Two decades after the end of communism, the ‘state of democracy’ in Russia remains a point of vivid debate within academic circles. There’s no lack of concepts to describe the nature of the current regime: ‘managed democracy’ (Lipman and McFaul, 2001), ‘Potemkin democracy’ (Clarck, 2004), ‘forms without substance’ (Brown, 2009), ‘phony democracy’ (Sakwa, 2008b), ‘facade democracy’ (Rutland, 2003), ‘democracy’s doubles’ (Krastev, 2006), ‘imitation democracy’ (Shevtsova, 2007), etc.
All of them point in a certain extent to the same conclusion: although formally and constitutionally Russia could be labelled as a ‘democracy’, in practice and in substance it just isn’t. A real democracy is hampered by the existence of an informal ‘regime level’ operating around the Kremlin which has been dominating Russian politics for the last fifteen years (Willerton, 2010: 230). This regime level is considered to be largely free from genuine democratic accountability, and is succumbed by fluid ruling groups or ‘factions’ (Sakwa, 2008a: 136-38).
While there has already been done much work in identifying and describing these different groupings or factions, much less attempts have been made to theorise their composition, the relationship between the faction-members and their institutional position within the formal state structures. An exception to this is the recent work by Richard Sakwa (2010, 2011) in which he defines Russia as a ‘dual state’ with a formal constitutional order (the normative state) and a second level of informal, factional politics (the administrative regime).
However, Sakwa limits himself to giving a broad definition of these factions and to locate their position within his concept of the dual state. In this essay a first, modest, attempt will be undertaken to theorise the structure and composition of the Kremlin factions and to devise a corresponding model. Yet, this will be no ‘tabula rasa’ operation. We believe much can be learned by looking over the fence to other countries, because as it comes to ‘informal politics’ Russia is no isolated case.
Contrary to Russia, theories about factionalism in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has already been widely discussed, with a first contribution dating back to the 1973 pioneering article of Andrew 1 Nathan, A Factionalist Model for CCP Politics (Nathan, 1973). His contribution was followed by some responses in the 70s and 90s, all widely inspired by and based upon Nathan’s first article.
In 1995, in a co-authored essay with Tsai, Nathan enhanced his model by making it more apt for ‘transplantation’ to other cases (Nathan and Tsai, 1995). We will also base our analysis upon the work of Nathan, because his analysis tries to describe the patterns how factions organize, how their institutional patterns affect their patterns of behaviour, and this “regardless of the culture in which they operate” (Nathan and Tsai, 1995: 158).
This is contrasted by the alternative analyses of his critics: although Tsou states that his concept of informal politics could be refined “through further empirical and theoretical testing” for example by “examining [factional] politics in some other country selected for its comparative value” (1995: 102), his and others’ alternatives (Tsou, 1976, 1995; Dittmer, 1995; Pye, 1995) are based upon and explained by Chinese historical and cultural factors.
Nathans’ work, especially his most recent ‘new institutionalist restatement’ (1995) on the other hand is much more usable for ‘transplantation’ to our Russian case, because it isn’t based on ‘Chinese exceptionalism’. Before we start, we need to go over the structure of this essay. First, we start with providing a short outline of the contemporary factions in Russian politics, where we will try to distinguish the different characteristics of factional membership. Next, we discuss the nature of the relationship between faction members.
Finally, we locate these informal groupings within the Russian institutional political context, which comes down to analysing the relationship between informal politics and formal institutions. This will make it possible to devise a model of the structure of the Kremlin faction.
- Distinguishing the Kremlin factions What distinguishes one faction from another? This is a rather complicated question as there’s no consensus on what criteria should be taken into consideration: a survey of relevant literature reveals that the number and names of the factions tend to differ in almost every analysis.
- We can identify three different groups of criteria determining the membership of a faction: worldview/ideology/strategy, background/affinity or opportunism/hybridism. Firstly, factions share a certain ideology or worldview, or at least the same strategic goals. For example, the ‘democratic statists’ in Sakwa’s analysis, have a particular view about how democracy should work in Russia. As they are the constructors of the concept of ‘managed’ and ‘sovereign’ democracy, they oppose the free flow of political pluralism and instead promote a more statecontrolled and technocratic approach to civil society (Sakwa, 2011: 124).
The (neo-)oligarchs or the (remnants of the) ‘Family’, are oriented towards a laissez-faire market economy without strong interference by the state (ibid: 123). The siloviki are clear statists. They see it as their mission to fix the problems the oligarchs created (Treisman, 2007: 145), therefore favouring the consolidation of political power (proposing a strong state with strong state institutions, defending Russia’s sovereignty, restoration of Russia’s greatness on the international stage) and economic power (a strong role for the state in the economy, proposing state control over key industrial sectors) (Bremmer and Charap, 2007: 89).
The Economic liberals and technocrats are (compared to the other factions) stronger supporters of the rule of law and concentrate on macroeconomic stability and keeping credibility with the West (Treisman, 2007: 146). Secondly, members of a certain faction are also bound together by ‘kinship’, ‘affinity’ or ‘common background’. Kinship must not be understood as ‘family ties’ or other types of clanstyle relationships.
This nuance is also made by Sakwa (2011: 103), who states that (quoting Collins, 2002: 142): “clans have their roots in a culture of kin-based norms and trust (… ) in which actual or notional kinship based on blood or marriage forms the central bond among members. ” In this context, the notion of kinship implies (old) ties obtained in previous bonding experiences such as educational ties (e. g. the Law Faculty of the Leningrad State University binding the ‘St Petersburg liberals/lawyers’) or organizational links (e. . KGB and other ‘power structures’ uniting the siloviki, or the business-world for the ‘oligarchs’). Yet, this factor is not always decisive in determining the membership of a faction. Bremmer and Charap for example argue that the siloviki are “united more by outlook and interests than by background” (2007: 86). For example, head of the Audit Chamber, Sergei Stepashin as a former chief of the FSB is not aligned with siloviki (ibid: 86).
Sergei Bogdanchikov, head of state-owned oil giant Rosneft is one of the most powerful siloviki, yet he has never served in the silovye strukturi (ibid: 86) and neither has former Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, which was a key member of the siloviki, while also being a ‘remnant’ of Yeltsin’s ‘Family’ (Sakwa, 2011: 121). Similar question marks can be put behind the names of Mikhail Fradkov (former head of the Foreign Intelligence 4 Service), Sergei Sobyanin (former head of the presidential administration), Sergei Ivanov (former Defence Minister and 1st Deputy Prime Minister) and Vladimir Yakunin (president of the Russian railways company). Sakwa makes a distinction between the narrow concept of siloviki, only implicating those with a background of the force structures, and a broader application encompassing “people allied to them with non-security career structures” (2011: 121), but argues that in general it is rather the unity in strategic goals which distinguishes factions from each other (ibid: 104).
Thirdly, apart from worldview and kinship, there are also a lot of ‘hybrid patterns’. Some individuals are – depending on the analysis – considered to be part of multiple factions. For example, Chairman of the Management Committee of Gazprom Aleksei Miller is sometimes called a Petersburger (Sakwa, 2011: 97), but also a silovik or state-oligarch (ibid: 338) or even a member of the ‘technocrats’ (Bremmer and Charap, 2007: 85). Vladislav Surkov is considered to be a technocrat according to Staun, while at the same time having a past within the ‘Family’ (2007: 27-30) when Sakwa on the other hand calls him a democratic-statist (2011:124).
The reason for these different ‘labels’ can be explained by two factors: the individual opportunistic behaviour of faction-members or the change of factions themselves. Certain individuals can align themselves with factions out of opportunism: to preserve and secure their position or to obtain promotion; or because of their recruitment as ‘outside experts’ by the factions such as Viktor Zubkov (former Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister), Sergei Lavrov (Foreign Minister), or the ‘Medvedev associates’ (Aleksandr Konovalov, Anton Ivanov, Chuychenko) (Willerton, 2010: 36-9).
In this last case the line between ‘faction-member’ and ‘not affiliated’ is very thin and debatable. In that manner, the hybrid membership of Surkov could be explained by his initial affiliation with the oligarchs as member of the board of directors of Menatep Bank from 1992 to 1998 (which was created by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and had a controlling stake in his oil-company Yukos) after which he turned his back against Khodorkovsky and got recruited by the presidential administration. This gave him the label of a ‘technocrat’ being deputy head of the administration.
From that position he became the architect of the ‘managed’ and ‘sovereign’ democracy project and became Putin’s personal ideologue. This has put him in a category together with other political technologists and hence created his current identity as a ‘democratic statist’ (Sakwa, 2008c: 4-5). Next to this personal factor, also the “temporary and situational character” (Sakwa, 2011: 104) of factions can explain hybridism as factions and tend to change over time. In this context, Treisman for example talks about the rise of a group of ‘silovarchs’, with which he refers to a merger between the siloviki and the business 5 orld. He explains that the expulsion of the oligarchs by the siloviki during the Putin presidency, resulted in a new type of business elite springing up in the space vacated by the departing oligarchs (Treisman, 2007: 141-42).
A similar process has found place within the group of remaining oligarchs, such as Vladimir Potanin, Roman Abramovich or Mikhail Fridman, who decided (in order not to be brought to court and put out of business) to obey the dominating siloviki and their ‘strong state’ programme and thus have become so-called ‘state-oligarchs’ or a ‘neo-oligarchy’ (Tompson, 2005; Sakwa, 2011: 123-24). . Determining the relationship between faction members A second important question is how we can qualify the nature of the relationships between faction-members: is it purely a hierarchical and professional relationship, following the hierarchical position of the official functions the faction-members? Nathan’s point of departure in Chinese Communist Party (CCP) politics is a clientelistic relationship between two people.
Clientelism has to be understood here in a broad sense and not the a narrow sense where it implicates a relationship between politician and voter where the former delivers services and goods to the latter, in reward for delivering him his mandate. Here, clientelistic ties refer to wellunderstood, although seldom explicit, rights and obligations between both partners with a constant exchange of rewards or services (Nathan, 1973: 37). This exchange relationship can develop into a ‘shared corporate membership’ or ‘complex faction’, but these complex networks historically fall back on an initial clientelistic tie.
Leader Yet, the question is whether in our Russian case, the relation between faction members could also be qualified as ‘clientelistic’, in the sense that it implies a vertical or hierarchical patron-client relationship. In his reaction on Nathan’s work Tang Tsou criticises his solely vertical relationships and adds that besides clientelistic leader-follower ties, there are also personal “horizontal and quasi-horizontal ties (… which are just as important” (Tsou, 1975: 100). For this reason both Tsou and also Dittmer prefer to speak of a broader category of ‘informal relationships’, and informal politics rather than Nathan’s factionalism, not only because it is more inclusive, but also because it highlights the relationship between formal and informal organization which will be discussed in the next part (Tsou, 1995: 98; Ditmmer, 1995: 2-3). We do agree with these arguments, but for the sake of ease, we will stick to the concept of factionalism, nclosing Nathan’s hierarchical concept clientelistic ties as well as more horizontal types of relationships. Nathan’s later work, co-authored with Tsai (1995) provides more clarity about the relationship between faction-members, with providing a typology (Table 2) where he distinguishes between their ‘bases of association’ and ‘patterns of communication’.
Hence, according to this typology, factions are be based on a ‘noded dyadic pattern’, in which “communications are transmitted through a network of two-person links, but are disproportionately routed through certain individuals, who thus stand at the foci or nodes of the network. Groups with this communications pattern are likely to have unclear membership boundaries. Yet they are internally differentiated, since the persons standing at the communications nodes have greater power and are perceived as leaders” (1995: 173). For a complete analysis and description of Nathan’s typology of political organizations and groups, see Nathan and Tsai, 1995: 175-80. 8 Yet, we should keep in mind that our Kremlin factions are no ideal types as presented in Nathan’s typology above, and that “[categories] are not mutually exclusive” (ibid: 172). Factions as the ‘oligarchs’ and siloviki are the consequences of a corrupt lobby of big business in the government, respectively an old boys’ network of ‘securocrats’ recruited by Putin and his associates.
we see some mixes between the pure factionalist model, or the exchange-based noded model (type 15) and the old boys’ network, or the communitybased noded (type 7) on the one hand and the corruption networks or exchange based network (type 16). An example of the former (15-7) could be the siloviki and the latter (15-16) could be the oligarchs/family, while the above-mentioned silovarchs (Treisman: 2007) seem to be a merger between all of the three types (15-7-16).
The consequence of these mixed type of factions has repercussions on the nature of the relationship between faction-members, which cannot be considered anymore as purely dyadic leader-follower relationship, but rather networkbased horizontal or quasi-horizontal relations based on mutual loyalism, with the possibility of one or more factional leaders who have a dominant position. Description hen individual turns for cooperation to one or more people with whom he or she shares a tie of race, religion, caste, region, or the like. In the West called an ‘old boys’ network’ network of two-person links, disproportionately routed through certain individuals, who thus stand at the foci or nodes of the network. unclear membership boundaries. are internally differentiated, since the persons standing at the communications nodes have greater power and are perceived as leaders open network of corruption, form of political action when used by a disadvantaged minority to obtain access to government of ials Example Siloviki Silovarchs Corruption Networks (type 16) Oligarchs (descriptions based on: Nathan and Tsai, 1995: 177-80) 2 Similar reasonings could be made for St Petersburg associates, based on old relationships at university or the Sobchak administration. 9 3. Locating informal factions within a formal state structure The hierarchy and established communications and authority flow of the existing organization provides a kind of trellis upon which the complex faction is able to extend its own informal, personal loyalties and relations. Nathan, 1973: 44, own emphasis) Within the CCP factionalist debate, the above phrase is probably the one which is quoted the most. Tsou valued the significance of this observation since it treats the existing formal organization as a pre-condition, rather than a product of the development of informal groups, and because it raises the problem of the relationship and balance between formal structure and informal groups (Tsou:, 1976: 100): to what extent is the organization of factions dependent on the formal state structures, and to what extent are informal institutions ‘capturing’ the formal ones?
According to Dittmer, “the relationship between formal and informal politics is fluid and ambiguous” because “informal groups are often absorbed into formal structures, and formal structures in turn operate with a great deal of informality” (1995: 14). In a same way Nathan and Tsai (1995: 164-65) argue that formal and informal behaviour almost always co-exist. It may be useful to distinguish analytically between the formal and informal aspects of the behaviour of factions within state structures, but one is unable to conclude whether informal or formal politics is ‘dominant’.
Taking this into consideration, we believe that we can – analytically – illustrate the effects of formal institutions on informal politics and vice versa. First, if we consider the formal aspects as ‘independent variable’ and treat informal politics as our ‘dependent variable’, we can make two conclusions: formal institutions are a prerequisite for the organization of informal factions, and (therefore) formal politics constrain and shape factional structure and organization. Factions need formal institutions. As Dittmer completes Nathan’s ‘trellis thesis’: “formal norms serve as a gate-keeping function, defining who can play” (1995: 17).
Without a formal position a faction has little to no leverage and this also means that a faction can be destroyed by removal from formal positions that enables them to extend their formal relationships and loyalties (ibid). But this also means that factions have to operate from within formal institutions. In that context, Sakwa (2010, 2011) argues that contemporary Russian politics must be conceived as operating within a dual state. One where there is a constitutional order (the normative state), which is democratic and liberal of nature, but where at the same time a 10 collection of informal groupings and relations, i. e. he factions, operate (the administrative state). This behaviour is not strictly illegal but rather “para-constitutional”: they “operate within the institutional constraints while subverting its spirit” (Sakwa, 2010: 185). While the political space of the normative state is filled up by formal institutions as parties and the parliament, the domain of the administrative state is populated by several competing factions (Sakwa, 2011: 94). According to Tsou (1995: 102) and Sakwa (2011: 105) this competition is constrained by formal institutions and strong political leaders which inhibit the possibility of ‘rampant factionalism’.
The practice of para-constitutionalism (Sakwa, 2010: 194) deserves special attention. Sakwa provides a list of key institutions which are victim of such subverting practices, such as the establishment of the polpredy, the seven administrative federal districts that were installed in 2000 on top of the regions to ensure that the will of the president was enforced in the regions3. This new institutions soon became an operating base of siloviki: five of the seven ‘presidential envoys’ were generals and among their deputies 70 percent had a past within the military or security services (Kryshtanovskaya and White, 2003: 300).
As a result, the political participation of the regions was strongly hampered, and going against the spirit of the federal constitution. But second, there is another side to this story. Sakwa tends to treat factions only as ‘accommodating informal institutions’ as defined by Helmke and Levitsky (2004: 725): where they behave in ways that “alter the substantive effects if formal rules, but without directly violating them; they contradict the spirit, but not the letter, of the formal rules” (ibid: 729).
Apart from this dominant para-constitutional behaviour we also believe that factions partly could be considered as ‘competing institutions’: apart from a legal way, factions sometimes act in a way that clearly violates the law, and commit themselves to practices as clientelism, patronage, fraud, bribing and corruption, but find themselves in a position of impunity (as long as factions and their members not turn their backs against each other) (ibid). This second view, is one where we have taken informal politics as our ‘independent variable’. Other institutions involved in similar para-constitutional practices are the State Council , the Legislative Council , the Presidential Council for the Implementation of National Projects and the Public Chamber (Sakwa, 2010: 194). 1A model of factions’ structure Having identified the criteria to distinguish different factions, analysed intra-factional relations and their modus operandi within formal state institutions, we now can provide a provisional model which should represent the structure of Kremlin factions.
According to Tsou (1995: 107) formal politics is best represented as a hierarchical pyramid, while informal politics is best represented by a “spider’s web with the ‘core’ at the centre and with a series of irregularly shaped concentric circles linked by a series of irregularly shaped radii”. Taking these two coexisting situations together could result in a model as presented in Figure 2 which tries to grasp our concept of dual relationships of formal hierarchy and informal loyalty. The colour of factionmembers indicate their common ideology or strategy.
Factions may control from within one or more so-called ‘support structures’ (based on Nathan, 1973: 40) or power-bases, such as corporations, banks, armies, ministries, industries, etc. These of course refer to the background or kinship (certain) of faction members. For reasons of clarity we have not tried to demonstrate so-called ‘hybrid patterns’. The higher one finds himself at the hierarchical structure, the more formal power he possesses, for example ‘person 1’ has more formal power than ‘person 2’.
Yet persons who operate as a ‘informal communication node’ (recognizable by the intensity of informal ties) have a stronger informal power base (for example, ‘person 2’ has a stronger informal power base than ‘person 1’).
In this essay we have tried to theorise the structure of the Kremlin factions. We have distinguished factions on the basis of strategy/ideology and background/kinship, yet we also discovered a lot of ‘hybrid patterns’, explained by factional change and/or personal career moves. The nature of intra-factional relationships seems to be a mix between an ‘noded dyadic patterns’, with old boys’/relationships’ and corruption networks, and differs from faction to faction. Factions are operating within formal state structures, as they are essential for political access and thus for survival.
As a consequence factional behaviour is constrained and shaped by formal institutions, yet at the same time factions can change the intended substantial effects of state structures by subverting their spirit. Besides that, activities of factions could also be illegal, such as corruption, clientelism or bribing. The final model that was presented could serve as a start to examine intra- and interfactional behaviour and struggles. Here a central question could for example be be whether systemic balance-of-power theories could explain inter-factional behaviour.
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