GDP PER CAPITA
(World Bank 2014)
FREEDOM HOUSE RATINGS
Freedom in the World (2016)
Freedom on the Net (2015)
Freedom of the Press (2015)
Corruption Perceptions Index
As Russia’s paramount leader since 1999, President Vladimir Putin has led the country down the path of increased authoritarianism, which has intensified following the disputed 2011 parliamentary elections that triggered a mass protest movement.
Photo: Kremlin.ru/Creative Commons
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been the country’s paramount leader since 1999. Under his rule, high energy prices have served as a cushion against social and political unrest, but a lack of reform or diversification of the country’s economy has left the country dependent on oil and gas revenues.
Following the fraudulent 2011 parliamentary elections and Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012, the regime has cracked down on civil society and dissenting voices with increasing ferocity. The mobilization of civil society and the revival of opposition politics following the elections has triggered an even more comprehensive crackdown by the Russian authorities. During this time, the regime has adopted a far more repressive approach domestically, while pursuing a disruptive revanchist policy beyond its borders. Large investments in international media have given the authorities an instrument to shape and confuse narratives beyond Russia’s borders.
Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons
The Russian authorities fear that a successful democratic transition on the Russian Federation’s borders might inspire a contagion effect. As a way of preempting the success of the most reform-minded countries on its borders, Moscow has encouraged “frozen conflicts” that destabilize democratic progress in places such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. Russia’s rising ambitions and deepening illiberalism pose a growing threat to the rules-based order, especially in Europe, but not limited to it.
- INTERNAL CHALLENGES
During Putin’s first two terms as president, the Russian economy benefited from a sharp increase in commodity prices. However, this recovery stood on weak foundations: the Putin regime’s failure to diversify the economy or improve the business climate left Russia dangerously dependent on energy prices. When those prices plunged at the end of 2014, some analysts speculated that this “performance legitimacy” would crumble, bringing long-repressed discontent to the forefront of Russian politics.
Russia’s already rampant corruption has grown in recent years. In the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, corruption helped drive costs to over $50 billion, making Sochi the most expensive Olympics ever held. Reiderstvo, or corporate raiding (the illegal seizure of a business, often assisted by agents of the state), seriously impairs the climate for entrepreneurs and investors. This endemic corruption drains public resources that would otherwise be available for sorely needed investments in healthcare, education, and other social services.
- AUTHORITARIAN COOPERATION & LEARNING
Russia is a global leader in civil society restrictions. In 2012, Putin signed a law requiring all NGOs receiving foreign funding to register with the Ministry of Justice as a “foreign agent.” These and other restrictions have made civil society’s work increasingly difficult, and similar restrictions are becoming more common worldwide. Over the past decade, restrictive civil society laws adapted from existing Russian legislation have proliferated across the former Soviet Union. In Kyrgyzstan, for instance, recent restrictions on NGO funding and LGBT rights have borrowed extensively from Russian laws.
Similarly, Russia has shared its Internet surveillance system with Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member-states to facilitate intelligence-sharing and persecution of political activists.
- SUBVERTING THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM
As it creates new authoritarian structures, the Putin regime simultaneously works within existing international institutions to subvert democratic norms, practices, and institutions. By advocating for state control of the Internet, Russia actively subverts the governance framework that has kept the Internet free and open. Acting through the SCO and Interpol, Russia has also subverted norms against refoulment of political refugees.
In the Commonwealth of Independent States, Russia has supported pseudo-election monitoring groups willing to rubber-stamp flawed elections to provide a veneer of legitimacy to other authoritarian regimes in the region. Inside the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia has worked to significantly weaken election monitoring efforts. In Hungary, Greece, and many other EU states, the Kremlin funds far-right and far-left Eurosceptic groups, which aim to sow division with the European Union.
Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union has sought to provide an EU-alternative for countries on Russia’s periphery; today, Russia’s economic crisis has left that organization’s future in doubt. Outside of Eurasia, Russian diplomacy has bolstered the economies, militaries, and international standings of authoritarian regimes including Venezuela and Egypt.
- MEDIA MANIPULATION
Russia has been at the forefront of the effort to create new methods of media manipulation. It has invested in a sophisticated set of modern media controls which defund and marginalize opposition media, portray Russia as under siege from a decadent, decaying West, and restrict Internet freedom through censorship and surveillance.
Abroad, Russia supports its military invasion of Ukraine with an all-out information war: state news agencies RT (previously Russia Today) and Sputnik receive hundreds of millions of dollars to distort narratives and fabricate news in multiple languages. These Russian-funded media outlets draw on a network of shadowy analysts, fake think tanks, and a legion of paid online trolls to cloud debates over Russian politics and foreign policy.
- RESURGENT DICTATORSHIP
Russia’s economic fundamentals are in tatters. Given the policy oriented toward the creation of the “Russian World” set forth by Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin’s adversarial foreign policy and political repression seem set to worsen.