By Paul Goble
Many people, including the author of these lines, have argued that since 1991 Russia has been close to being a failed state and that Moscow’s policies in large measure reflect an effort to overcome that danger. (See my “Russia as a Failed State,” Baltic Defense College 2(2004): 76-83 at bdcol.ee/files/docs/bdreview/bdr-2004-12-sec3-art3.pdf.)
But now Russian financier Sergey Romanchuk says that there is no such thing as an institutionalized state in Russia at all. Unlike in a state, the president of ACI Russia says, there is no center where information is gathered, decisions made, and then those decisions enforced consistently across the country (blog.newsru.com/article/22feb2019/gosudarstvo).
The financial leader’s comments come in response to the confused and even counterproductive Russian treatment of Michael Calvey,the American banker who heads Baring Vostok, behavior that suggests there is no controlling center, and to the conclusion that this is the case by Moscow political analyst Aleksandr Morozov.
Morozov observes that most specialists on Russian politics long ago concluded that Putin has no policy planning staff (facebook.com/amoro59/posts/10213591450925080). That is certainly true, Romanchuk says; but he adds that Morozov doesn’t go far enough: Putin doesn’t have a state at least in the normal sense
Instead around the Kremlin leader is a congeries of people constrained by no institutions and acting often on their own or on understandings of what they think Putin wants. Sometimes they are right; sometimes not; but there is absolutely no controlling set of institutions to ensure consistency. Such institutions are called a state, and the Russian land doesn’t have one.
These Russians insist that they are a state, and foreigners who come from countries which have governments and state institutions are inclined to accept that claim because they find it difficult to imagine a situation in which no set of institutions is controlling of decisions and outcomes, both men say.
On the one hand, their arguments may strike many as a playing with definitions. There area many kinds of states, and there is no reason to assume that all states must operate in the same way. But on the other, what Romanchuk and Morozov are saying is critically important: Russia has a governing circle but it doesn’t have state institutions.
In the name of erecting a power vertical, Putin has undermined or even completely destroyed the state institutions however weak that existed in Russia before he came to office. Now, there is a situation with Putin and his favorites acting without constraints – and that certainly suggests that the judgment Russia does not have a state is not farfetched.
At the very least, it should alert others who deal with Putin and his team that they are not dealing with a state like any other modern one but rather with an archaic kind of mafia rule in which all the arrangements and rules of modern states have been thrown aside in the name of elevating him to supreme power.
But this understanding should also alert these same people to something else: Because Putin and his mafia have no state institutions to rely on, when they do collapse as they certainly will, their collapse will be far more radical and dangerous precisely because there are no institutions to soften the blow
That is the danger Russians and the world now face: it is one they should begin to think about how best they can respond.