Russia after Putin?

Vladimir Putin has created a system where the President and/or Prime Minister of Russia has vast and arbitrary power and authority, can even appoint all the provincial governors. The old Soviet leaders based their power on their idealistic Communist ideology, a religion in many ways. So far as I can tell, Putin has no ideology but commonplace Russian nationalism, and created the system not for the sake of concentrating power in the President/PM of Russia, but for the sake of concentrating power in Vladimir Putin. His regime is based largely on his forceful and charismatic personality; it is all about Putin the way the First French Empire was all about Napoleon. Well, Napoleon hoped to establish a dynasty, but I think the notion of hereditary succession won’t fly in post-Soviet Russia, and not even Putin (who has two daughters) could get away with making himself Tsar. And no one is immortal. Tomorrow, Putin could have a fatal horseback-riding accident, or Siberian-tiger-riding accident (yeah, he’s that macho!), or something.

What happens to Russia then?


The same thing that happened to Russia after Yeltsin.

Or Stalin.

Or Peter the Great.

You mean, Ave Bossa Nova, Similis Bossa Seneca?

Putin is both a cause AND an effect of what’s going on in Russia.

He’s both encouraging AND riding traditional Russian nationalism, messianism, and general hatred of outsiders (especially Americans). If Putin were hit by a meteorite tomorrow, the Russian people would probably rally around a similar strongman with a similar “us against the world” ideology. Not much would change, because a large percentage of the Russian people heartily APPROVES of what he’s doing, and would want his successor to keep it up.

Yes, it was interesting reading about the assassination of Caesar the other day (I don’t remember why), but it was noted that the members of the Senate had taken him out in the hope of preventing Authoritarian rule from growing any further, but since Caesar was so popular among the masses, they rebelled and eventually had the country switch to Imperialism.

Yeah, as long as Russia is based on corruption and accumulations of personal power, all that will follow Putin is either another strongman or a weaker leader backed by an oligarchy. Those two states will likely fluctuate, as eventually a stronger leader will emerge from an oligarchy and become the next strongman, and when he’s done it starts over again. Yeltsin was weak and the country was ran by oligarchs, when Putin first took over he too was largely beholden too them, but he was able to eventually be in the master’s chair. I see no reason any of this will change without fundamental changes in Russian society.

Nitpick: That’s not what “imperialism” means; the Roman Republic was already extremely imperialist.

Such as?

Definition 3 or 4

I presume that the word has meandered due to the lack of empires in modern day and, historically, only had the above definitions.

Well . . . there’s another. More than one other. When King Henry VIII declared, “This island is an Empire!”, he was not claiming the right to style himself by the title of Emperor, nor was he claiming the right of conquest or sovereignty over other nations. He meant only that England was a completely independent sovereign realm, owing no allegiance to any foreign prince, such as the Bishop of Rome.

And in The Federalist Papers, you will find the word “empire” used to refer to the United States, in the sense of “national territory.”

Well, I don’t think there are easy to implement or simple answers. Nor am I egotistical enough to believe that I have all the right ideas for fixing a country with as many problems as Russia. But basically, Russia needs to diversify its economy. It needs to build institutions that provide for more political and economic stability and emphasize the rule of law over personal connections and bribery of officials.

If you look at the OECD countries (this is a collection of 30 countries that is often synonymous with “the West”, or “wealthy, developed countries”) there are lessons to be learned by Russia–both in terms of what works and what maybe doesn’t, as all OECD countries have their positives and negatives but all share a more stable and robust economic and political system than Russia.

Even China, undemocratic and traditionally quite corrupt, offers a far better model than Russia. China has cracked down harshly on corruption in recent years, and while corruption has always been a problem in China it never truly resulted in China being a “corrupt State” meaning a State in which corrupt power brokers actually ruled the country. China has taken pains to create a stable banking system and a system of entrepreneurship that allows people who aren’t friends with local party apparatchiks to establish and maintain successful businesses.

China also, unlike Russia, has done quite a bit to insure that its economy is diversified. There is no one thing you can point to, like you can with Russia’s petroleum, that identifies the Chinese economy. The closest you could get would be “manufacturing”, but this is a broad industrial sector with hundreds of different sub-sectors, and China makes everything from low cost junk to automobiles. It’s an industry that creates lots of jobs and middle class managerial and professional professions to support it. Russia on the other hand is literally a slave to its petroleum industry, and worse most of the top level management and expertise used to extract Russian oil and gas comes from Western engineers and managers who work in partnership with Russian firms–this industry is not even creating a new generation of well trained Russian professionals.

China also has a growing middle class, because the Chinese system, which produces many billionaires, is also structured to be more distributive and fair. The Russian system just allows a small handful of wealthy men to get ever wealthier. I could write a long post about the many problems China faces, but Russia could learn a lot from the Chinese without even taking a step towards democratization. The Chinese system since Deng (and even Deng was more accountable than Putin) also does not allow for “strongmen”, all of the post Deng leaders have been accountable to the top leadership of the Communist Party, a leader like Putin would not be possible in China because while Chinese leaders are not accountable to the people they are accountable to the party leadership and that party leadership is loathe to engage in the brash stupidity that Putin engages in regularly.

No one seems to know where Putin is.

You’re aware that in spite of their economic growth in the last few decades, Russia is still a much more prosperous country than China, yes?

Putin biographer: He’s not dead — but chaos is brewing in the Kremlin.

It’s not so much that Caesar was ultra popular, and more that his adoptive son thought Daddy had the right idea.

No, because “prosperous” isn’t a term with a meaningfully specific definition. What did you mean by it? Does Russia have higher GDP per capita? Sure. But It’s still pretty low–only $18,100. Further, Russia has greater inequality than China, with ~40% of income enjoyed by Russia’s top 10% and 30% of income enjoyed by China’s top 10%.

China has lower unemployment, vastly higher foreign reserves (itself a reasonable metric for how “prosperous” a country is, since it’s literally a measure of how much cash the State has–china has $3.8 trillion, Russia’s was $500bn last year and is believed to have fallen significantly), China does have a lower HDI score than Russia, but China’s is fairly close and is increasing faster than Russia’s is. Russia’s is likely to decrease the next time it is calculated due to runaway inflation, economic contraction, and an aging population.

Russia was a largely industrialized country when China was still a largely agricultural one, so it is no surprise that Russia still enjoys some developmental advantages. But much of Russia is falling apart, its population is worse off now than it was five years ago, and there’s very little reason to expect a rosy future for Russia. China on the other hand despite facing many challenges ahead has an almost opposite expectation and its population is continually getting wealthier. Further, it is doing so in a way that is far more sustainable than Russia has. Russia largely collapsed after the Soviet Empire fell, and has been propped back up by Western companies drilling its oil and gas for it. China is building skills and industries organically, and they’re built to last.

Regarding ‘aging population’, Russia’s fertility rate is higher than Chinas and has been increasing in the last 5-10 years. (Russian fertility and life expectancy reached their nadir in the 1990s under Yeltsin). Regarding income inequality, the World Bank says Russia is worse, but the CIA Factbook indicates China is worse, so I’m not sure who to believe.

Russia’s economy is going to contract somewhat, but they grew so rapidly over the last five years that I strongly doubt they are worse off today than in 2009. (They did undergo a massive economic contraction, with their economy shrinking about 50%, between 1991 and 1998).

BTW, China is building a high-speed rail line from Beijing to Moscow.

Russia after Putin? Please God, let it be soon. Not that I want him to die, just retire. The sooner the better.

Since Russia has no tradition of representative democracy, it is hard to imagine that such a system will be put in place, at least not in the next decade or so. Russia had a real chance to alter its political system in the 1990s, but the economy was in such chaos that political change took a back seat to economic stability. Enter V.V. Putin and the subsequent strengthening of the office of president and rolling back of many advances.

If one of Putin’s followers succeeds him, I don’t suppose things will change much. Power will still be concentrated in the hands of one individual surrounded by a small group of other powerful individuals, backed by larger groups in the security services, military, etc. Even if an opponent seizes control (and some commentators are suggesting that a palace coup of some sort is happening behind the scenes), I still don’t expect major changes because even Putin’s opponents within the power structure are still broadly supportive of his approach. The real opposition has no power at all these days.