Russia’s Political Future: Scenarios and Projections

The financial crisis that almost swamped Russia’s economic system in the fall of 2008 also led to renewed speculation about the stability and long-term endurance of the country’s political system. While it had previously appeared that the windfall revenues earned by the government from Russia’s energy wealth would allow its leaders to spend their way out of any potential difficulties, this prospect was put to a very real test as the government was forced to spend a large part of its financial reserves just to prop up the ruble and to bail out indebted state-allied corporations. Although by early 2009 the economic situation had somewhat stabilized, analysts began to consider how the Russian political system would function in the absence of the financial resources its leaders had come to take for granted.

In this issue of Russian Politics and Law, a number of Russian authors examine the alternatives for the future development of Russia’s political system. Some of them (Melville, Timofeev, Busygina) do this through an alternative scenarios methodology, while others (Petrov, Peregudov) simply extrapolate based on trends they see in the current political environment. The combination of the two approaches provides a wide range of possibilities for what Russian politics will be like five to ten years from now.

In their much discussed report on MGIMO’s scenario-building exercise (“Russia 2020: Alternative Scenarios and Public Preferences”), Andrei Melville and Ivan Timofeev develop four possible scenarios for Russia’s future development and then describe the responses of five Moscow focus groups (arranged by political leanings) to these scenarios. The scenarios range from an an ideal world of peace, economic growth, greater internal democracy, and Russia’s integration into the international community as a well-respected partner (New Dream) through an extension of current trends ten years into the future (Kremlin Gambit) to one where Russia is surrounded by hostile or unstable states and has to mobilize all of its resources to maintain its sovereignty (Fortress Russia). A fourth scenario (Russian Mosaic) appears to go back to the 1990s by focusing on the potential for a weak, decentralized Russia that is forced to play according to Western rules that it has had no part in formulating.