Is Russia's current model unsustainable?

I’ve heard that Russia’s current political and economic model is unsustainable. If this is true, what events could cause a breaking point that would result in another serious shock to the system?

Russia’s economy is based on resource extraction. Putin is a klepto and isn’t investing the proceeds into endeavors that tap into the Russian population’s substantial engineering and scientific talent.

So what could go wrong?

  1. Oil prices collapse.
  2. Russia runs out of sufficient fossil fuel or mineral resources to continue the party.
    Stein’s law: That which cannot go on forever will stop.

I still have the pet theory that something in the Russian region causes their group to embrace a big societal change almost instantly and then to totally discredit it and mishandle it for the next 2 or 3 generations, (Monarchy, imperialism, socialism, capitalism, etc.)

The basis for Russian authority is true power, as I understand it. In the US, if you convince a bunch of people to like you, you can be announced President, and then millions of people will obey you simply because that’s the rules of the game. But Putin holds his position based on having the backing of powerful people (corporate and mafia heads) and organizing the state to support them. He genuinely worked his way to the top of the totem pole and he has the whole totem to swing at anyone who pisses him off.

But they all support him on the basis that he’s going to make them rich. If the gold stops flowing, his position softens and suddenly there’s a power struggle, which could end up in someone new replacing him or fragmentation. If things fragment, then you start ending up with something like Somalia - a national free-for-all.

In a system founded on true power, anything other than a peaceful power exchange (e.g. from father to son) means a power struggle. To win such a struggle, you have to make promises to lots of people. Once you’re in power, you have to implement those promises, even though they might be at the expense of the nation over the long term. Each successive time there’s a power struggle, the nation will end up weaker, due to layering in selfish demands. And during the stuggle, there’s too much uncertainty for the economy to do well.

Of course, that’s not to say that such a system can’t be sustained indefinitely. But the world will move on past it. The rest of the world will continue to modernize, while Russia lags behind in a time bubble. From an outside view, it looks like a failed state, even though it’s just a state that’s lacking modern concepts.

Another problem is the Russian political system is based around personal rule rather than institutional rule. If Barack Obama or David Cameron or Xi Jinping died tomorrow, the governments of their countries would move on to another leader without a major upheaval - people die but the institutions survive. But in Russia, the government is pretty much Vladimir Putin. If he died tomorrow there would be a huge struggle among his followers over who replaces him. Medvedev would be the front runner but I don’t think he could just step in - if he was that powerful, Putin probably wouldn’t keep him around.

Now that Russia has a market based economy, or at least pieces of one, is a smooth transition possible once they have exhausted their mineral resources?

As a layperson it seems to me that a resource rich country that builds itself up through mineral wealth certainly has a rough transitional period ahead once that wealth has been exhausted. Even so, they would start from a much more desirable position than a country with no such early boost. An example in my head would be the difference between Russia and Ukraine.

That was probably true ten years ago, but I think the Russian government today is about more than just Vladimir Vladimirovich. They’ve done a lot to develop an ideological basis for the regime in Slavophile philosophy, Russian Orthodoxy, opposition to Western liberalism, etc. and those things are all quite popular. I don’t think the regime would fall apart once Putin dies.

For what it’s worth, Putin’s biggest opponents in Russia aren’t the liberals, they’re the communists, and they’re the ones who would likely replace him if he falls. Liberalism is not popular in Russia, for some pretty obvious reasons.

Uh, Russia’s pretty much turned around its demographic decline and massive economic decline, and the last 10-15 years have seen steady economic growth, gains in life expectancy and human development index, lower inequality and unemployment than America, and finally population has started increasing again. It’s also the eighth largest economy in the world, and has a human development index firmly in the middle-to-high range. I have a very hard time seeing it as a failed state.

“If the gold stops flowing”, “If things fragment”.

Depends on what sustainable means. Their economy can collapse, but that will just lead to a change in the power structure. There may be some fracturing with some small states split off, but there will still be a poor miserable Russia left behind. When enough people leave or starve to death the country will become economical sustainable again, or they’ll live off the rest of the world as other economically infeasible countries do.

How long would the American sociopolitical order last if the gold stopped flowing?

I think the reference here is to “black gold”:
“As of 2012 oil and gas sector accounted for 16% of the GDP, 52% of federal budget revenues and over 70% of total exports.”

I suspect that there’s a significant chunk of the Russian economy based around things like money laundering, computer crime, copyright infringement, sex trafficking, etc. which are able to be big industries for the nation, due to support from the government.

Oil is, of course, another one of their big industries.

I meant “gold” in the sense of “money”, not any one particular cash cow.

Isn’t this definitionally true of any political system?

Not really. You can put almost anyone in the position of the POTUS and he’ll wield great power because the position holds power, not the person. So there’s no real need to get power before gaining the role. You don’t have to pay off the big power blocs to support you, since the population of the country is the only bloc that matters.

I nearly spit up my glass of blueberry wine laughing at the idea that American politicians are, first and foremost, responsible to the American people.

You really don’t think that American politicians respond first and foremost to rich elites, lobbyists and special interests?

Also, for what it’s worth: Russia doesn’t have particularly competitive elctions or a free media, but they do have a bigger diversity of ideas in their public square than we have. By far. Political opinions represented in the Duma range from Communist to Fascist, pretty much. Political opinions represented in the U.S. Congress range from Tweedledum to Tweedledee.

So? Political diversity isn’t remotely an indicator of stability - the question this thread is about. Nor is this thread about who’s better U.S. v Russia

From studies I’ve seen, the majority of the time politicians vote in accordance with their personal beliefs, and in the cases where they don’t they back the party; special interests back the campaigns of politicians with beliefs favorable to their own, rather than trying to buy off politicians who disagree with them; and campaign funding only determines the result of close races.

Nor are American politicians renowned for following through on their campaign promises.

Most of these economic gains have been due the increase in oil price not due to anything it has done reform wise. All major oil producers benefit from this rise. However, Russia moreso than than most Western economies rely on the fluctuations in oil price for its own economic health.