Chapter 23: Russia- Governance and Policymaking
Organization of the State
- Ratification of the new Russian constitution in 1993 was a touchy political
process that followed a violent confrontation between the president and
parliament. The process ended in a barely successful popular referendum on a
document that reflected Yeltsin’s preferences.
- The document affirms many principles of liberal democratic governance-
competitive elections in a multiparty system, separation of powers, independent
judiciary, federalism, and protection of individual civil liberties. However, a key
feature is the strength of the president’s executive power.
- The constitution also lays the groundwork for institutional conflict between
governing structures. The Russian Federation (RF) inherited a complex structure
of regional subunits from the Soviet period.
- From 1991-93, negotiations between the central government and the various
regions led to the establishment of a complicated federal structure with 89 federal
units. Some of these demanded increased autonomy- even sovereignty- such a
Chechnya, which led to a civil war.
- The constitution makes the executive dominant but still dependent on the
agreement of the legislative branch.
- The executive has 2 heads: President and PM.
- Poor salaries and lack of professionalism in the civil service have increased
corruption and political influence on decision making
- Some see Putin’s reforms as a reversion to practices of the Soviet period,
namely centralization of power and obstacles to effective political competition.
Others say these measures are necessary to solidify rule of law and the state’s
capacity to govern.
- Before Gorbachev’s reforms, top organs of the Communist Party (CPSU)
dominated the state. In the CPSU structure, lower party bodies elected delegates
to higher party organs, but these elections were uncontested and top organs
determined candidates for the lower organs. The Politburo was the real decision-
maker. The Central Committee rep. the political elite, including regional leaders
and reps of various economic sectors.
- People holding high state positions were appointed through the nomenklatura
system, which allowed the CPSU to fill key posts with politically reliable people
- In theory, Soviet state was governed by a constitution (1977). However, it was
merely symbolic. With the power of appointment under party control, there
couldn’t really be any legislative or judicial independence. When the constitution
was violated, the courts had no independent authority to protect it. - The Soviet Union was a designated federal system- according to the constitution,
certain powers were given to the 15 union republics (which are now independent
states). But this was phony federalism, since all aspects of life were overseen by
the centralized Communist Party.
- Gorbachev began a process of radical institutional change through the
introduction of competitive elections, increased pluralism, reduced Communist
Party dominance, and renegotiation of the terms of Soviet federalism. Many
constitutional amendments were adopted that altered existing political
- The 1993 RF constitution establishes a semi-presidential system, formally
resembling the French system but with even stronger executive power. The
president holds primary power, is the head of state. The PM is appointed by the
president but approved by the lower house of parliament (Duma) and is the head
of government. The president oversees foreign policy, regional relations, and the
organs of state security. The PM usually focuses on the economy and related
- The president is elected directly by the people every 4 years, with a constitutional
limit of 2 consecutive terms.
- One of the president’s most important powers is the authority to issue decrees.
These decrees have the force of law until formal legislation is passed, but
because they can be annulled quickly, they don’t have the same authority as
- The president can also call a state of emergency, impose martial law, grant
pardons, call referenda, and temporarily suspend actions of state organs if he
deems them to contradict the constitution or federal laws. He is also commander-
in-chief of the armed forces
- If the president dies in office, the PM fills the post until new elections can be held
- Political scientist Henry Hale calls political systems like Russia’s patronal
presidentialism. In such systems, power is rooted in the leader’s own personal
authority, which is, in part, maintained through the transfer of benefits in
exchange for political loyalty. The president’s authority is maintained by control of
an extensive administrative apparatus.
The Prime Minister and Cabinet
- The Russian government is headed by the PM, underneath him are several
deputy PMs. The president’s choice of PM must be approved by the Duma
- The PM can be removed by the Duma through two repeat votes of no confidence
passed within a 3 month period. - The PM has never been a member of the dominant party or coalition in the
Duma, so principles of accountability that apply in most Western parliamentary
systems don’t exist in Russia. Without this these formal links between parties and
the executive branch, the process of gaining Duma acceptance of government
proposals depends on the authority of the president and the particular
configuration of power at the moment
- Ministers other than the PM don’t need parliamentary approval. The PM makes
recommendations to the president who appoints them.
- Ministers in the government don’t represent political parties, so Russia doesn’t
have a form of cabinet similar to that of the West. Though the government is
accountable to the president and to some extent the Duma, its composition
doesn’t reflect the outcome of Duma elections.
- The relationship of the PM and President has more to do with personal
accountability than partisan party affiliation
The National Bureaucracy
- The Russian bureaucracy isn’t very big by Western standards
- The absence of civil service systems has meant that the selection, promotion,
and evaluation of public services in the federal and regional bureaucracies
haven’t been developed. Rather, the system has features of clientelism where
patron-client networks continue to play a key role in state organs. This system
underscores the importance of personal career ties between individuals as they
rise in bureaucratic and political structures
- The presidential administration serves the president directly. They are active in
developing proposed legislation and government programs. The State Legal
Office reviews all legislation before the president signs it. The Security Council
advises the President in areas related to foreign policy and security. The State
Council, which includes all regional heads, has a consultative role, but doesn’t
give the regional executives any real power.
- There have been efforts to improve the quality of public service. One is a 2004
law on the civil service. It introduces principles such as competitive
appointments, conflict of interest regulations, etc. There was also a 2005
administrative reform, which sought to clarify functions of the executive organs
and set public service standards
- However, it’s been hard to implement these because of the lack of an
independent agency to carry out the reform and a lack of transparency in
government practices Public and Semipublic Institutions
- Though there was a period of privatization in the 1990s, some companies are still
state-owned, either by full state