Why the elite consensus still holds in today’s Russia

June 21, 2022
A Meduza interview with economist Andrei Yakovlev on the lack of turnover in Russia’s elites since the 1990s and the equilibrium between the security forces and business that has shaped the Russian regime.
“Why elites have failed to stop the war” is a Meduza interview with Gaidar Prize laureate economist Andrei Yakovlev, who discusses how inevitable regime change in Russia is, how the current Russian elite ended up in their current positions, why Russia is dominated by the security forces and how further developments will play out.

Yakovlev believes Russia is on the verge of changes: “it’s clear to me that the ongoing war in Ukraine and sweeping sanctions are leading Russia into a major economic crisis. It will come with growing social tensions and, sooner or later, a political crisis.” How regime change, which Yakovlev considers “inevitable,” plays out will depend on the quality of the elites and their ability to come to terms with each other in conditions of an “acute systemic crisis.”

According to Yakovlev, the problems with the elite began with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the old Soviet nomenklatura was replaced not by another elite, but by a younger generation of the same nomenklatura. Yakovlev describes in detail the changes in the balance of power between the oligarchs, big business, high-level officials and the security forces in the 1990s and 2000s against the backdrop of economic crises and rising oil prices, and how a relative balance was formed that lasted until 2011.

At that time, amid the Arab Spring and mass protests in Russia, there was a “sharp turn in domestic policy,” which was reflected in harsh repression of the opposition and a campaign to nationalize the elites. The security forces then began to dominate the ruling coalition, and their influence has only grown since. Unlike the upper-level bureaucracy, they were interested in confrontation with the West.

In 2012-2013, the government’s ratings fell, so Russia’s status as a superpower was trumpeted to the masses, with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 enhancing this illusion. After the 2018 elections, the problem of confidence in the government again emerged, and the current war in Ukraine, in Yakovlev’s view, represents an attempt to repeat the success of the “Crimean spring.” He thinks that the regime will offer “patriotic carrots” when there are no economic ones, resorting to the stick of repression if necessary. “This is the logic of the transformation of a regime that has proven itself incapable of delivering economic development,” Yakovlev claims.

Yakovlev considers that a major economic downturn will sober up the elite. He also gives scenarios for the transition to a new political system. In Yakovlev’s view, “avoiding waves of violence and transforming the old regime will require new leaders to work cooperatively with some factions of the present-day elite.” This means making agreements and compromises.

Digest written by the Russia.Post editorial team. See the original here.
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