01Dec2013 protesting the beating of their children. Thereafter, the terror, the deaths and the  resistance progressively increased until the death of about 100 demonstrators by sniper fire on the fateful days of 18 and 20Feb2014. I suspect that by early February 2014, Putin decided to abandon Yanukovych and initiate Plan B.

- Plan B consisted of:
- Occupation and then annexation of Crimea as described in this book.
- Occupation of Kharkiv and later the annexation of Kharkiv oblast, which was thwarted by the timely intercession of (probably) Arsen Avakov, who was intimately familiar with the RBOC headed by Hennadiy Kernes, Mayor of Kharkiv and virulently anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian.
- Occupation and later annexation of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, which was partially successful (initially at Slovyansk and Kramatorsk) through the efforts of Igor Girkin (who arrived from his operations in Crimea), but which was stymied by the intercession of thousands of patriotic Ukrainian volunteers, many of whom lost their lives fighting the Russian-orchestrated separatists. A stalemate has resulted with about one third of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts designated as the LNR and DPR under Russian control (as of 2018).
- Occupation of Odesa and later annexation of the Odesa oblast. A planned provocation occurred on 02May2014 as Ukrainian patriotic soccer fans were marching to the football game chanting "Putin Khuylo". Pro-Euromaidan activists were confronted by anti-Euromaidan provocateurs  Two Ukrainian patriots and four pro-Russian demonstrators were shot and killed and many injured. The enraged crowd chased the pro-Russian provocateurs into the Trade Union building, where, during the standoff, Molotov cocktails started a fire and some 42 people died of asphyxiation.

- [It is surprising that Treisman and the other authors never mention the Putin Khuylo song intitiated by Kharkiv football fans in March 2014, which went viral around the world and which was then sung at most football games in Ukraine. This must have shocked Vladimir Putin, who must have realized that ordinary Ukrainian youth was adamantly opposed to his incursion into Ukraine.]

- The Novorossiya project to occupy Mariupol, Berdyansk and locations along Azov Sea coast so as to provide a land bridge to Crimea was put on hold, but the Kerch bridge from mainland Russia to Crimea has already been built. It threatens Ukraine's sovereignty in the Azov Sea and access to the Black Sea.

Although Plan B was only partial successful, this was just a small detour in Putin's long-term plans for Ukraine. Anti-Ukrainian propaganda, cyber attacks, destabilization, infiltration by Russian agents, etc. continue as always. Russian agents on both sides of the Ukrainian border with Moldova, Romania, Hungary,  Slovakia and Poland are creating incidents to foment dissension and hatred between Ukrainians and the citizens of these countries. Putin is doing everything possible to promote the disintegration of Ukraine.

The Russian imperialist mindset is that wherever the Russian conqueror has set foot will forever remain Russian territory. Recently, a Russian musical group wrote a song to this effect, which even included the American state of Alaska. In my opinion, until the Russian imperialists abandon their "rape, loot and pillage" mindset, there is little possibility of raprochment between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.