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Russia Report: December 18, 2003

18 December 2003, Volume 3, Number 50

The next issue of "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly" will appear on 7 January 2004.
By Julie A. Corwin

A key reason that the results of the 7 December State Duma election caught so many people by surprise was that leading Russian pollsters such as VTsIOM, VTsIOM-A, and FOM failed to predict such strong shows of support for Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and Sergei Glazev's Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc.

Polls published in the run-up to the vote actually forecast that Motherland would fail to gain the 5 percent of the vote necessary to be allocated proportional-representation seats.

Only a late-November VTsIOM poll conducted in three cities gave a hint that the Communists would lose by such a large margin. It showed 32.7 percent for Kremlin-backed Unified Russia and 14.3 percent for the Communists, which was close to the actual result of 37.09 percent for Unified Russia and 12.6 percent for the Communists. However, that poll showed both Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) with more than 5 percent support.

However, VTsIOM-A conducted a poll a week before the election that more closely anticipated the election's actual results, but which could not be published prior to the vote because of Russian election law. In an interview in "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 49, VTsIOM-A polling agency Director Yurii Levada said the poll showed a spurt in support for Motherland, a drop in support for the Communist Party, and a decline in the ratings of the rightist parties Yabloko and the SPS to below 4 percent.

Levada attributed the rebirth of the LDPR to Zhirinovskii, whom he called "the most talented actor on the political scene," and his successful strategy of wooing the "protest electorate." Motherland succeeded primarily by taking voters away from the Communist Party using the methods of Zhirinovskii, Levada said. Levada attributed the failure of Yabloko and the SPS to enter the Duma to their inability to unite in the last months of the campaign.

Exit polls conducted by ROMIR also provide some insight into why some parties failed to live up to widely held expectations. According to voter profiles complied by the agency, the Communist Party did not win the support of the countryside as was predicted, "Vedomosti" reported on 15 December. Unified Russia was most popular with rural residents, with 38.6 percent of that segment of the population supporting the pro-Kremlin party. Unified Russia also had strong support among the military and people with no education beyond high school -- more than 35 percent of the latter backed the pro-Kremlin party. Forty percent of military personnel voted for Unified Russia, ROMIR found.

Motherland won support at the expense of the Communist Party and Yabloko. Pensioners were the Communist Party's main support base in this election, although Motherland managed to woo some of these voters away. Motherland polled 10.8 percent among voters older than 60 and 10.9 percent among voters 45-59.

Motherland was also successful among voters with higher education, with 10.7 percent of these voters supporting the bloc. Mikhail Vinogradov of the commercial firm Propaganda told "Vedomosti" that Motherland's leaders counted on "people with intellectual pretensions." It fought for these voters against Yabloko and won, he said.

By Fredo Arias-King

"Russia's Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition, and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime," by Gordon M. Hahn. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 2002, 618 pp.

Gordon Hahn's latest book begins with a dramatic scene at a Politburo session in the waning days of the Soviet Union, when Uzbek Communist Party chief Islam Karimov questions Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on whether the transition in the USSR could have been less disruptive. Hahn then goes on, using various political-science tools and theories -- but not in a suffocating way -- to explain how the USSR collapsed.

Hahn is mostly aware of the existing literature in the field and differentiates himself from the many other accounts of the Soviet collapse by explaining this phenomenon through the prism of revolutionary politics within state structures, as opposed to attributing it to the embryonic civil society. He uses Western and Russian sources extensively -- new memoirs, interviews, and especially archival material, mostly on Politburo sessions. His charts on the political positioning of the various groupings relative to one another are a real work of art.

While other works emphasize the revival of ethnic nationalism in the non-Russian Soviet republics or the challenge from the rising liberal opposition within Russia itself, Hahn argues that these events by themselves would have been insufficient to topple the Soviet monolith. Instead, he writes, the collapse can mostly be traced to Gorbachev's revolutionary liberalizing politics, which caused a split inside the Communist Party (CPSU). This led to the creation of new and competing institutions such as the Congress of People's Deputies, the further separation of CPSU and state institutions, and the takeover of Russia's nascent statehood by CPSU defectors and the ensuing "war of laws." The creation of new institutions and rival power centers reminds one of philosopher Max Weber's dictum that a bureaucracy can only be defeated through the creation of another bureaucracy.

When Gorbachev began to weaken the CPSU apparatus, in essence he was removing the glue that held the system together. Hahn echoes an observation made in the 1950s by U.S. diplomat George Kennan, when he said, "Without a strong party apparatus, the Soviet regime and state would be rendered unstable, as the USSR is really a collection of atomized individuals with no civil society." This was, of course, a purposeful legacy of the totalitarian system.

Hahn's book boils down to a single sentence: "Societal mobilization in the USSR only began after liberalization in the form of the launch of glasnost and the announcement by the authorities of real elections." This Gorbachev-driven phenomenon, as the late investigative journalist Yurii Shchekochikhin said to the outgoing Soviet president during an interview for "Demokratizatsiya," "is what draws people to you like an unexplained phenomenon."

Hahn lays out in rich detail, accompanied by minute analysis, the different theoretical paths to regime change, including imposed transition, pacted transition, revolution from above, and revolution from below. (Pacted transition refers to when the opposition and government make an agreement to transfer power.) An innovative concept is the "moderates' choice," a take on the prisoner's dilemma of game theory. In this case, Hahn elaborates pressure the regime soft-liners -- such as Gorbachev and Politburo members Aleksandr Yakovlev and Eduard Shevardnadze -- found themselves under when faced with the reactionary apparatus types on the "right" and the liberal reformers (allied with opportunist apparatchiks such as Boris Yeltsin) on the "left." In reality, there were four groups: regime hard-liners, regime soft-liners, opposition moderates, and opposition radicals. The interactions of these four groups adds a colorful third dimension that really defines Hahn's book.

The book is neatly divided into eight episodes of the "game" played by these four groups, and looks into intra-group disputes such as the often-overlooked rivalries among regime conservatives such as Yegor Ligachev and Nikolai Ryzhkov.

Ironically, Gorbachev's reformist abilities were structurally limited because his power relied on the CPSU apparatus. His creation of a Soviet presidency did not provide the alternative source of power he had hoped for. Gorbachev was therefore both pope and Luther. Hahn also highlights Yeltsin's almost unwitting role in allowing Gorbachev to move toward reform. As Yeltsin himself later said, "If Yeltsin did not exist, Gorbachev would have had to invent him."

One surprise in the book that Hahn garnered from archival materials is exactly how little attention Gorbachev was paying to the CPSU in the last two years of his rule, putting most of his work and his faith in the new legislatures and state bodies he had created. Hahn explodes the myth that Gorbachev proceeded "too slowly" or was a reluctant reformer. Despite all the constraints, Gorbachev achieved literally unthinkable results and kept pushing to expand the parameters of what was politically acceptable even as the risks became overwhelming. As Hahn points out, soft-liners received little political credit in return for the risks they were taking. In this context, he devotes an entire chapter to explaining and largely demystifying Gorbachev's oft-touted "turn to the right in the fall of 1990." Gorbachev, in fact, remained Gorbachev, trying to keep a foot in the center and attempting to contain the growing power of the reactionaries.

One key new institution of the perestroika period that is often overlooked by other accounts is the Communist Party of Russia (CPR). However, Hahn places the CPR deservedly at the center of a major regime split, when the hard-line elements inside the CPSU decided to use the new institution-building to their advantage and crafted a Russian institution for themselves. Hahn reaches the same conclusion I did when interviewing recently for two hours the founder of the CPR, Ivan Polozkov: namely, that that party combines "Marxism-Leninism, Slavophilism, and Russian patriotic derzhavnost," although Hahn could have replaced the word "patriotic" with "xenophobic-chauvinistic." I have used the theory before that the CPR drove the regime moderates further into the reformist camp when it came to foreign policy, and Hahn broadly concurs with this argument.

There is little to criticize about this book. One of the very few shortcomings is Hahn's strange use of Russian transliterations of Baltic names when he could have used the original spelling, given that the Baltic languages used Latin script even during the Soviet period. In a footnote, Hahn identifies the successor to the Lithuanian Communist Party as the Social Democratic Party when in fact it was the Democratic Labor Party. Hahn falls into the common misconception that the conflict in Transdniester is ethnically based when, in fact, the ethnic mixture in that scrap of land is similar to that in the rest of Moldova. Hahn also describes Romania as a revolution from below, whereas most scholarly accounts -- the dramatic images of December 1989 notwithstanding -- describe it more as a seizure of power by Ceausescu's cronies.

Hahn frequently uses the terms "right" and "left," but fails to define their meanings, which might cause confusion for readers who associate the "left" with a particular political ideology. He could have avoided this confusion by reminding readers of the simple dictionary definitions of both terms: the left is "opposition to and a desire to alter the established order" and the right is "opposition to change in the established order."

Hahn correctly concentrates on the regime split as the key cause of the eventual Soviet collapse, but tends to overemphasize this to the detriment of the contribution made by the opposition radicals. The main representatives of this group, such as Lev Ponomarev and Gleb Yakunin, are only mentioned in passing, and Galina Starovoitova is not mentioned at all. However, the mass protests organized by these heirs to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov are what pressured the CPSU into dropping its constitutional monopoly on power in February 1990. It was to a considerable extent because of the support of their movement, Democratic Russia, that Yeltsin became president of Russia in June 1991. The opposition radicals played a bigger role in the Soviet collapse than the book would suggest.

Hahn could have also looked at Robert Sharlet's book "Soviet Constitutional Crisis" and Eugene Huskey's article "Democracy and Institutional Design in Russia" in "Demokratizatsiya," as both writers make some points about Soviet regime structure and collapse that Hahn could have used to further differentiate his own arguments from theirs and others.

Although the book is limited to the Soviet period, Hahn addresses the question why the new Russian state is suffering from decay. He argues unequivocally that it is because the Soviet communist nomenklatura was not purged from state institutions as it was in the Czech Republic and Estonia, two successful transformations. Alas, revolutions from above, Hahn reminds us, are quite likely to leave the structures and personnel of the old regime in place, whereas "velvet" and "singing" revolutions from below make it easier for new elites to take over and reinvent their countries. Hahn believes it will be decades before Russia reaches true democracy.

However, Hahn also reminds us that political entrepreneurs and even chance events such as the death of Sakharov in 1989 can play key roles in transformations. Yeltsin had the power and opportunity to dissolve the KGB and to confiscate its assets. He could have probably implemented some type of limited lustration on government structures and even could have organized elections for a new parliament, which would have given an overwhelming victory to the liberal parties in early 1992. The fact that Yeltsin chose not to take this path is perhaps more because of his own background and mentality, which were rooted in the old system, than to the nature of how Russia was extirpated from the USSR.

Hahn's framework leaves open the possibility that Russia might yet have a democratic revival. President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian consolidation will probably not be threatened by the well-meaning but enfeebled liberal opposition in Russia. Ergo, a regime split similar to that which took place in the Soviet Union in 1985-91 is perhaps a bigger threat to Putin's KGB state than a revolution from below. Could this be the reason why former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, rather than Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, is currently sitting in prison?

Fredo Arias-King is the founding editor of "Demokratizatsiya."

By Peter Rutland

The results of the 7 December State Duma elections were both predictable and shocking: predicable because the polls were indicating a clear victory for the pro-presidential Unified Russia, and shocking because the extent and manner of that victory was not anticipated.

But the two big surprises from the 7 December poll are the disappearance of the pro-Western liberal Yabloko and Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) parties from the State Duma, and the second coming of Russian nationalists.

It was clear that the liberal parties were risking defeat by running separately, gambling that they could each win representation in the party-list competition. In the end, though, they failed to clear the 5 percent threshold, with Yabloko scoring 4.3 percent and the SPS drawing 4 percent of the vote. Moreover, they performed dismally in the single-mandate-district races, picking up only six seats between them. This is the total representation, down from the 49 seats the two parties held in the outgoing Duma. All their top leaders failed to win election. The most charismatic SPS leader, former Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada, lost in a St. Petersburg single-mandate district to the ex-communist outgoing Duma speaker, Gennadii Seleznev.

This means that some 5 million Russian voters are now deprived of political representation -- and these are typically people with Western values and Western-level living standards. They will now have little choice but to join the chorus of support for President Vladimir Putin.

This has disturbing implications for the quality of Russian government. These liberal deputies were among the most energetic and creative -- and least corrupt -- of all Russian parliamentarians. They played an important role in shaping legislation and used their position as deputies to draw attention to social problems and government malfeasance. They provided a pool of experienced politicians that the Kremlin could tap to head government ministries. In the future, government recruitment will presumably draw even more heavily upon the ranks of the former military and security-service personnel.

That is not all. The collapse of the national liberal parties will leave the democrats out in Russia's regions even more isolated. In the future, elections to regional assemblies in Russia will be limited to nationally registered parties. The failure of the SPS and Yabloko at the national level means that regional legislatures are even more likely to be totally controlled by regional executives.

Russian nationalism first came to the fore with Vladimir Zhirinovskii's surprise showing in the December 1993 elections, but it quickly subsided. It had minimal influence as a political force in the 1990s. Yet now it is back again, after 10 years of a transition to democracy that was supposed to promote rational discourse and the politics of interests and not ideologies. Appeals to Russians' wounded pride are the main organizing principle of the three nongovernment parties in the Duma -- and of Unified Russia itself. This despite the fact that Russia has experienced four years of impressive economic growth, averaging 6 percent a year, and despite the absence of any of the elements that typically trigger a nationalist upsurge, such as a military defeat.

Neither of these results -- the disappearance of the liberals or the resurrection of the nationalists -- can be particularly comforting to Putin. Some commentators suggest that it would have been useful for the Kremlin to have at least one liberal party in the Duma, if only to provided interlocutors for Western visitors. On the other hand, their departure leaves Putin as the most reasonable figure on the Russian political landscape with whom Western governments can deal.

The events of the past few months mark the end of Western hopes that Russia is in the process of becoming a "normal" country with European-style institutions of government. Its deviations from acceptable standards of democratic behavior can no longer be attributed to the birth pains of a new democratic society. Rather, it has become clear that the infant political system that was born 10 years ago was congenitally deformed.

Prior to Putin's accession to the presidency, the conceptual framework through which Washington viewed Moscow was that of the "transition to democracy." This was a robust framework of analysis: we know what democracy is, we know that it works, and let's help it unfold, from Malawi to Managua to Moscow. So straightforward would this be that we were even confident that democracy could be measured scientifically, and the 192 countries of the world calibrated on a linear scale: the Freedom House ranking. This is not to deny that the work of the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House is invaluable. But its value lies in the detailed country analysis, not the rankings.

Such was Western confidence in the transition paradigm that any and all of former President Boris Yeltsin's peccadilloes -- the shelling of the parliament in October 1993, the 1994 invasion of Chechnya, the rigged fire sale of Russian industry -- could be overlooked in the name of reform.

After Putin's arrival, doubts started to emerge about the viability of the democratic-transition paradigm. A 17-year KGB veteran did not quite fit the role, especially not when he started turning on the Russian media barons, who had many friends in the West. So a new paradigm was born -- "managed democracy." The term was associated with shadowy former Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin and was eagerly embraced by liberal political observers both in Moscow and in Washington, who saw it as an acceptable halfway house. It was almost as if the West ruefully respected the Kremlin spin master's ability to play the democratic game.

But what exactly is "managed democracy"? Surely it is a contradiction in terms. How can a democracy be "managed"? Democracy means that the people get to choose their leaders. So where do these "managers" come from? Managed democracy is a phrase that sounds knowing and intelligent, but in reality it is not an analytical concept at all, but rather a mere fig leaf for Kremlin control of the political system. Better to call it "facade democracy" -- democracy that is form without content.

Now it appears that "managed democracy" has gone the way of "transition to democracy." The most important development triggering this seismic shift in Western opinion was not the 7 December election, but the 25 October arrest of oligarch and former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii. The incarceration of the country's richest man registered on the radar screens of Western editorial writers and politicians whose attention had drifted away from Russia over the past two years.

In the wake of the Khodorkovskii affair, the outcome of the State Duma election of 7 December appeared even anticlimactic.

Maybe now it is time to take a fresh approach to the Russian political system, to stop looking at it with the expectation that it will converge with Western democracies and to stop waiting for the "breakthrough" to reform.

Unfortunately, the experience of the past decade has profoundly disillusioned Russian voters. In this respect, the 7 December elections are an accurate reflection of their views. Throughout the 1990s, they were told that what they were experiencing was a transition to Western-style democracy and capitalism when in fact it was nothing of the sort. It will take another decade or more for the real foundations of a civil society to be laid.

Peter Rutland is a professor of government at Wesleyan University and currently a visiting Fulbright professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

OUT: Pavel Borodin, state secretary of the Union of Belarus and Russia, withdrew his candidacy for the president of the Russian Football Union on 17 December, Interfax reported. The current president, Vyacheslav Koloskov, was the only candidate before the election was held.

IN: Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov again named Valerii Shantsev as his vice mayor on 17 December.

IN THE RUNNING: Moscow coffinmaker and well-known Soviet businessman German Sterligov announced on 16 December that he plans to run the March 2004 presidential race.

18 December: Russian government to discuss administrative reform and its transportation strategy through 2005

18 December: Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko to participate in CIS session in Moscow on the formation of a single economic space

18 December: Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on official visit to Brazil

19 December: Central Election Commission to certify official results of 7 December State Duma elections

20 December: Unified Russia to discuss results of State Duma election

21 December: Second round of presidential election in Bashkortostan between incumbent President Murtaza Rakhimov and businessman Sergei Veremeenko

21 December: Second round of gubernatorial elections in Tver, Kirov, and Sakhalin oblasts

21 December: Second round of mayoral election in Yekaterinburg

21 December: Tenor Luciano Pavarotti to perform at the Kremlin

21 December: Foreign Minister Ivanov on official visit to Venezuela

24 December: Central Election Commission will begin accepting registration documents from would-be presidential candidates, commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov announced on 10 December

26 December: First plenary session of the fourth Russian State Duma, which was elected on 7 December

29 December: Mausoleum of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin will reopen following repairs, according to RIA-Novosti

29 December: The State Duma's fourth convocation will meet to elect new members of the legislature's ruling bodies, according to Interfax

30 December: Date by which cases against Menatep head Platon Lebedev and former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii are to be submitted to the courts, according to separate Moscow court decisions

January 2004: President Putin to visit Kazakhstan

16 January 2004: Vyborg Municipal Court to begin hearing a case challenging the legality of the election of Federation Council representative Grigorii Naginskii by the Leningrad Oblast legislature

17 January 2004: Russian Regions to convene party congress

23 January 2004: Some 94,000 polling stations for presidential election to be selected

23 January 2004: The Union of Rightist Forces will hold a party congress

28 January 2004: 6 p.m. Moscow time is the deadline for candidates to submit registration documents for the presidential race to the Central Election Commission

7 February 2004: List of registered presidential candidates to be finalized

20 February 2004: Presidential election ballot papers to be printed

12 February-12 March 2004: Period during which free airtime will be provided to presidential candidates

27 February 2004: Early voting in presidential election to begin for citizens in remote areas of the Russian Federation

9 March-14 March 2004: Publication of opinion polls about the presidential election will not be permitted

14 March 2004: Election for president of the Russian Federation to be held

14 March 2004: Gubernatorial elections will be held in Voronezh Oblast and Altai Krai

26 March 2004: Date by which official results from the presidential election will be released

4 April 2004: Second round of federal presidential election to be held if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote in the first round on 14 March.