Comparative Politics Today Notes Chapter 12:
Ensuring Continuity of Power:
•Dmitirii Anatol’evich Medvedev: he took oath in office as president of the Russian
Federation on May 7, 2008. This signaled that the leadership was united around the
choice of the new president. There are usually disruptions of power from one president to
the next from contending political forces.
•Medvedev’s succession was smooth, but not democratic, despite there being an election,
because Medvedev had control of the election process and all those involved.
•Medvedev named Putin the head of government after becoming president, which helped
avoid a division amongst the elite and helped promote continuity in policy. Even though
a president can only serve two terms, this move didn’t violate the constitution.
•The new “tandem” leadership arrangement created some uncertainty in elite circles about
who was really in charge. He was seen as continuing Putin’s policies, and Putin in the
2012 election defeated Medvedev due to their growing competition while he was PM.
•The peculiarity of the situation arises from the gap between the formal constitutional
rules and the informal understandings that guide the exercise of power. Russia’s
constitution provides both for a directly elected president, who is head of state, and a
prime minister, who heads the government. The PM is chosen by the president, but still
must get full confidence of parliament. Russia hasn’t had successful experience with the
sharing of power between two leaders. The president remains dominant, while the PM
manages the economy and carries out the president’s demands. Putin had power over
policy even while being the PM, while Medvedev has tried to consolidate his power. A
division between the two would mean a split of the political elite and a destabilization of
Current Policy Challenges:
•Russia’s economy crashed in 2008 when Medvedev came to power
•They had a tough transition from socialist economic system to a market-oriented system
•Globalization had a steep downside in light of the financial crash of 2008
•Major world exporter of oil and gas. They made a lot of money from it until 2008
•People fled the country. Consumer demand dropped, hurting Russia’s manufacturers.
•Russia’s economy contracted more than any other major power
•Russia dipped into their savings to save banks and give welfare, and it was spared the
massive financial instability that broke out in other heavily indebted states.
•Medvedev has said that Russia shouldn’t rely on exports of natural resources to maintain
its growth, and instead must modernize and diversify its economy.
•Major reform requires an enormous and sustained exercise of power by the country’s
political leaders to overcome the resistance of administrative and social groups to change.
People have typically done this by centralizing government.
•The “Resource Curse”: where a gov’t relies on windfall for revenue, making leaders
avoid investing in the skills and knowledge of the population, as a result of which the
societies wind up with lower levels of economic and political development than in
resource-poor countries. Less incentive for market competition
•Medvedev condones current economic structure
•Russia’s population has been shrinking due to the excess of deaths over births, and the
economy is increasingly dependent on migrant labor from China, Central Asia, elsewhere
•A lot of inequality here and it’s on the rise, with differences in development in the nation
•Russian leaders see the problem, but cannot fix it, especially for three in particular: the
resistance by state officials to any reforms that weaken their power; the vast physical size
of the country, which impedes efforts to forge coalitions in society around broad common
interests in support of significant reform; and the legacy of the Soviet development model
•These factors stack against modernizing and democratizing reforms.
Historical Legacies: the Tsarist Regime:
•For nearly a thousand years, the Russian state was autocratic, ruled by a hereditary
monarch whose power was unlimited by any constitutional constraints. It wasn’t until the
20th century that something was remotely done. The historical legacy of Russian
statehood includes long strains of absolutism, patrimonialism, and Orthodox Christianity
•Absolutism: the tsar aspired can wield absolute power over the subjects of the realm
•Patrimonialism: the idea that the ruler treated his realm as property that he owned, rather
than as a society with its own legitimate rights and interests. Still influences rulers today
•Russian Orthodox Church: this ties itself closely to the state, considering itself a national
church. It has exhorted its adherents to show loyalty and obedience to the state in worldly
matters, in return for which it enjoyed a monopoly of spiritual power as Russia’s state
church. This still influences rulers’ decisions, and makes people identify their state with a
higher spiritual mission.
•Absolutism, patrimonialism, and orthodoxy have been recurring elements of Russian
political culture. But other modern influences have done so as well. Modernizing rulers
had a powerful impact on Russia, bringing it closer to West European models. The state’s
role in controlling and mobilizing society rose with the need to govern a vast territory.
For most of history, Russia’s imperial reach exceeded its actual grasp.
•Compared with other major powers of Europe, Russia’s economic institutions remained
backward well into the 20th century. But its trajectory was toward a modern industry.
•Tsarists fell in 1917
•The social basis for democracy was too weak in 1917, allowing communists to take over
•Tsarists treated law as an instrument of rule, rather than a source of authority. They
appealed to tradition, empire and divine right. There was a major gap between the rulers
and the rules, but it was reduced by great national trials, such as WWII.
The Communist Revolution and the Soviet Order:
•Tsarists couldn’t satisfy a growing mobilized Russia, so the communists took over in
1917. They wanted to spread socialism here, where the gov’t owned everything.
•Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: was the leader of the Russian Communist Party and the first head
of the Soviet Russian gov’t. Under his rule, the Commies controlled all levels of gov’t.
The top final power to decided policy rested in the Commie Party of the Soviet Union
•Joseph Stalin: he took power after Lenin died in 1924. Power was even more centralized
under him. Built totalitarian gov’t on Russia’s industrial and military might. The
institutions of rule Stalin left behind after his death ultimately hurt Russia, which
included personalistic rule, insecurity for rulers and ruled alike, heavy reliance on the
street police, and a militarized economy. It couldn’t be changed without removing
communism. Stalin’s successor Nikita Krushchev loosened some of the harsh controls
and reduced the level of political oppression, but didn’t have fundamental reform. Then
his successor, Leonid Breshnev, consolidated power, which made the stagnation rise.
•The problem of the late soviet system was that, as vast as the state’s powers were, their
use was frustrated by bureaucratic immobilism.
•The political system in Russia grew top-heavy, and made it hard to enforce policy, or to
even recognize when policy change was needed.
•By the early 1980s, the economy had stopped growing in Russia, and the country was
unable to compete militarily or economically with the West.
•After the deaths of three elderly leaders – Breshnev, Andropov, and Chernenko – from
1982-1985, the ruling party politburo turned to Mikhail Gorbachev to lead the country.
•Mikhail Gorbachev: became the general secretary. Wanted to strengthen his support
base while also conducting reform. He stressed the need for greater openness in society,
or glasnost’, saying that the ultimate test of the party’s effectiveness lay in improving the
economic well-being of the country and its people. He started a restructuring program
called perestroika, where he introduced elements of democracy, market competition and
management flexibility while preserving state ownership in most sectors of the economy.
He signed a treaty with the US that called for the destruction of entire classes of missiles.
When his economic reforms didn’t work as well as he wanted them to, he turned to
democratization in order to mobilize popular pressure for reform.
•Between 1989-1990, the Communist Party rule crumbled.
Political Institutions of the Transition Period: Demise of the Soviet Union
•One of the unexpected results of Gorbachev’s reforms was that his rival, Boris Yeltsin,
was elected chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet in June 1990, allowing him to
challenge Gorbachev for preeminence. Yeltsin’s rise forced Gorbachev to alter his
strategy. He came up with a treaty involving 9/15 of the republics, which promoted a
weak central government, and the states would gain the power to control the economies
of their territories.
•In August 1991, Yeltsin and others placed Gorbachev under house arrest and seized
power. They attempted a coup. It didn’t last long, but the end of it had fatally weakened
Gorbachev’s power. The Russian gov’t took over the union gov’t, and the USSR
dissolved. On Dec. 25, Gorbachev resigned, and on New Year’s, the flag of independent
Russia replaced the Soviet flag.
Political Institutions of the Transition Period:
•Boris Yeltsin was directly elected President of the Russian Federation in a competitive
election in June 1991, which helped him mobilize support.
•Yeltsin demanded powers to make changes to cope with the economic crisis, which was
granted by Parliament. But his program projected “economic genocide” and divided
government as prices skyrocketed. The Parli tried to impeach Yeltsin, but he dissolved
the Parli first, which led to a ten-day standoff in the parli building by the parli people.
•Soon after, a constitution was approved, which legitimized elections
The Contemporary Constitutional Order:
•Yeltsin’s constitution combined elements of presidentialism and parliamentarism.
•The president was the strongest institution of the state
•The president can issue presidential decrees with the force of law, like exec orders
Dmitirii anatol"evich medvedev: he took oath in office as president of the russian. This signaled that the leadership was united around the choice of the new president. Even though a president can only serve two terms, this move didn"t violate the constitution: the new tandem leadership arrangement created some uncertainty in elite circles about who was really in charge. He was seen as continuing putin"s policies, and putin in the. 2012 election defeated medvedev due to their growing competition while he was pm: the peculiarity of the situation arises from the gap between the formal constitutional rules and the informal understandings that guide the exercise of power. Russia"s constitution provides both for a directly elected president, who is head of state, and a prime minister, who heads the government. The pm is chosen by the president, but still must get full confidence of parliament. Russia hasn"t had successful experience with the sharing of power between two leaders.