Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Power Vertical

Vladimir Vladimirovich Suharto

General Suharto just after his appointment as president of Indonesia in March 1967
General Suharto just after his appointment as president of Indonesia in March 1967
On the night Vladimir Putin was first elected president back in March 2000, a revealing joke made the rounds among Moscow's chattering classes.
"Putin says Russia's new model of development will be Korea," the anecdote began. "He just hasn't decided whether it's North Korea or South Korea," went the punch line.
Following the joke's logic, it is now clear that South Korea was indeed the model -- but not today's democratic South Korea. Putin's model of development actually more resembles South Korea under the authoritarian rule of President Park Chung Hee from 1961-79.

Both Park and Putin came to power after a period of political chaos and ushered in an era of stability and prosperity. Both concentrated power in the executive, reduced the legislature to a rubber stamp, and turned elections into decorative affairs. Both politicized the judiciary and law enforcement and cracked down on dissent.

Park and Putin's management of their respective economies was also similar. Both brought state-owned companies under tighter control and were not shy about intervening in the private sector. Both also presided over economic booms that led to the development of secure and stable middle classes.
But one of the main similarities of the two regimes has been the concentration of political power and most of the country's important economic assets in the hands of a cabal of the president's cronies from the security services.

Put simply, both can be characterized as what UCLA political science professor Daniel Treisman has dubbed "Silovarchies" -- oligarchies dominated by siloviki.

Amid the political turbulence in Russia over the past several months, I couldn't help but be reminded of Treisman's insightful and much-discussed article "Putin's Silovarchs," which was published in the journal "Orbis" in 2007.

Antecedents of Putin's silovarchy, Treisman wrote, can be found not only in Park's South Korea but also in Indonesia under Suharto's authoritarian rule from 1967-98:
Silovarchies -- states in which veterans of the security services or the armed forces dominate both politics and big business -- have existed in various countries including South Korea and Indonesia. They differ from ordinary oligarchies in that silovarchs can deploy intelligence networks, state prosecutors, and armed force to intimidate or expropriate business rivals. While their economic performance may be either good or bad, the temptation to use secret service tools and techniques predisposes such regimes toward authoritarian politics.
My main takeaways from the article were that silovarchies are deeply resistant to change, but at the same time they contain within themselves the seeds of their own destruction.
Silovarchies, Treisman wrote (prophetically, given what has happened in the five years since), have a particularly difficult problem with succession:
As incumbents build the state into a politicized instrument of repression, it becomes increasingly dangerous to hand over the controls. Incumbents fear losing the property they have acquired, while emerging divisions erode trust. The preeminent leader becomes vital to keep factions cooperating and faces pressure not to step down. But the longer he stays, the more he and his associates incriminate themselves, and the greater the risk of prosecution if he leaves office.

This puts the tandem arrangement of 2008 and the Putin-Medvedev castling move that was just completed in useful context. Putin, as I blogged here, is truly Russia's indispensable man if only because his inner circle simply will not allow him to leave the scene.

But despite their tough facade, silovarchies, Treisman wrote, are also ultimately unstable. They are inclined toward debilitating factionalism and turf wars that ultimately weaken the regime, making it vulnerable to shocks:
As repression increases, divisions often emerge among the silovarchs. Some are simple turf battles between different agencies or forces. Others reflect conflicting economic interests of silovarchs. A third division pits the more acquisitive generals against purists who fear unrestrained corruption and self-enrichment are eroding esprit de corps.
They also lack the safety valves that inoculate more pluralistic polities from mass discontent:
By shutting out authentic political expression or competition for office, silovarchies tend to push politics into the streets. Since Kiev's "Orange Revolution" in 2004, the Kremlin has seemed nervous about a possible re-enactment. Global experience suggests that volatile mass protests are not avoidable hazards -- but inevitable consequences -- of such regimes. Indonesian students staged major demonstrations in 1973-74, 1978, and 1987, and Muslims protested in 1984. In South Korea, large student rallies occurred almost every other year in the 1960s and continued in the early 1970s despite harsh crackdowns.

I would add that when it comes to economic performance, silovarchies also often find themselves in a paradoxical situation. A strong economy, on one hand, legitimizes the regime in the short term. But eventually, as a middle class develops and becomes confident, pressure for political change and pluralism grows. A weakening economy, meanwhile, can delegitimize a silovarchy very quickly as both Park and Suharto learned.
The South Korean and Indonesian silovarchies eventually fell due to a combination of all of these factors -- a strong middle class facilitated by years of robust growth, a sharp economic downturn that brought the middle class's discontent onto the streets, and factionalism in the elite when the economic and political crisis crystallized.
In South Korea, a weakening economy and rigged parliamentary election in 1978 led to massive student protests and a fierce crackdown. But as the protests persisted, many in the ruling elite lost their enthusiasm for repression. Park was eventually assassinated by his own security chief in 1979 -- although it took another nine years of martial law and successive military coups before democracy finally took hold in 1988.

Suharto's regime fell following massive protests that turned violent following the 1998 Asian economic crisis. He resigned after it became clear that he had lost the confidence of the military brass. A more pluralistic political system has since taken hold.

After 12 years, is Putin's silovarchy entering its winter? It is, of course, still unclear. The regime appears to have weathered the immediate post-December 4 storm more or less intact. Putin is safely reelected and the protests have faded.

But the newly politicized middle class appears to be here to stay and will be a force to be reckoned with. And the divisions in the elite exposed by Putin's return to the Kremlin and this winter's street protests remain sharp.

The economy remains strong for the time being, thanks largely to high oil prices, but it also remains undiversified and lacks a competitive manufacturing sector (or any competitive sector other than commodities). If world oil prices drop, as they eventually will, an economic -- and political -- crisis will soon follow.
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: siloviki,indonesia,Vladimir Putin,South Korea,Daniel Treisman

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Comment Sorting
by: Hector from: TT
April 10, 2012 20:57
As I have pointed out to you Brian , this is true. However, you are still missing a number of things. Pinochet's Chile, Franco's Spain, the Kuomintang's Taiwan were all authoritarian and corrupt (to a lesser extent so is Turkey today). They were also allies of the US. Two things should come to mind
1) Integration of these countries into the west is what bought democracy. Hostility towards Russia impedes this task.

2) Putin's Russia is far more democratic than any of these countries . If the Us could have made a deal with any of these countries , they could have more than made a deal with Putin's Russia.

by: Sey from: World
April 11, 2012 05:34
There's nothing you Westerners would like more than having a guy like Yeltsin running Russia again, don't you? It is almost laughable to read sometimes all of your "predictions" and "speculations" about how Putin's regime will collapse by this or that reason.

The main thing here is you fear Russia will, sooner or later, recover its former might and actually become a second Soviet Union, a state threatening the West's unchallenged dominion of the world and causing "problems" to its overall running of things, Syria being the best example I can think of right now.

Now, if your comparison to Putin's Russia is equal to Suhartos' Indonesia, then my own perceptions of how the Putin era will end in Russia are inevitably going to take place. As I have always said, blood will run down the streets of Moscow before Putin steps down or is forced to step down. There will be no Rose nor Orange nor Cedar nor any color revolution in Russia. What there will be is a good old October civil war.
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
April 11, 2012 11:35
The Yeltsin regime was a very unique moment in history and a resounding triumph for the West and a horrific tragedy for Russia. A lot of things had to come together exactly to produce it. We in the West have kind of became giddily addicted to that era and keep looking and wishing for it to come back again. Brian Whitmore's writing and analysis, while informed about Russia in many ways, suffers from that addiction. Putin's hybrid regime may liberalize (somewhat) or fade away and be replaced by something else, but the West won't get Russia back to "golden years" of the Yeltsin era-- they weren't "golden" for Russians (who have learned from that disaster).
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
April 11, 2012 14:01
I often can't help but wonder if some of those commenting on this blog are even bothering to read the posts. Nowhere in this post (or in any post on this blog for that matter) have I written that a return to the Yeltsin years would be in any way desirable. For that matter, I don't remember the last time I even referenced Yeltsin. I know it is much easier to engage in simplistic stereotypes than to thoughtfully discuss the actual subject at hand -- but it would be nice to at least try.
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
April 11, 2012 16:40

But isn't that the essential thrust of your piece? Whether Yeltsin himself is referenced or not... i.e. Russia will evolve along the ordained lines of the "Washington Consensus" (like South Korea and Indonesia)-- a foreign policy that is wholly subordinated to US interests and conceptions of the world, a parliamentary political and a globalist free trade/free market economic system with weak state controls created and run along US/Western European lines and with considerable Western investment/control/penetration of the domestic economy? I think that there are multiple other lines of evolution that are more plausible in Russia. I believe this, in large part, because Russia's experience with Washington Consensus policies in the 1990s (unlike South Korea's) was too bitter and unsuccessful. If we refuse to understand that and insist that Russia behave in ways that have demonstrably proved harmful to it-- how can relations ever truly improve? I am just not sure about our whole "one size fits all" approach backed by various sorts of pressure. Seems oddly Leninist. Russia is also big enough to resist with a fair chance of success. Putin's record and durability, despite the West's constant desire to get him gone and replaced by someone more, dare I say "Yeltsinlike", are evidence of that...
In Response

by: Sey from: World
April 11, 2012 16:42
Mr. Whitmore I know you did not made any reference to Yeltsin or the Yeltsin era, I read the article as I always do.

I just pointed out what we all know, that Western leaders couldn't be more satisfied to have a second Yeltsin in power, and by 'Yeltsin' I mean a guy like Saakashvili or formerly Yushchenko following whatever order comes from the White House.

I also wanted to point how funny it is, at least to me, that journalists in general seem to love looking for whatever figure comes to oppose Putin to immediately predict how the Putin regime will "have a hard time" in the coming future, some even predicting its downfall. I cannot think of a better recent example than Navalny, so much international media attention for a guy 3 in 4 Russians don't even know who is.

Other than that Mr. Whitmore, I will say that if Putin's strategy can be the South Korean one since he will not get any support from the West, I believe he will go down Suharto's way, at least we the Caucasus has become his East Timor.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 11, 2012 09:40
Go figure what is in the minds of RFE/RL journalists: first they spent months trying to convince their readers that "the hated Putin's regime is going to fall any minute" because there are just so many people who go to protest against it on the street.
But then RFE/RL publishes this article that compares Putin to Suharto - a guy who's governed his country for more than 20 years and left only as a result of the financial and economic crisis that hit East Asia in 1997-1998 in ways to certain extent similar to those in which today's crisis is affecting W. Europe and not Russia.
So, where is the logic? EITHER "Putin's regime" is going to fall already now, OR Putin will govern for more than 20 years, like Suharto - but not both at the same time!
EITHER Russia's economy is dinamically drowing (which it is doing), OR Putin is going to fall prey - like Suharto - to one of those vicious fin. and ec. crises that capitalism provides all of us so generously with - but not both at the same time bitte!!!
In Response

by: eli
April 11, 2012 16:53
Go figure what's in the mind of Eugenio the Kremlin troll. As he usually does, he makes straw men out of those who he disagrees with by misrepresenting that they write. Now RFE's reporting that the biggest protests in Russia in years suggested cracks appearing in Putin's regime means they were predicting its imminent downfall.

This follows the script for his vulture-like crowing over the Syrian government's massacres of civilians. Calls from the West for Assad to step down suddenly become threats to take him out by force, which no Western leader has done. So he then attributes the calls for Western intervention in Syria to other forum posters. Aha, we never knew we had such influence!

Pipe down, little troll, get a real argument. And I really don't understand your "leftism." You back right-wing dictatorships like China, Russia, and Iran simply out of hatred for the USA? Isn't that a bit childish? The only thing "socialist" about China is its lack of freedom. And Russia would be China if it could, it's not like it's going to become anything more than a resource exporter anytime soon.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 11, 2012 18:53
Aha, Eli, now all of a sudden no one actually ever meant that the "imminent downfall of the Putin's regime" was about to happen :-))). Why is it then that I remember so vividly that quite a few people on this very Forum were promising back in January (3 months ago, Eli) that myself, Jack and other "vulture-like Kremlin trolls" were going to "have to look for a real job really soon"?
Maybe I remember all this so vividly, Eli, because these postings on this Forum were so numerous. And why were they so numerous? Eli, just because RFE/RL and many other Western propaganda outlets were, FIRST, either explicitly promising or implying that Putin was going to be defeated in the most humiliating manner in the first round already (the implied winner was supposed to be Mr. Prokhorov whose "personality" was so extensively covered back in January by numerous articles on this and other "Washington-troll" websites).
THEN - once the absurdity of the first invention became obvious to just like anyone - it was either explicitely promised or implied that Putin was going to be forced into a "humiliating" second round of election - apparently by this very Prokhorov.
AND FINALLY when none of the above happened and Putin won more than 60 per cent of the popular vote in the first round of voting, RFE/RL switched to promising "a long battle for democracy" on the local level.
Until this article on "Suharto" that apparently is supposed to make one think that - even if this bad bad Putin is going to rule (like Suharto) for another 10 years or so - he will still end up like Suharto or even like Park Chung Hee - who at the end of the day was actually ASSASSINATED, something that this article that compares Putin to him for obvious reasons "forgets" to mention.
So, in other words, Eli, if you have short memory, then either check the archive of any major Western newspaper for Jan and Feb of this year or consult a specialist in the field of human memory.
As far as your insightful comment concerning different comparative advantages of the two BRICS states (the PRC and Russia) are concerned, I am afraid that your thoughts are based on "knowledge" obtained from such cheap propaganda outlets as this one. Just for you to know: industrial production capacity has been moving FROM N. America and W. Europe TO ALL major emerging countries (be it Brasil, Russia, China or Turkey, México, Indonesia) continuously over the last 10 years at the very least. And it is just such a PITY that RFE/RL has not found this phenomenon interesting enough to publish an article or two on - if they did, then even you would know that this is happening.
As far as Syria under Assad and the heroic efforts of the "intl communitity" to install there florishing democracy (like in Saudi Arabia) are concerned - what happened to all of it, Eli? When is Assad actually going to leave? Next week? In a year? In 10 years? At any rate, you, guys, do not appear to be doing a good job there - just making it obvious to anyone that there is nothing you can do either to Assad, or to Ahmadinejad, let alone guy like Putin.
All the best and greeting from Vienna, Eli!
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 11, 2012 19:30
Sir, you need to pipe down yourself. All I was doing was making a sensible argument. You can agree or disagree but there is no need to call me names.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
April 11, 2012 19:58
Good point Eli, I've been wondering that about Eugenio myself. Russia is not a leftist country, it is very rightist--practically colonial. In fact, all Putin did was polarize the oligarchs of the 1990's. They either fled the country like Berezovsky, or they pledged their allegiance to Putin and they still have all their wealth. Eugenio, hate America all you want, but at least back Cuba, Venezuela, or some other real leftist state.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 11, 2012 22:14
The Eugenio from April 11, 2012 18:53 is not the real Eugenio, just so everyone knows. I am the one true Eugenio.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 12, 2012 12:25
To ANONYMOUS from the US: Hey, Anonymous, what exactly do you mean when you say that Russia "is very rightist--practically colonial"? Could you expalain the concept of a "very right colonial" country in a bit more detail please?
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
April 13, 2012 01:24
It's called "state capitalism". It is not the least bit socialist. There is virtually no difference between the State and private enterprise. Colonial, in relation to Russian energy hegemony over Europe. The concepts of "spheres of influence" or "privileged interest" were Russian concepts suggesting neighboring countries must get approval from Moscow to do anything whatsoever. Even the US doesn't have that kind of power over its neighbors.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
April 11, 2012 15:23
You can certainly speculate Mr. Whitmore what kind of governance model tries to implement Putin in Russia or repeat stupid jokes designed for the redneck who dig potatoes behind the Ural Mountains but we ordinary people have long understood his model..

His model is- to give orders..

On his orders in prison:
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev
Girl from Pussy Riot
on his orders:
poisoned to death men in London
cops killed Magnitsky and received awards...

Of course this list can be continued...here - murders and orders to bomb civilians, nuclear technology transferred to terrorists and support for racism and nazism..

The case goes to the fact that Stalin, Beria, Ivan the Terrible and Torquemada--it's just the boys in short pants in comparison with the main villain..

In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 11, 2012 18:58
You are saying: "Stalin, Beria, Ivan the Terrible and Torquemada--it's just the boys in short pants in comparison with the main villain" :-))). Vakhtang, what about Hitler, the Central-African Emperor Bocassa (who ate his own wives), the liberator of the humankind George W and this Norwegian guy Brevik - how does Putin look when compared to them :-)))?
In Response

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
April 12, 2012 01:28
Come on Eugenio...slight exaggeration is useful for strengthening the image...
country boy is suffering from delusions of grandeur.

Just yesterday in the State Duma he behaved rude, showing complete disrespect for opponents, ignorance of history falling down on the hysteria..
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 12, 2012 12:27
Hey, Vakhtang, you are saying: "slight exaggeration is useful for strengthening the image". A good point, Vakhtang, we all learned to do that from CNN and RFE/RL :-)).

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or