Andrew Wood, the former UK ambassador to Russia and current fellow at Chatham House, has done just that in a new report that is well worth a read.
In a short, succinct, and very insightful paper, Wood argues that the Russian political elite is ill equipped to deal with the country's mounting problems, noting that "some of the factors which made it seem in the early eighties that the Soviet Union could not last are discernable now." (In a recent commentary, Gregory Satarov, president of the Moscow-based INDEM foundation, makes a similar argument.)
Central to Wood's thesis is an observation that should be familiar to Power Vertical readers -- the inherent conflict between Russia's need to modernize its economy on one hand and the elite's desire to maintain tight political control on the other:
As I have blogged here, and on numerous other occasions, in order to modernizing Russia's economy, it must be decentralized, diversified, and made less dependent on commodities exports. Doing so, however, would result in decentralizing and diversifying political power as well -- eroding the dominance of the current ruling clique.
And given the choice between true political change and stagnation, the elite will likely opt for the latter:
But as Wood points out, the economic crisis has spooked the elite and severely dented ordinary Russians' confidence in the future, a potentially deadly combination that could eventually call into question the political legitimacy of the current ruling class:
For the past year this has been manifesting itself in schisms at the top and increased unrest in society. Wood expects "that the inherent tension between economic renewal and the frozen political structure will continue to mount in 2010." And if Putin decides to return to the presidency in 2012, " it is probable that this contradiction will become steadily more evident."
I tried to hit the highlights here, but recommend giving the whole paper a read.
-- Brian Whitmore