Monday, August 19, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘There is No State in Russia,’ Gontmakher Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 19 – “In place of a state as an institution,” the Russian Federation has “a gigantic and uncontrolled private structure which is successfully diverting profits to its own use,” according to Yevgeny Gontmakher, who argues that “the most immediate task of [Russian] society is to restore a state in Russia.”

            In an article on, the deputy director of Moscow’s Institute of World Economy and International Relations argues that Russia is rapidly being converted into “a failed state,” albeit one very different from the usual list of such countries in this category who are poor and lack political institutions (

            Russia in contrast to those states has “a strong centralized power,” “functioning institutes of economic and social life” and a relatively well-off population, but Gontmakher argues that “our country in its current situation unfortunately has begun” to take on some of the key characteristics of this group.

            “Above all,” Gontmakher says, “there is no state in Russia.”  There is “a certain structure in which millions of people who call themselves bureaucrats work,” but they do not perform the function that a state is supposed to perform: they do not work to achieve the interests of the population that chose them.

            In present-day Russia, he continues, “there isn’t even a pale copy of this mechanism of the formation of the state,” as any examination of its key parts quickly shows.  The parliament has in fact “become yet another department of the Presidential Administration and the apparatus of the government,” doing what they want rather than what the people are asking for.

            The situation with regard to the executive branch is no better.  Although there are no more bureaucrats in the Russian Federation than there were in the entire USSR, they collectively “have acquired the character of an extremely large monopolist business structure which can do anything it likes.”

            These institutions, which most call the state out of politeness, control “no less than 50 percent of the economy.” A large segment of the profits of this sector go not to help the population but into the pockets and offshore accounts of the bureaucrats and their political bosses.

            As a result, “even with the current high oil and gas prices, one can see economic growth [in Russia] only under a microscope, and in the immediate future, according to even the government’s own experts, we will not see any growth.”

            But what is worse is that despite the enormous income coming into the government as a corporation, few of these public funds have gone to meet the needs of the population.  If that were not the case, Gontmakher says, “we would live in a completely different way: pensions would be at a minimum twice as high, free health care would be a reality, and the number of orphans in children’s homes would be reduced to a minimum.”
            Income differentiation would also be reduced.  At present, Russia is “a world leader in the inequality of distribution of wealth.  The richest one percent of Russians have 71 percent of all shares” in the economy, far higher than the world average of 46 percent. And it leads the world in terms of concentration of wealth among the top five and the top ten percent as well.

            “A responsible state could not in any case allow such a situation,” the Moscow commentator says. The population would be furious, and its representatives wouldn’t stand for this.  But in Russia, the population has been willing to tolerate this up to now, although Gontmakher suggests, its tolerance is fraying.

            He adds that the state in Russia “is not functioning in yet another sphere: law enforcement.” Corruption in the police is “so obvious” that people don’t talk about its existence any more but only about its size and the way it distorts law enforcement and about the way corruption forces top officials to intervene in what should be local incidents.

            Consequently, Gontmakher concludes, it is long past time to talk about “gosudarsvenniki” [“state people”] as Vladimir Putin and his supporters do in ways that no longer deceive either them or others and face up to the more critical and ultimately more important task of “restoring a state in Russia.”  

            Otherwise, he implies, Russia will acquire some of the other characteristics of failed states, with the horrific consequences that would have for that country and the world.

            (For a consideration of some of these consequences, see my article, “Russia as a Failed State: Domestic Difficulties, and Foreign Challenges,” Baltic Defense College, 12:2 (2004): 76-83 at

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