Following the collapse of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991 Russia emerged as a nominal democracy. Few expected Russias transition to democratic rule to be easy since the country lacked any democratic tradition. As expected, the transition has not been smooth and instead of the consolidation of democratic norms such as the rule of law, Russia has seen the resurgence of its more traditional authoritarian forms of governance. However, it has not entirely moved back towards a full-fledged authoritarian regime. Relatively free elections do take place, Russians are free to travel and some opposition is allowed. This has led political scientists to classify Russia as a hybrid regime. A hybrid regime is defined as containing elements of both democratic and authoritarian systems. The aim of the paper is to identify these contrasting elements. In the paper, it is argued that despite a specific transition to democratic power, the Russian political regime is more authoritarian than democratic.
In modern Russia, characteristic features of democracy have been becoming more evident. Foundations of the legal statehood are being built and foundations of the civil society are being created. There are mechanisms of direct democracy (referendums). Formally, the judiciary is independent of the executive authorities. In the economy, there is a free and competitive market with a variety of forms of ownership. There are independent media and communications. In recent years, laws that contribute to increasing the importance of political parties in the political life of the country have been adopted.
Moreover, a decisive step on the road to democracy is transition to an elective system for the formation of power. Free alternative elections are the main characteristic of the democratic regime in Russia. Voices of voters are the most important resource of the regime system. In modern Russia, a politician cannot build or win power without the use of votes as a potential. Other democratic features of the Russian political system include democratic values ??of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and existence of institutions of a democratic rule-of-law state and civil society. These characteristics show that the transition from totalitarianism to democracy has begun.
At the same time, the modern political practice creates institutions, which are formally democratic, but do not bear responsibility to the society. Thus, political parties maintain ties with the elite and mobilize ideological and political resources for the inter-elite struggle. The economy in Russia is developing according to the market laws in the absence of an effectively functioning market system, which is why entrepreneurs have been trying to use existing laws to gain independence from the bureaucracy in order to protect their personal and property rights. As the middle class develops, it will also strive to secure its property rights and personal freedoms in the system of laws. As a result of strengthening of the rule of law, the regime system gradually gives way to the democratic regime. To establish it, it is necessary that the confrontation of opponents ends with the voluntary acceptance by all parties of democratic norms and values and the agreement to institutionalize their interests within the new political system. At the same time, institutions of the democracy (parliament, courts, local self-governments) retain the ability to function independently and are the foundation for the transition to a democratic regime. Thus, political modernization in Russia towards full democracy has not been completed, but it has gone far enough in the creation of democratic institutions.
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Despite the beginning of democratic changes, there are specific authoritarian features that characterize todays Russian political system. Authoritarianism is inherent in traditions of the Russian society (Gelman, 2017, p. 7). The main characteristics of the authoritarian power in Russia include a sharp weakening of the political influence of regional elites and big business, establishment of direct or indirect state control over main television channels of the country, increasing use of the administrative resource in regional and federal elections, actual liquidation of the system of separation of powers, and formation of a non-public style of political behavior. The existing social order has deep roots in the domestic institutional and political-cultural tradition of monosubjectivity of power, i.e. concentration of power resources in one personified institution with strictly administrative functions of all other institutions. The existing configuration of the political power creates a specific situation, in which institutions of the state (the president and the Duma) do not really bear any responsibility for their activities (Sakwa, 2011, p. 210). The government that is appointed by the president can be dismissed at any time for reasons of political expediency. Since neither the parliamentary majority nor the parliamentary coalitions have the right to form a government, the struggle of parties in elections and the elections themselves are deprived of the sense that they are endowed in democratic states (Hale, 2010, p. 36). The victory of the party in the elections does not allow it to conduct the course that is stated in the program and the status of the State Duma does not allow to effectively control the executive power. Due to the fact that no party is able to implement its electoral program, citizens lose the main incentive to participate in election campaigns.
The new political regime is associated with the name of the new president and has begun to form after the presidential elections of 2000. Nevertheless, even before the elections, the political style of the new leader began to manifest, which to a large extent determined the methods of exercising power (Robertson, 2011, p. 147). Putins appearance demonstrated political independence and the presence of the superparty, persistently asserting the style of enlightened authoritarianism. Authoritarianism manifested itself in demonstrating the political will and determining the role of the new leader in nominating and approving all significant state decisions (Hale, 2010, p. 35). The desire of the regime to manage political contacts with business, solo on the party and media markets, control civil structures, etc. testifies that it has been trying to substitute the activity of all political partners with its own activity. According to Taylor (2011), Putin relied heavily on officials who had made their careers in law enforcement and military agencies (p. 36). As a result, the completely natural process of politicization of the state administration is transformed into a policy management process with the attendant interception of representation functions among the population and business, disregard for the opinions of civil contractors, and the inhibition of political activity of the society.
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These features of the authoritarian regime indicate the complexity of reforming a totalitarian organization in Russia. It lies in the fact that it is necessary to raise the level of remuneration of hired labor for its implementation, which requires extensive investments. At the same time, significant additional investments are needed to improve efficiency of the economy. To raise the level of investment into the economy for its modernization and to increase the remuneration of labor to the whole group of wage workers without large foreign investments is impossible. Therefore, reformed Russia requires a new and powerful system for mobilizing hired personnel, which should work better than under socialism, for much less pre-reform wages. Moreover, strengthening of authoritarian tendencies is promoted by such factors as the spread of terrorism, permanent increase in crime, conflicts, and instability of the situation within the ruling elites. In order to strengthen democratic trends in Russia, it is necessary to carry out reforms that have positive results for most people: reforms in the administrative and state apparatus, creation of conditions for the effective functioning of small and medium-sized businesses, pension reform, local government reform, health and education reform.
In conclusion, Russia combines elements of a democratic political system and authoritarian institutions and management practices. Russian political regime is more authoritarian than democratic. The authoritarian regime was reinforced after Putins coming to power. As a result, in Russia power is concentrated in the hands of the leader and is carried out with reliance on the bureaucracy and security forces. Thus, the specificity of the modern political system of Russia is the presence of proclaimed democratic values, while the country has not completed the transition from totalitarianism to democracy yet. The instability of the current situation hinders the processes of Russia’s democratization and creates conditions for strengthening of authoritarianism in the country.