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Our uncurbed enthusiasm even extended to Russia. Still there was little shift in academic direction, as much of the literature approached the Putin era as a democracy in the process of failing rather than as an authoritarian project in the process of succeeding. IV Clearly in the s democracy was in fact both being built and failing, but when the success or failure of democracy building is the central telos of the narrative, one loses track of the counternarrative, which is that there were elites centered on Putin and his security cabal, the so-called siloviki who sought from the beginning to establish an authoritarian regime in Russia, not perhaps for its own sake but because controlling the political and economic development of the country was for them a greater ambition than building any democracy that would inevitably force them to surrender power at some point.
And they used many methods to achieve this, including engaging in criminal behavior, controlling the legal system and the media, and, above all, maintaining group cohesion through combinations of threats and rewards. Instead of seeing Russian politics as an inchoate democratic system being pulled down by history, accidental autocrats, popular inertia, bureaucratic incompetence, or poor Western advice, I conclude that from the beginning Putin and his circle sought to create an authoritarian regime ruled by a close-knit cabal with embedded interests, plans, and capabilities, who used democracy for decoration rather than direction.
In other words, Russia is both a democratic failure and a resounding success—that is, a success for Putin and his cronies and a success on their terms. Of course, in this system, there is robust political contestation, there is great uncertainty and instability, and there are still democrats and democratic aspirations. Putin and his circle could have passed and upheld laws to protect, promote, cement, and sustain democratic institutions, but they chose not to.
The evidence I present suggests that, from the moment Putin took power in , Russia ceased to be a place where democratic dreamers could flourish.
For my enemies, the law! On the contrary, their behavior in parking their money in Western banks suggests they are very interested in it—just not in their own country. This book does not look in detail at what is happening in Russia today; instead I seek to ascertain the authoritarian moment in Russia.
Vladimir Putin spent his entire early life yearning to join and was finally accepted into the KGB. By his own account, his favorite songs are Soviet standards, not Western rock. He has been deeply conservative his whole life. Yet he has also been a keen collector of every possible trapping of material wealth. When he was stationed in East Germany, he had the leaders of the German Red Army Faction also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group steal speaker systems for him when they had a moment free from their terror campaigns.
Back in Russia in the early s, Putin acquired a substantial country house, or dacha, and an apartment in the most prestigious section of St. Petersburg within his first years of working in the city; neither of these could have been downloadd with his meager official salary. This pattern of uncontrollable greed, of wanting what rightfully belongs to others, which Masha Gessen calls pleonexia, 14 has resulted in over twenty official residences, fifty-eight planes, and four yachts.
The demands of this tribute system have meant that the cost of doing business in Russia has escalated to such an extent that Russian and foreign businesses alike wonder whether they can even turn a profit.
The global Swedish furniture chain Ikea threatened to call it quits after years of trying to run a clean business in Russia. When the head of Ikea Russia, Lennart Dahlgren, left the company in , he revealed that they had been subjected to years of legal traps that they sought to solve by meeting personally with Putin.
When the subject of study is how, when, and why Russian elites decided to take the country away from democracy, obviously no one from this group is giving public interviews, and if they do, as happened with Aleksandr Litvinenko, they suffer a cruel death. I spent almost eight years studying archival sources, the accounts of Russian insiders, the results of investigative journalism in the United States, Britain, Germany, Finland, France, and Italy, and all of this was backed by extensive interviews with Western officials who served in Moscow and St.
Petersburg and were consulted on background. I also consulted with and used many accounts by opposition figures, Russian analysts, and exiled figures who used to be part of the Kremlin elite. Above all I have relied on the work of Russian journalists who wrote this story when the Russian media was still free.
Many of them died for this story, and their work has largely been scrubbed from the Internet, or as I discovered several times infected with viruses attached to online documents, leading to computer crashes.
Whole runs of critical newspapers have disappeared from Russian libraries.
Finally, the dump of nonredacted cables from Wikileaks is very regrettable but also a completely fascinating source of information. XXX argued that the vertical works because people are paying bribes all the way to the top. He told us that people often witness officials going into the Kremlin with large suitcases and bodyguards full of money.
The governors also collect money based on bribes, almost resembling a tax system, throughout their regions. He described how there are parallel structures in the regions in which people are able to pay their leaders. Further, XXX told us that deputies generally have to download their seats in the government. They need money to get to the top, but once they are there, their positions become quite lucrative money making opportunities.
Of course, he is not the only Eurasian or Western leader to have collected gifts and tributes. But to have created with this clique an entire system that spans eleven time zones is by any account an impressive achievement. It is a story that begins even before the collapse of the USSR. See Bill Gertz. This redirection in my research was particularly reflected in several earlier works, including Eastern Europe, Gorbachev and Reform ; Russia and the New States of Eurasia: The Politics of Upheaval , coauthored with Bruce Parrott; and two series coedited with Bruce Parrott, the four-volume Democratization and Authoritarianism in Postcommunist Societies and the ten-volume The International Politics of Eurasia — The field has a rich collection of books on democracy in Russia e.
But there are no Western academic accounts of the origins and development of authoritarianism as an elite project in Russia.
The serious contributions by Russian analysts on this subject are too numerous to mention and are discussed in depth throughout this book. Wider works on competitive authoritarianism certainly exist, including excellent contributions by Levitsky and Way , Gandhi , and Brownlee February 6, October 14, The New York Review of Books. December 18, The New York Times. November 24, Library Journal. November The Times Literary Supplement. February 4, The Henry Jackson Society.