Saturday, April 16, 2016

Is Russia Too Dependent on Leadership Intervention – Or Should There be More of It?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 16 – Many Russians are struck by the fact that often nothing gets done unless the president intervenes personally, a pattern that some think reflects a failure in the development of the rule of law but one that others say should be expanded to get governors and mayors to do the same thing, according to Aleksey Verkhoyantsev.

            On the Svobodnaya pressa portal, he presents two interviews he conducted with experts on this subject, Dmitry Zhuravlyov of the Moscow Institute of Regional Problems and Pavel Salin, director of the Moscow Center for Political Research of the Finance University (

            Zhuravlyov says that the question Verkhoyantsev raises is in fact two: “is it possible to avoid personal administration?” and “how to do it so that it will be as effective as possible?”

            In this sense, he says, Putin’s performance in his “direct line” program was “extremely symptomatic.”  In a very few cases, he solved the problems his questioners raised; but in most, he said that a program for resolving them was under preparation, an indication that he wanted to stress “systemic” rather than “personal” action.

            At the same time, Zhuravlyov says, Russia is too young a state for the system to be able to resolve all issues; and it has had too few periods of the kinds of stability that make a systemic approach possible.  Putin “wants to move from direct administration … but conditions in [Russian] society are still such” that he cannot achieve what he wants by that approach alone.

            Given that, he suggests that the more important question is how direct administration should be organized.  “It is impossible to hang all problems down to the level of the condition of roads in every Russian city on one individual,” and consequently, Russian officials need to be asking which officials should have similar “open line” opportunities.

            It won’t work to order all governors and mayors to adopt this practice, he continues; but more steps need to be taken to ensure that there is a feedback loop from the population.  Those officials overseeing poorer regions certainly won’t want to be held accountable by the population via “direct line” formats; and many officially in charge of regions in fact live in Moscow.

            Both continuing crises and “the structure of [Russian] society” are such that the country is “not ready for 100-percent ‘automatic’ administration.”  Instead, officials like the president are going to have to intervene directly as Putin has done.

            Verkhoyantsev points out that in Soviet times, leaders had “their own power vertical” and they often employed hands’ on or direct rule over this or that issue.  And he says that in many cases, they were remarkably successful in doing so.

            Zhuravlyov responds that “the greatness of Stalin as an administrator … was that he by using [such an approach] was able to create a unique system,” one that theoretically shouldn’t have been possible but one that he established by a cadres policy designed to ensure that officials at all levels were responsible.

            Asked whether it is possible to restore such a system “excluding repression,” he suggests that it is because “today we have all the Stalinist institutions.” Those were intended to allow the top leaders to know what was going on and to be confident that orders from the Kremlin were being carried out.

            To be sure, Zhuravlyov  acknowledges, leaders then often sought to hide what they were doing, but they were quickly held accountable. The Internet has changed things: now, no one can hide but everyone can obfuscate – and that makes it difficult for the center to know what is going on and how the population is responding.

            Salin for his part is more critical of the country’s administrative structures.  “At present,” he says, “the degradation of all institutions of state power which began at the moment of the collapse of the USSR is continuing.” And what has especially decayed are the mechanisms for ensuring that the top knows how its decisions are being executed.

            That makes direct hands’ on management more attractive as a way of getting things done, but he suggests that the Kremlin is unlikely to want “to share its monopoly on such ‘seances of miracles’” with governors or mayors given that the latter could use that to build their own authority and thus challenge the center.

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