september 13–17, 2017

Russia – Domestic Perspective:
Back at the Ranch – Russian Politics
and Society

Alena Ledeneva, PhD

Professor of Politics and Society
School of Slavonic and East European Studies of University College London

Alena Ledeneva is Professor of Politics and Society at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies of University College London in the UK. She is an internationally renowned expert on informal governance in Russia. Her research interests include corruption, informal economy, economic crime, informal practices in corporate governance, and the role of networks and patron-client relationships in Russia and around the globe. Professor Ledeneva described Russia as a “hybrid” regime, combining elements of democracy and authoritarianism. She pointed out that Russia’s huge geography, difficult climate, and poor infrastructure do not support a successful market-economy. However, despite economic realities, Russians believe in an ideal of national greatness based on their history.

Professor Ledeneva’s presentation shed light on current Russian attitudes toward the US, as well as internal Russian politics that may impact US States. She reported that a non-intervention treaty to restrict both the US and Russia from meddling in international affairs, planting fake news, and manipulating through false information would be a step toward reducing the US-Russia tension. A second step would be increasing trade between Russia and the US, which today is only 10% of that between Russia and Europe, and recognition of Russia as an important WWII ally, who lost 20M Russians in defeating fascism.

Is Russia a “Normal” Country?

Professor Ledeneva contrasted the answers to this question by contrasting the views of economists Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman, who posit that Russian transition is no different from other transitions, that the West’s assistance has worked, and they predict further liberalization and development on par with other middle-income successful nations such as Mexico and Brazil. Economists believe that business can be done with Russia and that profits will be premium after the entry barrier.1

But political scientists, such as Steven Rosefielde, disagree. They perceive Russia as an abnormal political economy, unlikely to democratize, westernize or embrace free enterprise any time soon.2 The factors contributing to this view are Russia’s geography and harsh climate, its vast size and natural resources, and its history and trauma. Top-down modernization has been the model for Russian advancement, the expectation that “a good Czar will fix everything,” as opposed to the “self-made man” philosophy of the US.  The legacy of communism leaves the country with an infrastructure that is unfit for market development, she said. Finally, the education, culture, and spirit of Russia is based on a historical ideal of Russia’s unique greatness.

Is Russia a Democracy?

Some analysts contend that contemporary Russia is not a democracy. They observe that it is moving away from being a “hybrid regime,” which blended democratic and authoritarian elements in the “gray” zone between liberal democracy and dictatorship. Instead, it is becoming a nearly full-scale autocracy, where manipulation is rampant, and the economy runs on “favors.” After the shock therapy of the transition from life in the Soviet Union, the Russian people associate “democracy” with poverty, crisis, and humiliation of the 1990s. They are more secure with some level of authoritarianism.

Professor Ledeneva listed some of the qualifying adjectives used over the past decades to characterize Russia’s democracy, including semi, partial, weak, formal, façade, illiberal, pseudo, virtual. During the Yeltsin regime, Russia was seen as a “guided democracy,” which benefitted from Western advice and aid and gained increased legitimacy in the West. In the early Putin regime, it was called a “managed democracy,” with a focus on internal problems of oligarchic capitalism, control of regions, and other Yeltsin’s legacies.

Most recently, the term Russians use to describe their government is “sovereign democracy,” as Mr. Putin’s focus shifts to focus on international problems, global competition, the struggle for energy resources, and establishing legitimacy in Russia. While there is competition in the country’s elections, these are not truly democratic, voting is not to elect but to affirm and legitimize current authorities.

Professor Ledeneva introduced the term “competitive authoritarian regime.” Such regimes, like Russia, are civilian regimes in which formal democratic institutions are widely used, but in which fraud, civil liberties violations, and abuse of state and media resources are so prominent that the regime cannot be labelled democratic. Such regimes are competitive, in that democratic institutions are not merely a façade: opposition parties use them to seriously contest for power; but they are authoritarian in that opposition forces are handicapped by a highly uneven playing field. Competition is thus real but unfair.

Friends and Foes

Internally, Russia perceives itself as a European country with alliances, friendship, and partnerships with other European countries. Mr. Putin’s approval rating is 89% and, even if that is halved to account for manipulation, it is still high, Professor Ledeneva said, despite authoritarianism and human rights violations.

Polls designed to identify the five nations most and least friendly to Russia, found that Russia’s BFFs included Belarus, China, Kazakhstan, Syria, and India. Among the most hostile nations are the US, Ukraine, Germany, Latvia, and Lithuania. Despite these rankings, the attitudes of Russians toward the US are improving with 37% of Russians being positive toward the US, despite the imposition of sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Professor Ledeneva reported.

Is Russia Modern?

Russia has a population of 144 million, a mass area of 6.6 million square miles, covering 11 time zones. It is the 12th largest economy in nominal terms, and 6th largest in purchasing power parity terms, according to the World Bank. Its economy is shows signs of improvement, with GDP growth at 1.7% in 2017.  Russia was the world’s largest exporter of grain in 2016 after a record harvest of 119m tons that earned $15bn in export revenue. The country’s budget deficit has gone down from 3.6% in 2016 to 1% in 2017, and the revenue structure is changing with more revenue from taxes and fees than from selling oil and gas. When sanctions were imposed after the Crimea annexation, the development of local products as import substitutes created a boom in the local agricultural sector.

Russia’s defense budget is the world’s 3d largest, and it has 7,000 nuclear warheads. “But what can Russia do with all those warheads?” Professor Ledeneva asked. Russian locals are feeling the pinch from Russia’s commitments to the Syrian War and want to reduce military spending. However, for Russians, the key concern is not the economy. They do not believe that a better economy leads to a better life, perhaps, in part, because any economic gains are swept into the pockets of politicians and never filter to the people. But political security is prized. Russians tend to be xenophobic, Professor Ledeneva observed; however, even that is softening, as today, only 54% of the population opposes immigrants.

What does Russia Want from the US?

Russia and the US would both benefit from a Treaty on Non-Intervention that prohibits fake news, media manipulation, and international meddling. In addition, more trade with the US, which currently is only 10% of Russia’s trade with Europe, would help ease tensions and begin to restore normalcy. Finally, the US could recognize the sacrifices and support received from Russia as a US ally in World War II, and honor the 20 million Russians who died fighting Fascism.

Q&A

Q: Sen. Kevin Grantham (CO): What were the US policies in the 1990s that threatened Russia?

A: Mr. Galeotti: Western support for “shock therapy,” the radical economic reforms aimed at rapid economic stabilization, liberalization, privatization and the opening of the economy to international trade, had disastrous social effects on Russians. It led to poverty and serious shortages in Russia, as well as the emergence of “crony capitalism.” These effects persuaded the Russian people that successful capitalism and democracy required a “dog-eat-dog” philosophy, which was unpalatable to the former Communist populace.

In the 1990s, President Yeltsin was not able to define the new country emerging from the Soviet Union. The 1993 Parliament was filled with old Soviet-style members, who allowed Mr. Yeltsin to rewrite the Constitution to remain as President. In 1996, it was clear that the Russian elections were rigged. However, the US did not oppose any of these non-democratic maneuvers. Furthermore, during 1989 negotiations on the unification of Germany, Mr. Gorbachev believed he had negotiated an agreement that NATO would not expand. Then NATO did expand, compromising this trust.

Russians believe that no governments are truly democratic, and they expect similar manipulations to occur everywhere. The lack of US response to these non-democratic actions confirmed these suspicions for the Russian people. All these factors have fueled anti-US sentiment in Russia.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): Russia seems to be pursuing a guerrilla war of journalistic disinformation in Europe and the US. What can the US do to address and defend against this?

A: In the short-term, the US should address the issues of Facebook and political advertising. One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

Furthermore, the US populace will believe wild stories because they are alienated from the elite and feel they lack power in the political process. Russia is exploiting this by questioning the “legitimacy” of US institutions, for example, amplifying the message that “Congress doesn’t work.”

Two things US leaders could do is, first, defend the legitimacy of US institutions and show that, in fact, this is democracy at work; and second, teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Fighting terrorism is a global problem, but Russia seems to be supporting terrorists in Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria.  Is Russia both fighting terrorism and stoking it?

A: Mr. Galeotti: It is a shared goal to fight terrorism, but Russia also has an objective to get the US out of the Middle East. There is a pragmatic relationship between Russia and Iran, but Russia is concerned about jihadists and ISIS. While the US and Russia have lately been less cooperative, they continue to share information on terrorism.

Mr. Putin’s first call after 9/11 was offering help through an alliance of joint forces. But he got no takers on this offer. In a 2007 speech in Munich, Mr. Putin said that Russia was standing alone to combat terrorism and no nation was working with them. The façade portrayed by Mr. Putin is confrontational, and this is not likely to win allies.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): Russia disappeared from the US news for several years as the focus shifted to the Middle East, Saddam Hussein, and the Iraq War. Now Russia is the hot new topic. Is this fake news? Should we be concerned?

A: Dr. Ledeneva: Russia is a fake enemy. Russia-bashing stories distract Americans from demanding that President Trump address real internal issues, such as economic opportunities for all. Meanwhile, Mr. Putin diverts the populace from Russia’s internal economic problems by using psychological warfare and acting like a big power. The best thing to do is to ignore Mr. Putin.

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): After Mr. Putin, who is likely to emerge as the next leader, when and what kind of leader should we expect?

A: Dr. Ledeneva: Who is uncertain. There will be a new person, someone arising from the sistema, who is already on the circuit, but is a Dark Horse. In Russia, one must never express Presidential ambitions.

When is likely to be in 2018 at the next elections. Mr. Putin has not yet announced his interest but is “waiting for the call.” The next President will serve six years through 2024. Mr. Putin is tired and is not having fun anymore; however, if his health holds up, his mission to “Make Russia Great Again,” his sense of his historic imperative, and the financial interests of himself and his friends may compel him to hold onto power.

Speaker Biography

Alena Ledeneva, PhD

Alena Ledeneva is an internationally renowned expert on informal governance in Russia. Her research interests include corruption, informal economy, economic crime, informal practices in corporate governance, and the role of networks and patron-client relationships in Russia and around the globe.

Her books have become must-read sources in Russian studies and social sciences. She is the author of Russia's Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking, and Informal Exchange (Cambridge University Press, 1998), How Russia Really Works: Informal Practices in the 1990s (Cornell University Press, 2006), and Can Russia Modernize? Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Alena received her PhD in Social and Political Theory from Cambridge University. Currently, she is the pillar leader of the multi-partner ANTICORRP.eu research project and works on the Global Encyclopedia of Informality.

1. “A Normal Country,” Foreign Affairs, 83, 2004.

2. Steven Rosefielde, “Russia: An Abnormal Country,” The European Journal of Comparative Economics, 2005.

Political scientists see Russia as an abnormal political economy, unlikely to democratize, westernize, or embrace free enterprise any time soon.

Russia is becoming a nearly full-scale autocracy, where manipulation is rampant, and the economy runs on “favors.”

Russia is a “competitive authoritarian regime,” in which fraud, civil liberties violations, and abuse of state and media resources are so prominent that the regime cannot be labelled democratic.

Russians are less concerned about economic security than about political security.

One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

... teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

Tom Finneran

Sen. Kevin Grantham (CO)

Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR)

Sen. David Long (IN)

Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR)

Alena Ledeneva

CONTACT

Senate Presidents’ Forum

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Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706

 

Tel: 914-693-1818

Copyright © 2017 Senate Presidents' Forum. All rights reserved.

september 13–17, 2017

Russia – Domestic Perspective:
Back at the Ranch – Russian Politics and Society

Alena Ledeneva, PhD

Professor of Politics and Society
School of Slavonic and East European Studies of University College London

Alena Ledeneva is Professor of Politics and Society at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies of University College London in the UK. She is an internationally renowned expert on informal governance in Russia. Her research interests include corruption, informal economy, economic crime, informal practices in corporate governance, and the role of networks and patron-client relationships in Russia and around the globe. Professor Ledeneva described Russia as a “hybrid” regime, combining elements of democracy and authoritarianism. She pointed out that Russia’s huge geography, difficult climate, and poor infrastructure do not support a successful market-economy. However, despite economic realities, Russians believe in an ideal of national greatness based on their history.

Professor Ledeneva’s presentation shed light on current Russian attitudes toward the US, as well as internal Russian politics that may impact US States. She reported that a non-intervention treaty to restrict both the US and Russia from meddling in international affairs, planting fake news, and manipulating through false information would be a step toward reducing the US-Russia tension. A second step would be increasing trade between Russia and the US, which today is only 10% of that between Russia and Europe, and recognition of Russia as an important WWII ally, who lost 20M Russians in defeating fascism.

Is Russia a “Normal” Country?

Professor Ledeneva contrasted the answers to this question by contrasting the views of economists Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman, who posit that Russian transition is no different from other transitions, that the West’s assistance has worked, and they predict further liberalization and development on par with other middle-income successful nations such as Mexico and Brazil. Economists believe that business can be done with Russia and that profits will be premium after the entry barrier.1

But political scientists, such as Steven Rosefielde, disagree. They perceive Russia as an abnormal political economy, unlikely to democratize, westernize or embrace free enterprise any time soon.2 The factors contributing to this view are Russia’s geography and harsh climate, its vast size and natural resources, and its history and trauma. Top-down modernization has been the model for Russian advancement, the expectation that “a good Czar will fix everything,” as opposed to the “self-made man” philosophy of the US.  The legacy of communism leaves the country with an infrastructure that is unfit for market development, she said. Finally, the education, culture, and spirit of Russia is based on a historical ideal of Russia’s unique greatness.

Political scientists see Russia as an abnormal political economy, unlikely to democratize, westernize, or embrace free enterprise any time soon.

Is Russia a Democracy?

Some analysts contend that contemporary Russia is not a democracy. They observe that it is moving away from being a “hybrid regime,” which blended democratic and authoritarian elements in the “gray” zone between liberal democracy and dictatorship. Instead, it is becoming a nearly full-scale autocracy, where manipulation is rampant, and the economy runs on “favors.” After the shock therapy of the transition from life in the Soviet Union, the Russian people associate “democracy” with poverty, crisis, and humiliation of the 1990s. They are more secure with some level of authoritarianism.

Russia is becoming a nearly full-scale autocracy, where manipulation is rampant, and the economy runs on “favors.”

Professor Ledeneva listed some of the qualifying adjectives used over the past decades to characterize Russia’s democracy, including semi, partial, weak, formal, façade, illiberal, pseudo, virtual. During the Yeltsin regime, Russia was seen as a “guided democracy,” which benefitted from Western advice and aid and gained increased legitimacy in the West. In the early Putin regime, it was called a “managed democracy,” with a focus on internal problems of oligarchic capitalism, control of regions, and other Yeltsin’s legacies.

Most recently, the term Russians use to describe their government is “sovereign democracy,” as Mr. Putin’s focus shifts to focus on international problems, global competition, the struggle for energy resources, and establishing legitimacy in Russia. While there is competition in the country’s elections, these are not truly democratic, voting is not to elect but to affirm and legitimize current authorities.

Professor Ledeneva introduced the term “competitive authoritarian regime.” Such regimes, like Russia, are civilian regimes in which formal democratic institutions are widely used, but in which fraud, civil liberties violations, and abuse of state and media resources are so prominent that the regime cannot be labelled democratic. Such regimes are competitive, in that democratic institutions are not merely a façade: opposition parties use them to seriously contest for power; but they are authoritarian in that opposition forces are handicapped by a highly uneven playing field. Competition is thus real but unfair.

Russia is a “competitive authoritarian regime,” in which fraud, civil liberties violations, and abuse of state and media resources are so prominent that the regime cannot be labelled democratic.

Friends and Foes

Internally, Russia perceives itself as a European country with alliances, friendship, and partnerships with other European countries. Mr. Putin’s approval rating is 89% and, even if that is halved to account for manipulation, it is still high, Professor Ledeneva said, despite authoritarianism and human rights violations.

Polls designed to identify the five nations most and least friendly to Russia, found that Russia’s BFFs included Belarus, China, Kazakhstan, Syria, and India. Among the most hostile nations are the US, Ukraine, Germany, Latvia, and Lithuania. Despite these rankings, the attitudes of Russians toward the US are improving with 37% of Russians being positive toward the US, despite the imposition of sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Professor Ledeneva reported.

Is Russia Modern?

Russia has a population of 144 million, a mass area of 6.6 million square miles, covering 11 time zones. It is the 12th largest economy in nominal terms, and 6th largest in purchasing power parity terms, according to the World Bank. Its economy is shows signs of improvement, with GDP growth at 1.7% in 2017.  Russia was the world’s largest exporter of grain in 2016 after a record harvest of 119m tons that earned $15bn in export revenue. The country’s budget deficit has gone down from 3.6% in 2016 to 1% in 2017, and the revenue structure is changing with more revenue from taxes and fees than from selling oil and gas. When sanctions were imposed after the Crimea annexation, the development of local products as import substitutes created a boom in the local agricultural sector.

Russia’s defense budget is the world’s 3d largest, and it has 7,000 nuclear warheads. “But what can Russia do with all those warheads?” Professor Ledeneva asked. Russian locals are feeling the pinch from Russia’s commitments to the Syrian War and want to reduce military spending. However, for Russians, the key concern is not the economy. They do not believe that a better economy leads to a better life, perhaps, in part, because any economic gains are swept into the pockets of politicians and never filter to the people. But political security is prized. Russians tend to be xenophobic, Professor Ledeneva observed; however, even that is softening, as today, only 54% of the population opposes immigrants.

Russians are less concerned about economic security than about political security.

What does Russia Want from the US?

Russia and the US would both benefit from a Treaty on Non-Intervention that prohibits fake news, media manipulation, and international meddling. In addition, more trade with the US, which currently is only 10% of Russia’s trade with Europe, would help ease tensions and begin to restore normalcy. Finally, the US could recognize the sacrifices and support received from Russia as a US ally in World War II, and honor the 20 million Russians who died fighting Fascism.

Q&A

Q: Sen. Kevin Grantham (CO): What were the US policies in the 1990s that threatened Russia?

A: Mr. Galeotti: Western support for “shock therapy,” the radical economic reforms aimed at rapid economic stabilization, liberalization, privatization and the opening of the economy to international trade, had disastrous social effects on Russians. It led to poverty and serious shortages in Russia, as well as the emergence of “crony capitalism.” These effects persuaded the Russian people that successful capitalism and democracy required a “dog-eat-dog” philosophy, which was unpalatable to the former Communist populace.

In the 1990s, President Yeltsin was not able to define the new country emerging from the Soviet Union. The 1993 Parliament was filled with old Soviet-style members, who allowed Mr. Yeltsin to rewrite the Constitution to remain as President. In 1996, it was clear that the Russian elections were rigged. However, the US did not oppose any of these non-democratic maneuvers. Furthermore, during 1989 negotiations on the unification of Germany, Mr. Gorbachev believed he had negotiated an agreement that NATO would not expand. Then NATO did expand, compromising this trust.

Russians believe that no governments are truly democratic, and they expect similar manipulations to occur everywhere. The lack of US response to these non-democratic actions confirmed these suspicions for the Russian people. All these factors have fueled anti-US sentiment in Russia.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): Russia seems to be pursuing a guerrilla war of journalistic disinformation in Europe and the US. What can the US do to address and defend against this?

A: In the short-term, the US should address the issues of Facebook and political advertising. One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

Furthermore, the US populace will believe wild stories because they are alienated from the elite and feel they lack power in the political process. Russia is exploiting this by questioning the “legitimacy” of US institutions, for example, amplifying the message that “Congress doesn’t work.”

Two things US leaders could do is, first, defend the legitimacy of US institutions and show that, in fact, this is democracy at work; and second, teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

... teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Fighting terrorism is a global problem, but Russia seems to be supporting terrorists in Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria.  Is Russia both fighting terrorism and stoking it?

A: Mr. Galeotti: It is a shared goal to fight terrorism, but Russia also has an objective to get the US out of the Middle East. There is a pragmatic relationship between Russia and Iran, but Russia is concerned about jihadists and ISIS. While the US and Russia have lately been less cooperative, they continue to share information on terrorism.

Mr. Putin’s first call after 9/11 was offering help through an alliance of joint forces. But he got no takers on this offer. In a 2007 speech in Munich, Mr. Putin said that Russia was standing alone to combat terrorism and no nation was working with them. The façade portrayed by Mr. Putin is confrontational, and this is not likely to win allies.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): Russia disappeared from the US news for several years as the focus shifted to the Middle East, Saddam Hussein, and the Iraq War. Now Russia is the hot new topic. Is this fake news? Should we be concerned?

A: Dr. Ledeneva: Russia is a fake enemy. Russia-bashing stories distract Americans from demanding that President Trump address real internal issues, such as economic opportunities for all. Meanwhile, Mr. Putin diverts the populace from Russia’s internal economic problems by using psychological warfare and acting like a big power. The best thing to do is to ignore Mr. Putin.

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): After Mr. Putin, who is likely to emerge as the next leader, when and what kind of leader should we expect?

A: Dr. Ledeneva: Who is uncertain. There will be a new person, someone arising from the sistema, who is already on the circuit, but is a Dark Horse. In Russia, one must never express Presidential ambitions.

When is likely to be in 2018 at the next elections. Mr. Putin has not yet announced his interest but is “waiting for the call.” The next President will serve six years through 2024. Mr. Putin is tired and is not having fun anymore; however, if his health holds up, his mission to “Make Russia Great Again,” his sense of his historic imperative, and the financial interests of himself and his friends may compel him to hold onto power.

Speaker Biography

Alena Ledeneva, PhD

Alena Ledeneva is an internationally renowned expert on informal governance in Russia. Her research interests include corruption, informal economy, economic crime, informal practices in corporate governance, and the role of networks and patron-client relationships in Russia and around the globe.

Her books have become must-read sources in Russian studies and social sciences. She is the author of Russia's Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking, and Informal Exchange (Cambridge University Press, 1998), How Russia Really Works: Informal Practices in the 1990s (Cornell University Press, 2006), and Can Russia Modernize? Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Alena received her PhD in Social and Political Theory from Cambridge University. Currently, she is the pillar leader of the multi-partner ANTICORRP.eu research project and works on the Global Encyclopedia of Informality.

1. “A Normal Country,” Foreign Affairs, 83, 2004.

2. Steven Rosefielde, “Russia: An Abnormal Country,” The European Journal of Comparative Economics, 2005.

september 13–17, 2017

Russia – Domestic Perspective:
Back at the Ranch – Russian Politics
and Society

Alena Ledeneva, PhD

Professor of Politics and Society
School of Slavonic and East European Studies of University College London

Alena Ledeneva is Professor of Politics and Society at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies of University College London in the UK. She is an internationally renowned expert on informal governance in Russia. Her research interests include corruption, informal economy, economic crime, informal practices in corporate governance, and the role of networks and patron-client relationships in Russia and around the globe. Professor Ledeneva described Russia as a “hybrid” regime, combining elements of democracy and authoritarianism. She pointed out that Russia’s huge geography, difficult climate, and poor infrastructure do not support a successful market-economy. However, despite economic realities, Russians believe in an ideal of national greatness based on their history.

Professor Ledeneva’s presentation shed light on current Russian attitudes toward the US, as well as internal Russian politics that may impact US States. She reported that a non-intervention treaty to restrict both the US and Russia from meddling in international affairs, planting fake news, and manipulating through false information would be a step toward reducing the US-Russia tension. A second step would be increasing trade between Russia and the US, which today is only 10% of that between Russia and Europe, and recognition of Russia as an important WWII ally, who lost 20M Russians in defeating fascism.

Is Russia a “Normal” Country?

Professor Ledeneva contrasted the answers to this question by contrasting the views of economists Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman, who posit that Russian transition is no different from other transitions, that the West’s assistance has worked, and they predict further liberalization and development on par with other middle-income successful nations such as Mexico and Brazil. Economists believe that business can be done with Russia and that profits will be premium after the entry barrier.1

But political scientists, such as Steven Rosefielde, disagree. They perceive Russia as an abnormal political economy, unlikely to democratize, westernize or embrace free enterprise any time soon.2 The factors contributing to this view are Russia’s geography and harsh climate, its vast size and natural resources, and its history and trauma. Top-down modernization has been the model for Russian advancement, the expectation that “a good Czar will fix everything,” as opposed to the “self-made man” philosophy of the US.  The legacy of communism leaves the country with an infrastructure that is unfit for market development, she said. Finally, the education, culture, and spirit of Russia is based on a historical ideal of Russia’s unique greatness.

Political scientists see Russia as an abnormal political economy, unlikely to democratize, westernize, or embrace free enterprise any time soon.

Is Russia a Democracy?

Some analysts contend that contemporary Russia is not a democracy. They observe that it is moving away from being a “hybrid regime,” which blended democratic and authoritarian elements in the “gray” zone between liberal democracy and dictatorship. Instead, it is becoming a nearly full-scale autocracy, where manipulation is rampant, and the economy runs on “favors.” After the shock therapy of the transition from life in the Soviet Union, the Russian people associate “democracy” with poverty, crisis, and humiliation of the 1990s. They are more secure with some level of authoritarianism.

Russia is becoming a nearly full-scale autocracy, where manipulation is rampant, and the economy runs on “favors.”

Professor Ledeneva listed some of the qualifying adjectives used over the past decades to characterize Russia’s democracy, including semi, partial, weak, formal, façade, illiberal, pseudo, virtual. During the Yeltsin regime, Russia was seen as a “guided democracy,” which benefitted from Western advice and aid and gained increased legitimacy in the West. In the early Putin regime, it was called a “managed democracy,” with a focus on internal problems of oligarchic capitalism, control of regions, and other Yeltsin’s legacies.

Most recently, the term Russians use to describe their government is “sovereign democracy,” as Mr. Putin’s focus shifts to focus on international problems, global competition, the struggle for energy resources, and establishing legitimacy in Russia. While there is competition in the country’s elections, these are not truly democratic, voting is not to elect but to affirm and legitimize current authorities.

Professor Ledeneva introduced the term “competitive authoritarian regime.” Such regimes, like Russia, are civilian regimes in which formal democratic institutions are widely used, but in which fraud, civil liberties violations, and abuse of state and media resources are so prominent that the regime cannot be labelled democratic. Such regimes are competitive, in that democratic institutions are not merely a façade: opposition parties use them to seriously contest for power; but they are authoritarian in that opposition forces are handicapped by a highly uneven playing field. Competition is thus real but unfair.

Russia is a “competitive authoritarian regime,” in which fraud, civil liberties violations, and abuse of state and media resources are so prominent that the regime cannot be labelled democratic.

Friends and Foes

Internally, Russia perceives itself as a European country with alliances, friendship, and partnerships with other European countries. Mr. Putin’s approval rating is 89% and, even if that is halved to account for manipulation, it is still high, Professor Ledeneva said, despite authoritarianism and human rights violations.

Polls designed to identify the five nations most and least friendly to Russia, found that Russia’s BFFs included Belarus, China, Kazakhstan, Syria, and India. Among the most hostile nations are the US, Ukraine, Germany, Latvia, and Lithuania. Despite these rankings, the attitudes of Russians toward the US are improving with 37% of Russians being positive toward the US, despite the imposition of sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Professor Ledeneva reported.

Is Russia Modern?

Russia has a population of 144 million, a mass area of 6.6 million square miles, covering 11 time zones. It is the 12th largest economy in nominal terms, and 6th largest in purchasing power parity terms, according to the World Bank. Its economy is shows signs of improvement, with GDP growth at 1.7% in 2017.  Russia was the world’s largest exporter of grain in 2016 after a record harvest of 119m tons that earned $15bn in export revenue. The country’s budget deficit has gone down from 3.6% in 2016 to 1% in 2017, and the revenue structure is changing with more revenue from taxes and fees than from selling oil and gas. When sanctions were imposed after the Crimea annexation, the development of local products as import substitutes created a boom in the local agricultural sector.

Russia’s defense budget is the world’s 3d largest, and it has 7,000 nuclear warheads. “But what can Russia do with all those warheads?” Professor Ledeneva asked. Russian locals are feeling the pinch from Russia’s commitments to the Syrian War and want to reduce military spending. However, for Russians, the key concern is not the economy. They do not believe that a better economy leads to a better life, perhaps, in part, because any economic gains are swept into the pockets of politicians and never filter to the people. But political security is prized. Russians tend to be xenophobic, Professor Ledeneva observed; however, even that is softening, as today, only 54% of the population opposes immigrants.

Russians are less concerned about economic security than about political security.

What does Russia Want from the US?

Russia and the US would both benefit from a Treaty on Non-Intervention that prohibits fake news, media manipulation, and international meddling. In addition, more trade with the US, which currently is only 10% of Russia’s trade with Europe, would help ease tensions and begin to restore normalcy. Finally, the US could recognize the sacrifices and support received from Russia as a US ally in World War II, and honor the 20 million Russians who died fighting Fascism.

Q&A

Q: Sen. Kevin Grantham (CO): What were the US policies in the 1990s that threatened Russia?

A: Mr. Galeotti: Western support for “shock therapy,” the radical economic reforms aimed at rapid economic stabilization, liberalization, privatization and the opening of the economy to international trade, had disastrous social effects on Russians. It led to poverty and serious shortages in Russia, as well as the emergence of “crony capitalism.” These effects persuaded the Russian people that successful capitalism and democracy required a “dog-eat-dog” philosophy, which was unpalatable to the former Communist populace.

In the 1990s, President Yeltsin was not able to define the new country emerging from the Soviet Union. The 1993 Parliament was filled with old Soviet-style members, who allowed Mr. Yeltsin to rewrite the Constitution to remain as President. In 1996, it was clear that the Russian elections were rigged. However, the US did not oppose any of these non-democratic maneuvers. Furthermore, during 1989 negotiations on the unification of Germany, Mr. Gorbachev believed he had negotiated an agreement that NATO would not expand. Then NATO did expand, compromising this trust.

Russians believe that no governments are truly democratic, and they expect similar manipulations to occur everywhere. The lack of US response to these non-democratic actions confirmed these suspicions for the Russian people. All these factors have fueled anti-US sentiment in Russia.

Q: Sen. Ginny Burdick (OR): Russia seems to be pursuing a guerrilla war of journalistic disinformation in Europe and the US. What can the US do to address and defend against this?

A: In the short-term, the US should address the issues of Facebook and political advertising. One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

One approach to Russian disinformation meddling has been the proliferation of fact-checking services, but this is like battling a rainstorm by shooting at individual rain drops. A better choice is to fix the umbrella.

Furthermore, the US populace will believe wild stories because they are alienated from the elite and feel they lack power in the political process. Russia is exploiting this by questioning the “legitimacy” of US institutions, for example, amplifying the message that “Congress doesn’t work.”

Two things US leaders could do is, first, defend the legitimacy of US institutions and show that, in fact, this is democracy at work; and second, teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

... teach critical thinking in schools from an early age so people will not simply believe the latest tweet, but question it.

Q: Sen. David Long (IN): Fighting terrorism is a global problem, but Russia seems to be supporting terrorists in Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria.  Is Russia both fighting terrorism and stoking it?

A: Mr. Galeotti: It is a shared goal to fight terrorism, but Russia also has an objective to get the US out of the Middle East. There is a pragmatic relationship between Russia and Iran, but Russia is concerned about jihadists and ISIS. While the US and Russia have lately been less cooperative, they continue to share information on terrorism.

Mr. Putin’s first call after 9/11 was offering help through an alliance of joint forces. But he got no takers on this offer. In a 2007 speech in Munich, Mr. Putin said that Russia was standing alone to combat terrorism and no nation was working with them. The façade portrayed by Mr. Putin is confrontational, and this is not likely to win allies.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): Russia disappeared from the US news for several years as the focus shifted to the Middle East, Saddam Hussein, and the Iraq War. Now Russia is the hot new topic. Is this fake news? Should we be concerned?

A: Dr. Ledeneva: Russia is a fake enemy. Russia-bashing stories distract Americans from demanding that President Trump address real internal issues, such as economic opportunities for all. Meanwhile, Mr. Putin diverts the populace from Russia’s internal economic problems by using psychological warfare and acting like a big power. The best thing to do is to ignore Mr. Putin.

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): After Mr. Putin, who is likely to emerge as the next leader, when and what kind of leader should we expect?

A: Dr. Ledeneva: Who is uncertain. There will be a new person, someone arising from the sistema, who is already on the circuit, but is a Dark Horse. In Russia, one must never express Presidential ambitions.

When is likely to be in 2018 at the next elections. Mr. Putin has not yet announced his interest but is “waiting for the call.” The next President will serve six years through 2024. Mr. Putin is tired and is not having fun anymore; however, if his health holds up, his mission to “Make Russia Great Again,” his sense of his historic imperative, and the financial interests of himself and his friends may compel him to hold onto power.

Speaker Biography

Alena Ledeneva, PhD

Alena Ledeneva is an internationally renowned expert on informal governance in Russia. Her research interests include corruption, informal economy, economic crime, informal practices in corporate governance, and the role of networks and patron-client relationships in Russia and around the globe.

Her books have become must-read sources in Russian studies and social sciences. She is the author of Russia's Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking, and Informal Exchange (Cambridge University Press, 1998), How Russia Really Works: Informal Practices in the 1990s (Cornell University Press, 2006), and Can Russia Modernize? Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Alena received her PhD in Social and Political Theory from Cambridge University. Currently, she is the pillar leader of the multi-partner ANTICORRP.eu research project and works on the Global Encyclopedia of Informality.

1. “A Normal Country,” Foreign Affairs, 83, 2004.

2. Steven Rosefielde, “Russia: An Abnormal Country,” The European Journal of Comparative Economics, 2005.