Russian Politics: A Chance for Change?
On Wednesday, June 30, 2010 CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program hosted Vladimir Milov, leader of the “Democratic Choice” Movement in Russia to discuss the sources, processes, and the prospects of change for Russia in his presentation, “Russian Politics: A Chance for Change.” Andrew Kuchins, Director and Senior Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program, moderated the event.
Milov outlined the current political situation in Russia and emphasized the widespread recognition, even among the elite, that Russian politics have reached the end of an era. The consolidation of power in the past ten years under Putin has resulted in the decline of political freedoms without solving any of the country’s major problems and positioning the country for greater stagnation. Milov offered two possible sources of change: the authorities can take the lead and drive change from the top, or Russian civil society may step forward and the public can demand change from below. Milov, however, argued that change is unlikely to come from above.
Medvedev has promised to tackle problems such as corruption and the lack of an independent judiciary, but these problems have actually worsened during his time as president. Thus, Milov questioned the sincerity of Medvedev’s attempts at reforming the current political system, as well as his power to act independently of Putin. Those in influential posts are invested in maintaining a power structure that sustains their own position and consequently strengthens the authority of Putin. Although this is ineffective system to drive reform, it is self-sustaining and will lead Russia to more stagnation if left unchecked.
Russia’s civil society was highlighted as a more viable alternative for change. Milov argued that the “social contract” between Putin and the Russian people to exchange political and civil freedoms for economic stability has been breached, and unrest will begin to undermine the system. There is already very little support for United Russia as a party, with the system’s legitimacy reliant on the popularity of individual leaders. “Putin fatigue” is rising in Russia and exposes the vulnerability of the United Russia party.
The approach the opposition should take, Milov contended, should be to take practical measures such as supporting regional election campaigns, reaching out to grassroots organizations, and distributing publications that expose corrupt leaders and practices. The capability of the West to intervene in these areas is limited and Milov stressed that legitimate reform must come from within. The need for political change and the possibility that it can be driven from below is necessary and possible, but change of this scope will not come overnight.