Thursday, January 5, 2017

Can Putin’s ‘Hybrid’ Russia Transform Itself? Schulmann Says Yes; Pavlova Says No

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 5 – Moscow political analyst Ekaterina Schulmann has attracted a great deal of attention for her application of the concept of “hybrid state” to Russia and her argument that as such a state it will ultimately transform itself as long as its opponents stay within the law.

            But Irina Pavlova, a Russian historian resident in the US, disagrees, arguing that Schulmann is using Western terms that don’t apply to Russia, that her optimism about the future is misplaced, and that her argument not to challenge the Putin regime more directly serves the interests of that regime in not changing anything.

            Schulmann, an instructor at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, says that Russia is a hybrid regime, that is, it is “externally democratic but internally not,” and that it will change in a positive direction “in the first instance” out of its desire for its own survival ( a/2017/01/02/1579820.html).

                She takes the term from Western political scientists and says tha today “a scholarly consensus” exists that “the entry ticket to the magic club of hybrid countries is a multi-party system and regular elections. However authoritarian its regime, if there are at least two parties and elections … the country is not viewed as a classic autocracy, dictatorship or tyranny.”

            Russia falls into this category, and thus is “absolutely” different in principle from the regime of Joseph Stalin: its economy is different, the structure of society is different, and the cadres mechanism that the authorities have developed and make use of is “entirely different” as well, the Moscow scholar says.

            She argues that those Russian analysts who see Putin moving toward one-man rule are “absolutely incorrect.” His system is based on shifting cadres to find the right ones rather than creating one in which they live in fear of him and of being dismissed.  And she suggests that “statistically” most hybrid regimes last 15 years – and then they begin to reform themselves and only rarely toward one-man rule.

            The 15th anniversary of Russia’s hybrid system occurred in 2014, Schulmann says.  If Russia had simply been an authoritarian state, it would not have changed; but it had and has the benefit of being a “hybrid” one and so launched a series of experiments to see how best it could continue.

            Hybrid regimes “are more flexible and adaptive,” she says, “than are autocracies.” And Putin’s moves since that time have not been a drive to restore a Stalinist system but rather an effort driven exclusively by a desire to maintain him and his regime in power. According to her, his lack of ideology is a sign of this reality.

            The lack of an ideology is “an objective necessity,” Schulmann argues, because “the goal of a hybrid regime is not the conquest of the world but only its own survival.” It doesn’t want to be restricted in its actions by any ideology. Hence Putin’s use and then discard of various ideas and programs.

            Few hybrid states become tyrannies, she says; adding that “personally, she can identify only one at present: the Belarusian regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

            As for Moscow’s repressive policies, there is no need for them to be massive to be effective, the Moscow scholar says. “In order to frighten society, one show trial is sufficient, as long as all television channels show it and all media and social networks provide coverage and discussion of it. And there is no need to restrict people from leaving the country.

            Consequently, Schulmann argues, “we have all the preconditions for democratic development,” but because of the older demographic structure of Russia’s population, there is little appetite for radical changes in any direction. But there is support for moving things in the right direction and the regime recognizes this.

            “Russia will thus evolve both under the influence of societal demand and under the pressure of circumstances,” she says. To promote that, she argues, Russians should stay within the framework of the law, however difficult that sometimes is, and to work with GONGOs because “joint activity” is useful in putting pressure on the state.

            Many Russians and others have been attracted by this model and its optimistic forecast for the future, but one who isn’t is historian Pavlova who sharply criticizes both the model and the forecast and suggests that a deeper familiarity with Russian realities leads to a very different conclusion (

                The terms Schulmann uses, Pavlova points out, were developed in and for Western culture. It is not suitable for analyzing Russian reality now “because the course of Russian history after 1917 so radically departed from European/Western history that for its description is needed its own special terminology.”

            “In Russian culture everything is different than it is in Western culture: the Russian understanding of ‘the powers’ is not the Western state, ‘the multi-party system’ in Russia is not equivalent to that in the West, ‘elections’ in Russia are not Western elections, and the very term ‘law’ has a different meaning than law in the West.”

            The reasons such Western terminology has nonetheless found favor among many in Russia are two-fold, Pavlova continues.  It provides a basis for optimism, something a focus on the Russian tradition does not; and it allows Russian scholars to share their work without Western realizing how inappropriately their Russian counterparts are using their terms.

            Moreover, she concludes, the powers in Russia are delighted with such an approach: It promotes passivity by suggesting that everything is going to work out well and that the population should just wait for that to happen rather than taking any steps on its own to change the situation.

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