Russian Politics and Law, January 2012 Table of Contents

Volume 50 Number 1 / January-February 2012 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the M.E. Sharpe web site at

This issue contains:

Characteristics of Russian Power: Editor’s Introduction  p. 3
Dmitry Gorenburg
Perestroika, Second Edition: Revolution and Counterrevolution in Russia  p. 7
Vladimir B. Pastukhov
The Specific Nature of “Russian State Power”: Its Mental Structures, Ritual Practices, and Institutions  p. 36
Nikolai S. Rozov
The Post-Soviet Party of Power: United Russia in Comparative Context  p. 54
Boris I. Makarenko
The Russian Establishment: Paths and Means of Renewal  p. 84
Ol’ga A. Voronkova, Aleksandra A. Sidorova, Ol’ga V. Kryshtanovskaia


Characteristics of Russian Power: Editor’s Introduction

The current issue examines some of the key characteristics of the Russian political system from the cultural and institutional points of view. This set of articles shy away from close analysis of current political developments in favor of stepping back to look at the longue duree, in some cases going back to Soviet and pre-Soviet Russian history and culture to examine how earlier developments affect the modern Russian political system and its future trajectory. While other articles limit themselves to the post-Soviet period, they also analyze the impact of long-term trends in Russian power politics on current and future developments.

The first two articles in this issue discuss some of the conceptual bases for characterizing Russian power. “Perestroika, Second Edition: Revolution and Counterrevolution in Russia,” by Vladimir Pastukhov, assesses the prospects of a second perestroika based on his interpretation of modern Russian history in terms of the concepts of revolution and counterrevolution. Pastukhov begins by presenting his interpretation of Soviet history, in which the year 1953 plays the key role. For him, the death of Stalin and the subsequent execution of Beria were the events that signaled the end of the Bolshevik revolution and the beginning of a gradual transition to a state based on rules rather than violence that he terms a Soviet civilization. Khrushchev’s victory over Beria in the battle to succeed Stalin was the result, for Pastukhov, of a societal instinct for self-preservation kicking in.

Pastukhov terms the late Soviet period as a kind of bubble on the surface of Russian civilization. Its deflation led to the renewal of the Russian revolution in 1989 and resulted in the self-liquidation of the Soviet system. In other words, the Soviet leaders lost confidence in the system and started the process that led to its collapse. The current stage of Russia’s political development in many ways parallels the early stages of Gorbachev’s reform. The legal nihilism that pervades the top reaches of the Russian political elite has led its members to seek safer havens abroad for their financial resources and, often, their families. Without the advent of a political system governed by the rule of law, another revolution from above is inevitable, though the exact timing remains entirely unpredictable.

In “The Specific Nature of ‘Russian State Power’: Its Mental Structures, Ritual Practices, and Institutions,” Nikolai Rozov develops a dynamic theory of Russian state power as an ideal type and emphasizes the roles played by frames, symbols, and interactive rituals in its creation. He presents these frames as dichotomies, with key frames for Russian power including the concepts of our own versus other and idealism versus profit. He then argues that the specifics of these frames lead to the characteristics of the Russian national character, including such factors as atomization, poor self-discipline, and incapacity for self-organization, which result from the rejection of everything alien. Other characteristics, both positive and negative, result from various combinations of these frames.

Rozov then goes on to consider how these frames can explain some of the key attributes of Russian state power. He notes that Russian officials consider the rest of the population to belong to the category of other, rather than considering them to be part of our own. This mentality increases their willingness to sacrifice the people for the goal of achieving and holding on to power. As a result, the rulers have limited legitimacy in the eyes of the population and frequently have to result to violence to maintain control. Rozov concludes that as the international community has evolved, the crises of the Russian authoritarian state have become more frequent. As a result, the cycle of disintegration and restoration may be broken through a peaceful institutional revolution carried out by those social groups that do not accept the traditional cultural frames.

The final two articles turn to more concrete aspects of Russian power. Boris Makarenko’s “The Post-Soviet Party of Power: United Russia in Comparative Context,” addresses the character, role, structure, functions, and evolution of United Russia (UR) in the context of world experience with dominant and predominant parties in competitive political systems. In the first half of his article, Makarenko discusses the phenomenon of dominant parties with examples from around the world. He notes that the establishment of such parties allows for the establishment of broad elite coalitions that can maximize resources and minimize risks for elite projects. He shows that in various countries such parties have been set up both from above and from below.

In the typology of dominant parties, United Russia is neither a traditional catch-all party that avoids any form of ideological commitment in order to appeal to the broadest possible swathe of the electorate nor a monoparty that serves “merely [as a] means of support for military or civilian dictatorial regimes.” Instead,UR is a party of power, a new dominant party type that has been created in the post-communist world in order to support the re-election of a popularly elected president and remains beholden to the power of the executive branch for its survival.

After briefly tracing the development of the party of power institution over the two decades of post-Soviet Russian history, Makarenko discusses the current state of UR. Its role as a dominant party has been cemented in recent years by increasing federal control of electoral processes at the local and regional level. As UR has squeezed all forms of opposition out of the legitimate political arena, its leadership has increasingly come to recognize that internal pluralism is necessary for the party’s continued functioning. To this end, it has created so-called clubs to foster intraparty discussion and allow for a diversity of views to be represented. Makarenko argues that while the party can continue to function quite successfully as an electoral machine, it is incapable of providing the new ideas necessary to continue the development of Russian politics and society and therefore risks becoming a dead end model for Russian political development.

The final article in this issue, “The Russian Establishment: Paths and Means of Renewal,” by Olga Voronkova, Aleksandra Sidorova, and Olga Kryshtanovskaya, analyzes the changing structure of the Russian government elite in terms of age, length of service, place of birth, level and type of education, and work experience. The article uses a unique database of biographical information on 175 members of the elite who served in top positions in the Russian government between 2000 and 2009. The study rejects the conventional wisdom that President Putin’s governing team was formed primarily from a combination of Putin’s colleagues from the power ministries and from St. Petersburg. However, it does confirm that Putin’s closest advisers were from one (or both) of these camps.

In conclusion, the authors argue that the Russian political system has yet to develop a functioning formal mechanism of elite recruitment. In its absence, leaders resort to the traditional methods of recruiting their teams through personal ties based on previous service together in other branches of government. As a result, the channels for younger cohorts to enter the government are inadequate and prevent the introduction of new ideas into the political system. One of the Russian government’s greatest challenges is how to develop a personnel reserve system that allows for the regular renewal of governing elites.

While the four articles in this issue come from very different points of view, they all share a conviction that the Russian political system faces a critical juncture. For all of them, the existing system is at the point where it has more or less played out its possibilities. The choices made by the current set of leaders over the next three to five years are likely to have a determining effect on Russian political development over the next several decades. They hold in their hands the choice of whether Russia continues to modernize its political and economic systems in a gradual manner or if it faces yet another revolutionary moment once the current political system ceases to be capable of dealing with the challenges of the future. My sense is that Putin and his team are more likely to try to muddle through any coming crises, rather than taking the risk of shaking up the system. The lessons of Gorbachev are still too fresh in their minds. Another revolution from above is at least a generation away.


Why Russia Protects Assad

I wrote a piece on Russian-Syrian relations this week for the Oxford Analytica Daily Brief. Usually, I repost these once their exclusivity has run out. But part of this one seems to have been picked up by Fareed Zakaria GPS over at and I can repost it here now.


On Tuesday, the U.S., UK and French ambassadors to the United Nations sharply criticized “irresponsible” arms sales to the Syrian regime. This was a thinly veiled reference to Moscow’s close defense-industrial cooperation with Damascus.

In recent months, Russia has been Syria’s foremost protector in the international arena. It has taken on this role because of Syria’s economic significance for its arms export industry, its role as the host of Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union – and its concern that anti-government protesters in Moscow might be inspired by a successful popular uprising farther afield.

Syria is one of the top five foreign buyers of Russian defense equipment, receiving 6% of all its arms exports in 2010. Contracts for further deliveries are worth about $4 billion, and are critical for some companies’ financial survival. Russian exporters fear that regime change in Syria would lead to the annulment of these agreements, as new rulers may pursue opportunities to purchase weapons from other countries.

The uprising has not deterred Russia from continuing to send weapons to Syria, including a shipment of various munitions that came to attention this month after the ship carrying the weapons made an unscheduled stop in Cyprus.

In addition to military contracts, Russian companies have other investments in Syria, primarily in natural gas extraction. These are valued at approximately $20 billion and include a pipeline and a liquefied natural gas production facility. Moreover, Russia has given up all but one of its military facilities outside the former Soviet Union – the sole remaining presence is its naval logistics facility in Tartus. The base’s primary purpose is to repair and resupply Russian navy ships transiting the Mediterranean.

While the Syrian opposition has not made any statements regarding the future of Tartus, Russia has long depended entirely on President Bashar al-Assad and cannot expect to have good relations with his successors, especially if they come to power by force.

While the ‘Arab awakenings’ have little direct connection to the rallies against President Vladimir Putin’s political order, Russian leaders feel that they are surrounded by a tide of anti-incumbent protests – and see each government toppled as potentially feeding the mood throughout the world. A related fear is that the overthrow of the Assad regime may feed a resurgence of anti-government protests in Iran, bringing political instability even closer to Russia’s borders.

Furthermore, Russian leaders are concerned about the gains made by Islamist forces in the region, particularly in Egypt. The twin dangers of popular overthrow of local autocrats and subsequent electoral victories by Islamic parties have raised fears about an Islamist takeover in one or more Central Asian states. Though such a scenario appears unlikely, it is a particularly sensitive issue for Russia because it would likely lead to a significant increase in migration inflows from the region, further destabilising an already volatile domestic political situation.

Russian leaders will use the Syrian crisis as an opportunity to show that their country is still a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. They will also press their case that overthrowing the current Syrian regime would lead to further instability in the region – which might even spread to the former Soviet Union. As a result, Russia will do its utmost to prevent the fall of Assad.

How many nuclear weapons does Russia need?

This is the question posed by Ilya Kramnik in a recent article on the Voice of Russia radio website. Kramnik argues that Russia’s nuclear posture has been based on the notion of matching the United States, something that is patently impossible given that Russia’s GDP and yearly government budget are tens of times smaller than those of the US.

To this end, Russia has announced a plan for the rapid construction of a total of eight Borei class SSBNs by 2018, with one new submarine to be commissioned every year starting in 2013. While Kramnik argues (correctly, IMO) that this plan is somewhat overoptimistic, he believes that all eight will be completed by 2020 or 2021. But the fact that these submarines can be built (while new ICBMs are being built concurrently) does not negate the question of what is the opportunity cost of spending a huge percentage of this decade’s military procurement budget on new nuclear weapons that are unlikely to ever need to be used.

He argues instead that Russia’s posture should be based on having enough nuclear weapons to deliver a counterstrike that would inflict unacceptable damage on the enemy. This would allow for the Russian nuclear stockpile to drop from the current goal of 1550 warheads on 700 delivery platforms  (i.e. the limits set by the New START treaty) to 900-1200 warheads on 300-400 delivery platforms.

Kramnik notes that Russia’s defense industry is perfectly capable of maintaining the current posture. But limitations on the overall size of the defense procurement budget mean that this level of procurement of strategic nuclear forces can only be accomplished by neglecting the modernization of Russia’s conventional armed forces. And these are the forces that are desperately in need of new equipment in order to be able to successfully carry out missions in the regional and local conflicts that pose a much more likely short-term threat to Russia than the possibility of nuclear war with the United States.

This includes major platforms and systems such as multipurpose nuclear and diesel submarines, fighter aircraft, surface ships, air defense systems, tanks, and artillery. But it also includes more basic needs, such as modern precision-guided munitions, personal combat and communications equipment, etc. Kramnik points out that until such weapons are equipment can be procured in needed quantities, Russia’s position in the world will continue to weaken while its soldiers sustain a higher rate of casualties. And, he argues, this will all be done in the name of maintaining nuclear parity with the United States.

Needless to say, I find this to be a very prudent and realistic assessment of misplaced Russian military procurement priorities. I’m encouraged that Russian commentators are increasingly focusing on this imbalance, rather than supporting the MOD’s drive to maintain nuclear parity out of some sort of continuing sense of desire to maintain great power status. I wonder how Russian planners will change their force posture once the potentially quite significant cuts in US defense spending come into effect over the next couple of years.


Another submarine fire

Just a very brief note today, since (with a couple exceptions) the media seems to have largely failed to cover the news that there was another fire on a Russian nuclear submarine undergoing routine maintenance. This time it was the Gepard, the newest of the Akula class SSNs. The fire was in the fourth compartment, and occurred while walls were being cleaned with an alcohol based cleaning fluid. During this process, a lamp was dropped, igniting the alcohol fumes. The fire was quickly extinguished and from all reports the damage appears to be fairly minor. But the Northern Fleet is refusing to confirm the incident, so official damage estimates are not available.

This incident again raises the question of safety practices in the Russian Navy. Are there safer forms of cleaning solution (or lighting) available? And while the military is much more open about issues than it used to be, it’s problematic that it still won’t acknowledge incidents such as fires unless they are so serious that they can’t be kept hidden.

UPDATE: Kommersant reports that the fire was caused by civilian personnel and that it was extinguished by the automatic chemical fire retardant system. Furthermore, the report speculates that the sub may be out of commission for a few months.

Repairing the Ekaterinburg

There have been some announcements on the repair schedule for the Ekaterinburg Delta IV submarine, which was seriously damaged by fire a couple of weeks ago. These reports confirm expectations that because of the fire, the submarine will be sent for its second major overhaul now, rather than in 2013 as scheduled. In addition to the regular overhaul, the outer hull will have to be repaired and the sonar apparatus replaced. The main disagreement is whether the repair will be completed in 3-4 years (i.e. by 2015 or 2016) or (if we follow Dmitry Rogozin’s tweets) by the summer of 2014. Winter ice means that the submarine will be sent to Severdvinsk in the spring and repairs will actually begin in May or June.

Two years to both repair the fire damage and complete the regular overhaul seems excessively ambitious. The Verkhoturie, the first Delta IV submarine to go for its second overhaul, is scheduled to be returned to the fleet in December 2012, 2.5 years after the overhaul began. Fixing the fire damage will take extra time, so I would imagine the 3-4 year time estimate is more likely than Rogozin’s 2 year claim.

In the meantime, the accident will likely delay the decommissioning of one or more of the three remaining Delta III submarines that are to be replaced by the soon to be commissioned Borei submarines.

Bonus pay for officers and contract soldiers explained

Having already covered basic pay for both conscripts and contract soldiers/officers, what’s left is to go through the recent set of decrees that spell out the bonuses to be paid to officers and contract soldiers. Most of this information is derived from the various new decrees and regulations that came into effect on January 1 and are helpfully compiled by Rossiiskaia Gazeta.

1. Years of service bonuses (monthly, applied to combined rank and position pay):

a) 10 percent for 2-5 years

b) 15 percent for 5-10 years

c) 20 percent for 10-15 years

d) 25 percent for 15-20 years

e) 30 percent for 20-25 years

f) 40 percent for 25 or more years

For some types of service, a month counts as two or 1.5 months.

2. Qualification bonuses (monthly, applied to position pay):

a) 5 percent for third class

b) 10 percent for second class

c) 20 percent for third class

d) 30 percent for master class

3. Working with classified materials: Up to 65 percent of position pay, depending on level of classification. ( I haven’t found anything that spells out the details on this. Maybe it’s still coming.)

4.   Carrying out dangerous duties in peacetime:

a) Up to 100 percent of the monthly position pay for diving

b) Up to 60 percent of the monthly position pay for participating in military exercises, ship deployments, or other duties that take place outside of the permanent location of the soldier or officer’s military base

c) Up to 50 percent of the monthly position pay for parachute jumps, mine clearance, use of explosives, disposal of explosives or other armaments, participation in flights from an aircraft carrier, firefighting, working with confidential informants

d) Up to 30 percent of the monthly position pay for working at the Baikonur space launch facility, for working with HIV or typhus-infected personnel or in departments or laboratories that deal with dangerous infections, for working at medical facilities where conditions are dangerous to one’s health, or for working with corpses, X-rays, or dangerous substances

e) Up to 20 percent of the monthly position pay for working in refueling naval nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel, or radioactive waste.

5. Serving outside the Russian Federation (applied to total pay) :

a) 40 percent for serving in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Tajikistan

b) 30 percent for serving in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, or Moldova (evidently including Transnistria)

c) 20 percent for serving in Ukraine

d) 10 percent for serving in Belarus.

6. Personnel serving in conditions of military conflict or emergency situations receive a 50 percent bonus to total pay.

7.  Personnel who belong to the special forces or to the Unified Command for conducting counter-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus who are permanently based or temporarily located in Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia get a bonus equal to 200 percent of their monthly position pay. Personnel who do not belong to these commands who are fighting against ‘unlawful combatants’ in those regions get a bonus equal to 100 percent of the monthly position pay.

8. There are also bonuses for serving in the far north or in difficult climates, but I haven’t been able to find the amounts — perhaps they haven’t been published yet. If they have been published, I’d be grateful to any of my readers who might send me a link….

Finally, there are some one time payments listed

1. For relocating to a new place of service, personnel get a payment equal to their monthly salary plus 0.25 of their monthly salary for each dependent.

2. Upon retirement, personnel who have served less than 20 years get a payment equal to two times their monthly salary. Those who have served more than 20 years get a payment equal to seven times their monthly salary. Those who have received state medals or decorations during their service get a payment equal to one additional monthly salary.

3. The families of personnel who dies while serving in the military or up to one year after leaving service if the death is caused by wounds received while serving receive a one time payment of 3 million rubles (to be adjusted annually for inflation) plus a monthly pension.

4. Personnel who are forced to leave the military because of wounds received while serving receive a one time payment of 2 million rubles for contract soldiers or 1 million rubles for conscripts (to be adjusted annually for inflation) plus a monthly pension.

There’s a lot here. Perhaps the most interesting bit is the decision to declare those serving in the North Caucasus eligible for significant bonus pay — comparable or larger than bonus pay for serving in other countries. It seems that the hope is that this will make soldiers more willing to serve in these more dangerous areas.

Otherwise, everything seems more or less straightforward. I get the impression that the resulting salaries (at least for contract soldiers and officers) will for the first time in decades be competitive with the civilian job market. Whether this is enough to counter the negative image of the military among the general population and lead to a substantial increase in recruitment and retention of personnel, only time will tell.


The Ekaterinburg fire: the plot thickens?

I just came across an interesting post at the Barents Observer, which makes the argument that the Ekaterinburg fire started in the torpedo compartment, rather than on the submarine’s exterior. This is based on visual analysis of photos posted by a local blogger in the Murmansk area. I don’t have permission to cross-post the photos, so I urge those who might have expertise in this area to go look at the photos and accompanying discussion.

The argument, in brief, is that the rubber outer covering of the submarine, which is what supposedly burned, does not appear in post-fire photos to have sustained much damage. Instead, the fire may have started near the hydro-acoustic apparatus that is located inside the outer hull. Again, I have no idea whether this argument makes any sense or not, as I’m neither an expert on firefighting nor on submarine construction. But it’s worth at least noting the rumors circulating in the Russian internet, which also include the possibility that torpedoes had not been offloaded. Here’s a good summary of the alternative version of what happened during the fire.

Finally, one other question: If there was a 4×4 meter hole in the submarine, as seems fairly clear from the first of the Barents Observer photos, then what happened to the submarine’s interior when the sub was submerged in order to put out the fire? At the very least, it would seem to me that the torpedo compartment must have sustained extensive salt water damage, no?

Anyway, I’m not one to hold to conspiracy theories, so I will assume that the official version of events is the one most likely to be true, unless there’s good evidence to the contrary. But it’s worth knowing that other explanations are floating around.


New pay structure for conscripts announced

In late December, the Russian government approved some more rules and regulations dealing with military pay. These included a decree on stipends for conscripts and a separate decree on bonuses and other forms of additional pay for officers and contract soldiers. In this post, I’ll cover pay for conscripts.

Position Monthly pay (rubles)
Petty officer (starshina) 1800
Assistant duty officer at command post, translator 1700
Deputy platoon commander, head of medical clinic 1600
Head of firing range, checkpoint or fuel depot 1500
Squad commander, head of coding post, sanitation or cooking instructor 1400
Artillery weapon firing commander, driver-mechanic of self-propelled strategic missiles 1300
Driver-mechanic, senior driver, senior communications operator, recon, nurse, senior rescue personnel, student at professional military school 1200
Driver, communications operator, rescue personnel, grenade-thrower, sniper, machine-gunner 1100
Rifleman, camoufleur, road builder, electrician, student at technical school or at military school (incl cadets at Nakhimov and Suvorov schools) 1000

In addition to this basic income, conscripts receive various bonuses, including for:

  1. Higher qualifications: 5 percent for 3rd class, 10 percent for 2nd class, and 20 percent for 1st class specialists.
  2. Serving in unusual or difficult conditions:

a) Up to 100 percent of the stipend for serving on submarines or as aircraft crew

b) Up to 70 percent of the stipend for serving on a surface ship, in a position that requires parachuting or diving, in the Presidential regiment, or in special units

c) Up to 50 percent of the stipend for medical specialists, staff of the space forces, or soldiers serving on combat duty

d) Up to 20 percent of the stipend for ground-based aviation specialists working in positions that ensure flight safety; soldiers working in refueling naval nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel, or radioactive waste; soldiers working as tank crews; or for rescue unit personnel

e) Up to 10 percent of the stipend for soldiers serving in border guard posts.

3.  Carrying out dangerous duties in peacetime:

a) Up to 100 percent of the stipend for diving or parachute jumps

b) Up to 50 percent of the stipend for mine-clearance or fire-fighting (for each day spent performing those duties)

4.  Working with classified materials: 10 percent for secret classification, 20 percent for top secret, 25 percent for materials “of special importance”

5.  Additional 1000 rubles per months for orphans or others who are eligible to receive additional support according to the federal law on orphans and children lacking parental support.

A couple of quick points about all this. First of all, the base pay for conscripts is being more or less doubled compared to 2011 rates. Also, the bonuses for higher qualifications and working with secret documents are new. Previously, they were only available for officers and contract soldiers. The publications I have seen do not make it absolutely clear whether the other bonuses are new or not, though Rossiiskaia Gazeta seems to imply that they are.

At the same time, the Rossiiskaia Gazeta article’s statement that conscripts who are responsible and don’t get into trouble will now be getting a sizable amount of money seems to be overstating things a bit. The absolute maximum a conscript soldier who is not an orphan can make under these rules is 6210 rubles/month, assuming I didn’t mess up the math. That comes out to a bit over $200/month. I suppose that’s not completely horrible given that these are mostly 18 or 19 year-olds whose housing and food are being provided by the government. But to call it a sizable amount of money is going a bit far for my taste. Especially when the vast majority of conscripts will be getting stipend in the $30-50/month range. It goes to show just how embarrassingly low conscript pay was in the Russian army — given that these rates are DOUBLE the previous ones.

Video of Ekaterinburg submarine fire

Pavel Podvig sent along a set of links to video of the Ekaterinburg submarine fire last week. Not sure who took them, but they’re quite close in. Worth a look. Clearly shows just how serious the fire was.