Russia faces a range of challenges as it attempts to modernize and effectively use its power on the global stage. Nikolay Petrov and Maria Lipman from the Carnegie Moscow Center outlined scenarios for Russia’s future development and discussed the Russia 2020 project, which explores the country’s prospects over the coming decade. Carnegie’s Thomas Carothers moderated.  

Myths About Russia’s Future

Petrov outlined several myths commonly heard in descriptions of Russia’s future:

  • Oil Prices: Some observers claim that as long as oil prices remain high, Russia—and by extension, its political leaders—does not need to worry about modernization. This relies on a short-term understanding of macroeconomics, which assumes that as long as the Russian government has income, the situation in the country will remain stable.
  • The Right Leader: Another prevalent myth is that the Russian people are waiting for the right leader to bring modernization to the country.
  • Russia as a Monolithic State: Many people see the Kremlin as united, but this is a misconception. Russia is divided by regional and corporate interests. There are many different clans and groups with different interests and strategies within the Kremlin.

Traditional Model Survives

As the Russian presidential elections approach, the individual elected as president will be less important than what model of governance is chosen for Russia’s future, Petrov argued. The past year has seen intense competition between two basic models: the traditional model of governance, which is currently in place, and what Petrov described as the modernization model. Although presidential elections are almost a year away, the model of governance has already been chosen, Petrov said: the traditional model has won, and Russia’s current political and economic model can be expected to remain in place for the next decade.

End of the Tandem

The current tandem government—with President Dmitri Medvedev as the formal leader and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the de facto leader—is no longer viable, said Petrov. The tandem was successful for economic and foreign policy, but failed in domestic policy, where Putin has been able to control political changes that would not be in his favor.

Predictions for Post-2012

  • Modernization’s Future: Petrov outlined the potential outcomes of Russia’s current modernization agenda:

    • Moderate Modernization: Under the scenario of moderate modernization, certain elements of political competitiveness and federalism—like direct elections of regional leaders—would be reinstated. The essence of the system would remain the same.
    • Modernization Plus: This would include a real separation of powers and consolidation of institutions, as well as parliamentary control over the executive, among other developments.
    • Authoritarianism Lite: The alternative to modernization is a continuation of the current model. This scenario is unsustainable in the long run.
  • Degradation and Soft Collapse: Petrov suggested that in this scenario, unstable regions like Chechnya would drift away from federal control toward de facto separation while nominally remaining part of the country.
  • Third Caucasus War: This is a rather realistic scenario considering current instability and unrest in Russia’s North Caucasus, Petrov said. There are two groups of problems facing the Caucasus. First, the region suffers from an extreme version of the same problems plaguing Russia, particularly weak institutions and corruption. Second, the region faces its own particular problems, including a violent insurgency. Moscow is not in a position to provide long-term solutions for these problems, focusing instead on ineffective short-term fixes, which could push regional tensions past the breaking point.

Russia 2020

The Carnegie Moscow Center’s Russia 2020 project brings together experts from Russia, the United States, and Europe to discuss important issues facing Russia’s future and pair off to provide a Russian and Western view on each individual topic. Lipman summarized some of the work  done so far:

  • Political Economy: Contributors Kirill Rogov and Dan Treisman undertook an examination of Russia’s political economy. Rogov argued that while the past decade has seen an emphasis on stabilization in Russia, a new period of transformation is coming. He argued that the next decade will see an increasing desire for fairer distribution of incomes and more public control over the government. Treisman generally agreed, but argued that Russian politics are strongly influenced by economic performance, and a great deal of Russia’s political development will depend on the pace and pattern of the country’s economic growth.
  • Party System: The Russian party system is marked by contradictions, according to contributor Boris Makarenko. Russian parties do not perform any of the regular functions of a political party: they do not draft national agendas or promote political leaders, nor do they enable compromises between different sections of the elite. Instead, they isolate the activists and depend on relatively passive popular support. Makarenko predicted that in the absence of liberalization, political stagnation could lead to authoritarianism or collapse.
  • Russian Foreign Policy: Contributor Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, explored the future of Russian foreign policy over the next decade. He warned that domestic and foreign policy are interrelated—without a Russian leadership guided by national interests, rather than clan or corporate ones, the country’s foreign policy cannot expand and relations with the West will be hindered. Trenin added that integration with the West, particularly Europe, would give Russia access to the resources it needs for real development.