Special issue of Post-Soviet Affairs: "State, Business, and the Political Economy of Modernization":
Østbø, Jardar (2021): "State, Business, and the Political Economy of Modernization: Introduction." Post-Soviet Affairs. DOI: 10.1080/1060586X.2021.1969732
This special issue is dedicated to the workings of Russia’s political-economic system, theorized as a limited access order (North, Wallis, and Weingast 2009): under Putin, Russia has been ruled by a coalition of elites that have refrained from 1990s-style violent infighting because of common unwritten rules on resource distribution. This arrangement is now under strain. The political climate domestically and internationally has changed, resources are shrinking, and the rules for rent distribution are more unclear, all of which increases the infighting. In order to generate growth while retaining political stability, a new agreement on the future course has to be reached by three main elite groups: politically connected big business, leading security services officials, and the top bureaucracy (see Andrei Yakovlev’s article in this issue). The implications are of fundamental concern to the viability of the regime and the Russian “system” writ large. This special issue analyzes the evolution and prospects of Russia’s limited access order and offers case studies of attempts at institutional innovation, its response to social unrest, technology-driven change, and systemic obstacles to technological (and thereby economic) development.
Yakovlev, Andrei (2021): "Composition of the Ruling Elite, Incentives for Productive Usage of Rents, and Prospects for Russia’s Limited Access Order." Post-Soviet Affairs. DOI: 10.1080/1060586X.2021.1966988
Vladimir Putin’s personal popularity creates the base for sociopolitical stability of regime. However, in the long term, the aspirations of Russia’s elite for national sovereignty will come to naught without anew economic development model. Applying the “limited access orders” framework of North, Wallis, and Weingast, this essay analyzes the interactions among three key groups in the ruling elite; the top federal bureaucracy, politically connected big business (oligarchs), and heads of security forces (siloviki). It considers the evolution of rent sources in Russia during the last 25 years and the incentives of elite groups. Itargues that under dominance of siloviki after 2012, the ruling coalition could not negotiate anew agreement on rent distribution, nor could it broaden access to economic opportunities and political activity for new social groups. Russia’s ruling elite missed the opportunity to avoid adeep shock that will likely destroy the existing “limited access order”.
Schulmann, Ekaterina & Mark Galeotti (2021): "A Tale of Two Councils: The Changing Roles of the Security and State Councils During the Transformation Period of Modern Russian Politics." Post-Soviet Affairs. DOI:10.1080/1060586X.2021.1967644
There is general agreement that both the Security Council and State Council are significant institutions in Putin’s Russia, but less clarity as to what this means, beyond that each provides opportunities for consultation with specific segments of the elite. Even this modest consensus was confounded in 2020, when both councils seemed to offer potential post-presidential roles for Putin himself, and underwent significant changes. This article describes the legal and administrative evolutions of both bodies, assesses their roles, and considers them from the perspective of a limited access order. It tackles the problem of institutions in undemocratic systems and the thin line between the decorative elements of the political system, and the bodies in which real administrative power is vested. We argue that they have a significant informal role as sites for the negotiation of power and resources and remain potential actors in the ongoing power transformation of the Russian political system.
Flikke, Geir (2021): "Dysfunctional Orders: Russia's Rubbish Protests and Putin's Limited Access Order." Post-Soviet Affairs. DOI: 10.1080/1060586X.2021.1968219
How do regimes based on limited access orders respond to socially driven discontent? What are the drivers of contentious politics in a state where the authorities assert control over society? This article analyses patterns of protest, repertories, and organization of the “rubbish protests” (musornye protesty) – a phrase coined by the Internet news outlet Zona Media during the Moscow region protests of 2018–2019. The article draws on social movement theories to explain mobilization, framing, and regime repression, and engages with the model of limited access orders to flesh out the specifics of interaction between social protest forces and the Putin regime. Finally, the case is used to tentatively classify the Russian regime as a “dysfunctional” order – where grievance communication and petitioning to the head of state evolves from being an opportunity to being curtailed by bureaucratic red tape and political repression.
Østbø, Jardar (2021): "Hybrid Surveillance Capitalism: Sber’s Model for Russia’s Modernization." Post-Soviet Affairs.
The article identifies a new model for Russia’s modernization, emerging among the “systemic liberals.” Offering politically neutral technological fixes, this model cannot be understood within the traditional democracy/authoritarianism dichotomy. Expanding on Shoshana Zuboff’s theory, the author calls the model hybrid surveillance capitalism. The case study is the transition of Sberbank to a tech company. Sberbank/Sber aims to be the main modernizing force, leading Russia to a better future. The author “reverse engineers” this modernization model by analyzing what the company actually does and how it frames its actions. A commercial company, but with state support and majority ownership, Sber competes with the state and even performs de facto state functions. Its search for profits and influence leads not only to an ever-increasing collection of data that are used to modify people’s behavior, leaving an ever-shrinking space for individual agency and even politics, but also to a new model of governance.
Kluge, Janis (2021): "The Future Has to Wait: 5G in Russia and the Lack of Elite Consensus." Post-Soviet Affairs. DOI: 10.1080/1060586X.2021.1967071
Although the rollout of 5G in Russia has been much anticipated by both businesses and the government, progress in the introduction of the new standard came to a standstill by 2021. Key elite groups in business, the federal bureaucracy, and the security apparatus (the siloviki) have failed to agree on the rules for 5G. Major sticking points in the debate are the distribution of radio spectrum, the operators’ business model, and the degree of import substitution for 5G equipment. This article examines the bargaining among different elite actors over the new mobile communications standard. The foundering introduction of 5G illustrates a more general lack of agreement among Russia’s elites about the future direction of Russia’s economy. Negotiations are complicated by shrinking resources, the relative strengthening of the siloviki, and unrealistic aspirations to economic sovereignty in the digital sphere.
Academic Journal Article
Østbø, Jardar (2021): “Strategic Transgressions: Russia’s Deviant Sovereignty and the Myth of Evgenii Prigozhin.” Demokratizatsiya. The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization 29 (2), pp. 183-207.
This article is the first academic study of Russia as a “rogue state.” From a moderately constructivist perspective and relying on Nincic’s distinction between primary and secondary deviance, it examines the paradox that Russia demonstratively violates some norms of international relations while insisting on the primacy of international law. After reviewing the literature on rogue states and deviance in international relations, I outline the disagreements between Russia and the West on state sovereignty. In a depoliticized world, Russia’s insistence on Westphalian sovereignty is increasingly considered deviant or criminal. Officially, Russia protests this process. Unofficially, Russia actively defies it by dealing with warlords, supporting dictators, and projecting a criminal image. Key here are business structures that are allegedly linked to the infamous businessman Evgenii Prigozhin, the myth of whom conveys a message that Russia is the global master of “deviant sovereignty.”
Academic Journal Article
Galeotti, Mark (2021): “The Silovik-Industrial Complex: Russia's National Guard as Coercive, Political, Economic and Cultural Force.” Demokratizatsiya. The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization 29 (1), pp. 3-29.
The creation of the National Guard (Rosgvardiya) in 2016 represented a striking reorganization of Russia's public order and internal security forces, suggesting a growing concern on the part of the Kremlin that it might need to deploy force onto the streets. It also created a powerful new institution with political, business and even cultural ambitions, one that uses its coercive muscle to capture new economic opportunities. As such, its emergence and evolution can be used to assess not only the coercive capabilities and intent of the regime, but also why and how bureaucratic structures compete, seek to build empires, and extend their influence into new domains. In particular, it offers insights into the continued importance of horizontal politics in a system too often conceptualized in purely vertical terms.
Academic Journal Article
Østbø, Jardar (2020): “Dignity Promotion and the Revenge of Honour: Security and Morality in Russia-West Relations.” Journal of Extreme Anthropology 4 (1), pp. 198-226.
This article argues that the West’s neoliberal “dignity promotion” in other parts of the world is counter-productive and leads to the resurgence of a primordial culture of honour, a concept too often an ignored in international relations research. The author shows how the West has hijacked and neoliberalized the concept of dignity to include abstract notions of individual freedom and, above all, property rights and free trade. The concept of dignity is thus deprived of any social content. The strategy of dignity promotion, i.e. the effort to spread the idea of every individual’s inherent, inalienable worth, is based on the conviction that this will lead to a more secure world. However, sociological and anthropological research on moral cultures and honour has shown that security shapes moral cultures, not the other way round. The rise of dignity culture in the modern West was possible only when security, including social security, was provided. Conversely, honour dominates in insecure environments and resurfaces quickly when security disappears. The case study is Russia, where radical neoliberal restructuring in the early 1990s led to an anarchic brutalization of society, giving rise to a widespread culture of honour in Russian politics. On another level, Western dignity promotion in the former Soviet Union, epitomized by its support for “colour revolutions”, is perceived as an affront threatening Russian security by damaging its reputation for resolve. Within the culture of honour, the only moral answer to this is aggressive counter-attack.
Academic Journal Article
Østbø, Jardar (2020): “Corrupt and Honorable, Gangster and Nobleman.” Cultural Politics 16 (2), pp. 171-191.
The Russian authoritarian regime is not necessarily immoral, but its morality shares characteristics with that of street gangsters—and aristocrats. As argued in this article, there are two competing moral orders in Russia—the culture of honor and the culture of dignity. The article presents the readers with a case study of General Viktor Zolotov’s challenge of the leader of the liberal opposition Aleksei Naval′nyi to a duel in September 2018. Seen through an analytical lens, this seemingly absurd speech act and its reception reveal the extremes in the spectrum spanning from the ideal-typical culture of honor to the ideal-typical culture of dignity, both of which are present in Russia today. The study points to the hidden reasons behind the failure of the rivals and their respective supporters to engage in a real mutual debate—each side employs moral arguments that make sense only within its respective moral order. The Russian public is divided, not only by political views, interests, class, or even values but also by morality. If we are to understand the Russian regime’s behavior internationally and domestically, it is important to recognize this rupture. After all, even the military and security service officials in the ruling elite, the author argues, to a degree share the moral culture of criminal groups but are strangers to the law-based moral culture of the liberal urban middle class—and vice versa.
Academic Book Chapter
Østbø, Jardar (2020): “The Sources of Russia’s Transgressive Conservatism: Cultural Sovereignty and Monopolization of Bespredel.” Ingunn Lunde and Irina Anisimova (eds.): Cultural is Political: Intersections of Russian Art and State Politics. Bergen: Slavica Bergensia, pp. 14-36.
In this contribution, I offer a novel explanation of this contradiction of transgressive conservatism by looking beyond the allegedly weaponized postmodernism and short-term pragmatic calculations of a power-hungry regime. I argue that the phenomenon is, most of all, rooted in Russia’s experience of neoliberal reforms in the anarchic 1990s, and the subsequent restoration of order, drawing on criminal culture and methods. To this end, I combine two theoretical approaches to sovereignty which have been so far largely kept apart. Namely, that of political science/international relations (particularly Carl Schmitt) and that of cultural theory/anthropology (particularly George Bataille). Using examples from Russian domestic politics and foreign policy, I show why and how Russia, by its very transgressions, seeks to uphold a traditional concept of sovereignty.