The Politics of Sub-National Authoritarianism in Russia
By the end of the 2000s Russia had become an increasingly authoritarian state, which was characterised by the following features: outrageously unfair and fraudulent elections, the existence of weak and impotent political parties, a heavily censored (often self-censored) media, weak rubber-stamping legislatures at the national and sub-national levels, politically subordinated courts, the arbitrary use of the economic powers of the state, and widespread corruption. However, this picture would be incomplete without taking into account the sub-national dimension of these subversive institutions and practices across the regions of the Russian Federation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, sub-national political developments in Russia became highly diversified and the political map of Russia’s regions became multi-faceted. The period of 2000s demonstrated a drive on the part of the Kremlin to re-centralise politics and governance to the demise of newly-emerging democratic institutions at both the national and sub-national levels. Yet, federalism and regionalism remain key elements of the research agenda in Russian politics, and the overall political map of Russia’s regions is far from being monotonic. Rather, it is similar to a complex multi-piece puzzle, which can only be put together through skilful crafting.
The 12 chapters in this collection are oriented towards the generation of more theoretically and empirically solid inferences and provide critical evaluations of the multiple deficiencies in Russia’s sub-national authoritarianism, including: principal-agent problems in the relations between the layers of the ‘power vertical’, unresolved issues of regime legitimacy that have resulted from manipulative electoral practices, and the inefficient performance of regional and local governments.
The volume brings together a team of international experts on Russian regional politics which includes top scholars from Britain, Canada, Russia and the USA.
In the 1990s, sub-national authoritarian regimes – local-based monopolies of ruling elites – emerged in many of Russia’s regions and cities against the background of spontaneous decentralization of government and competitive electoral politics. In the 2000s, the decline of political competition and recentralization of the Russian state led to incorporation of sub-national authoritarian regimes under federal control and cooptation of local-based actors into the dominant party, United Russia. This paper is devoted to a comparative analysis of sub-national authoritarianism in Russia in light of the experience of local political machines in other countries, ranging from US cities from the 1870s-1930s to Southern Italy from the 1950s-1980s. Unlike the American political machines, which were demolished from below as a by-product of modernization processes, Russia’s sub-national authoritarian regimes were integrated from above into the nation-wide authoritarianism. One might expect further stagnation of sub-national authoritarian regimes in Russia until major regime changes will occur on the national level.
The comparative study of Russian regions faces a number of methodological problems, the most important being the magnitude o f the variations that exist between the regions, their scope within a single state, and the correlation between Russian politics in general, and the peculiarities of regional polities. It is very important to find the correct balance between the analysis of formal political institutions, which are easier to research, and informal political practices, which are also very important but much more difficult to study. It is necessary to go beyond basing ones’ conclusions about regional politics on surveys of experts in the regions, which has been a typical approach employed in many research projects in Russia. Instead, one should rely on quantifiable variables. However, in a closed political system such as Russia, it is not surprising that scholars will often use ‘insider’ information and ‘participant observation’. In this comparative study I attempt to uncover the similarities and the differences to be found in the different types of regional polities.