Russia's Evolving Leadership: The Appearance of Democracy (part 5)
The first move is to strengthen the ruling party — United Russia — while allowing more independent political parties. United Russia already has been shifted into having many sub-groups that represent the more conservative factions, liberal factions and youth organizations. Those youth organizations have also been working on training up the new pro-Kremlin generation to take over in the decades to come so that the goals of the current regime are not lost. In the past few months, new political parties have started to emerge in Russia — something rare in recent years. Previously, any political party other than United Russia not loyal to the Kremlin was silenced, for the most part. Beyond United Russia, only three other political parties in Russia have a presence in the government: the Communist Party, Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. All are considered either pro-Kremlin or sisters to United Russia.
While these new political parties appear to operate outside the Kremlin’s clutches, this is just for show. The most important new party is Russia’s Right Cause launched by Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov. Right Cause is intended to support foreign business and the modernization efforts. The party at first was designed to be led by Medvedev’s economic aide, Arkadi Dvorkovich, or Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. However, the Kremlin thought that having a Kremlin member lead a new “independent” political party would defeat the purpose of showing a new democratic side to Russian’s political sphere. Prokhorov has rarely shown political aspirations, but he has a working relationship with the Kremlin. He clearly received orders to help the Kremlin in this new display of democracy, and any oligarch who survives in Russia knows to follow the Kremlin’s orders. The Kremlin now will lower the threshold to win representation in the government in an attempt to move these “independent” parties into the government.
The next part of the new system is an ambiguous organization Putin recently announced, the All Russia’s Popular Front, or “Popular Front” for short. The Popular Front is not exactly a political party but an umbrella organization meant to unite the country. Popular Front members include Russia’s labor unions, prominent social organizations, economic lobbying sectors, big business, individuals and political parties. In short, anything or anyone that wants to be seen as pro-Russian is a part of the Popular Front. On the surface, the Popular Front has attempted to remain vague to avoid revealing how such an organization supersedes political parties and factions. It creates a system in which power in the country does not lie in a political office — such as the presidency or premiership — but with the person overseeing the Popular Front: Putin.
So after a decade of aggression, authoritarianism and nationalism, Russia has become strong once again, both internally and regionally, such that it is confident enough to shift policies and plan for its future. The new system is designed to have a dual foreign policy, to attract non-Russian groups back into the country and to look more democratic overall while all the while being carefully managed behind the scenes. It is managed pluralism underneath not a president or premier, but under a person more like the leader of the nation, not just the leader of the state. In theory, the new system is meant to allow the Kremlin to maintain control of both its grand strategies of needing to reach out abroad to keep Russia modern and strong and trying to ensure that the country is also under firm control and secure for years to come. Whether the tandem or the leader of the nation can balance such a complex system and overcome the permanent struggle that rules Russia remains to be seen.
By Lauren Goodrich
"Russia's Evolving Leadership is republished with permission of STRATFOR."