A Challenged Diarchy

diarchy050509.jpgIgor Torbakov from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki has an opinion piece on the Russian tandemocracy of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev posted over at EurasiaNet, examining how this political structure may be insufficiently flexible and adaptive to handle the economic crisis.  Torbakov argues that a “brittle and arcane management structure” hampers innovation through a less than meritorious system of promoting on the basis of loyalty, and that Russia’s current power set-up makes it difficult to imagine reform coming any time soon.

But the real question is whether Russia’s paramount leader – Putin – is ready to admit that the system he built has turned out to be dysfunctional. Until an answer manifests itself, Russia will find itself stuck. Putin’s dependence on managed democracy has left the government ill-equipped to handle the economic crisis, as it can neither opt for thorough democratization, nor can it effectively follow the path of authoritarian adaptation.

Democratization, of course, is blocked by the conspicuous lack of the agent of democratic change: the current elites are unwilling to give up their privileges, and the atomized population is incapable of self-organization and purposeful collective action. But the sad irony is that, due to a peculiar power arrangement – for lack of a better term, the Medvedev-Putin diarchy – Russia, unlike other authoritarian-minded states such as China, cannot resort to a purely authoritarian means of course correction either.

Thething is that the Medvedev-Putin “tandemocracy” is neither a democraticdivision of power, nor is it an efficiently functioning duumvirate.Under conditions where dwindling resources are fostering competitionamong various elites, Russia’s peculiar power arrangement stands tobecome a factor of instability.

When Putin anointed Medvedev ashis successor he made sure that Russia’s next president would bepolitically and institutionally weak and dependent on him. As a result,Medvedev is essentially an impotent leader: he cannot sack Putin, hisprime minister, make him responsible for all Russia’s current woes (asmany Russian autocratic rulers did to their predecessors in the past)and then attempt to introduce certain changes “from above.” For hispart, Putin also appears to be stuck with Medvedev as his presidentialpick. What follows is a virtual political stalemate with Moscow beingunable to come up with a semblance of a coherent policy.

AsRussia’s political system remains largely unreformed (and seeminglyunreformable), its foreign policy is likely to be more of the same. Forthe Russian leadership, the notion of the country’s great power statuswill stay unchanged. Russia, therefore, is likely to becomeincreasingly prickly in its dealings with the United States andEuropean Union due to its own inherent internal weakness.