Regional and Domestic Policies of the Russian Federation
Recently, Russia and its actions on the international geopolitical arena have become in the limelight of attention both among governments from the entire world and the public. Perceptions of the Russian Federation and its president’s statements and policies differ depending on whether one supports or is critical about them. Thus, the current conflict in Ukraine has become a sort of a cornerstone that marks a shift in Russia’s place in the world and its relations with the US, the EU, China, and other major players of the international politics. The common view prevailing in the US and some other Western countries, as well as in Ukraine is that Russia is an aggressor and sponsor of terrorism. It does not allow resolving the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. The reason for that is Putin’s unwillingness to lose control over neighboring post-Soviet countries and attempts to turn Russia into a key superpower based on its military potential. Whereas, Russia and its supporters claim that this country is a global and regional peacemaker. Thus, it seems essential to present a brief overview of the current regime, legislative councils, as well as foreign, regional, and domestic policies of the Russian Federation with a view to gaining better comprehension of its role in the world and current events.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Russia has entered a stage of political regime evolution that has drawn the attention of countless scientists and researchers attempting to predict its future. Boris Yeltsin laid the foundations of the current regime that were later developed and transformed by Putin and his political heir, Medvedev. Hence, Putin’s regime till the recent times were deemed as a sort of a political hybrid attempting to create “a unique fusion of conflicting elements: of tradition and postmodernity; of autocracy and democracy; of the market and state control; of partnership with the West and a rejection of Western values” (Shevtsova, 2006). It is supposed that Vladimir Putin was the one who finalized the creation of the hybrid political system based on the following principles: strong power of the executive branch and its dominance over all other branches; state capitalism; the subjugation of corporate interests to the ruling elite; weakening of oligarchs; lack of cohesive and coherent political opposition; elimination of political opposition; establishment of puppet political parties; the personal cult of the president; aspirations to restore the country as the world superpower; interference with regional and international affairs; state control of the oil and gas industries as the main sources of funds for the ruling elite; and censorship of the media (Shevtsova, 2006).
The aforementioned regime prevalent in Russia for 12 years before the start of the third presidency term of Putin is often referred to as “managed democracy” (Liik, 2013). Such a model allowed the ruling elite to prosper and manipulate the masses in non-obvious ways by gaining their support thanks to a steady improvement of the living standards and constant appeal to instituted ideology. The latter was heavily based on the so-called ‘glorious Soviet past and might.’
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Though Russians started showing dissatisfaction with Putin’s regime, his support remained rather high due to the lack of viable alternatives in the political arena. Furthermore, the regime was threatened by economic problems since the Russian economy has always heavily depended on oil and gas revenues. However, after the world has started developing new alternative sources of energy and exploring shale oil and gas reserves, the ruling elite of Russia witnessed a real possibility of losing its key source of funding. This prompted to change to the regime ideology in 2011, marking the end of managed democracy and setting into motion current events, including the annexation of Crimea and conflict in Ukraine. Thus, the new regime has been shaped since 2011, losing its features of the managed democracy “that co-opts elites and coaxes voters into supporting the regime with a merry-go-round political system and artificial parties” and becoming “a crude system that relies on more or less implicit threats, blackmail, and control” (Liik, 2013).
Moreover, the current regime relies significantly on censorship and power of the mass media that tend to distort facts by enhancing propaganda of the so-called ‘traditional Russian values.’ Military strength has become a point of pride among Russians who believe in the ruling elite’s and mass media’s statements about real and imagined threats to the country’s well-being. Even recent sanctions have not managed to convince Russians that something in the regional and international policy of the county has gone astray so as to evoke such harsh reactions in the world. Overall, measures and actions of the current regime of Russia have proved to be successful since Putin’s support rates are extremely high. He holds almost unilateral control over all branches of power and dictates the country’s policies.
Legislative Councils of Russia
Legislative bills can be initiated in Russia by the President, both chambers of the Parliament, separate deputies, the Council of Ministers, legislatures of member-states of the Russian Federation, the Constitutional Court, as well as the Supreme Court and the High Arbitration court within their jurisdiction (Bogdanovskaia). However, the primary legislative body of the country is the Parliament, the Federal Assembly, which consists of two chambers, namely the upper chamber, the Council of the Federation, and the lower chamber, the State Duma (Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation). Moreover, member states of the federation have their own legislative councils that can adopt some local laws. Laws can be initiated by people after gathering 100,000 signatures in support of bills (Schulmann, 2015).
The Council of the Federation has two primary functions relating to legislative powers, namely to complete and decide on draft laws together with the State Duma and to take the legislative initiative and draft federal laws and constitutional laws in line with the Constitution (The Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation). Nonetheless, articles 102 and 103 of the Constitution prove that most powers of both chambers of the Parliament concern appointment and dismissal of various officials, leaving little room for their legislative capacities (Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation). However, there is an opinion that the Russian Parliament is an ineffective legislative council since the Constitution grants them conflicting and unreasonable powers (Grankin). Due to the lack of personal accountability of deputies elected under party lists, the overwhelming majority of laws drafted and adopted in Russia are approved by the President first. In case it does not happen, the President merely vetoes them, which proves inefficiency and dependability of the legislative branch on the executive branch.
Foreign Policy of Russia
The foreign policy of Russia has been supposed to undergo a radical change and shift from pro-European to pro-Asian orientation due to the recent events resulting in Russia-US confrontation. However, it seems that not much has changed as compared to previous years. In March of 2013, the document entitled “Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation” was published setting priorities of Russian foreign policy till 2018 (Gonzalez, 2013). Thus, the 2013 concept resembles a largely 2000 concept and 2008 concept by prioritizing the “safety of the country, protecting its territorial integrity and sovereignty, ensuring its standing position in the international community as one of the influential and competitive poles in today’s world” (Gonzalez, 2013). The 2013 concept emphasizes cooperation with the EU and the West in general, as well as the further establishment of ties with the East even though the latter is not as prioritized as the West. However, from the perspective of foreign entities, Russian foreign policy is now regarded as aggressive and even antagonistic since they suppose that “the current government in Russia may not appear to welcome a strategic dialogue with the EU or the West” (European Union Committee, 2015). Nonetheless, this position is refuted by Putin since he emphasizes the importance of “developing better relationships with Europe despite the U.S. attempts to destabilize that relationship” (Tsvetkov, 2014). Hence, the US is currently regarded as an evil enemy of Russia on the international geopolitical arena while the EU is deemed to be a vital strategic partner. Based on Putin’s speech on foreign affairs made in 2014, the US is a destabilizing factor of Russian-EU relationships, and that is the reason the relationships with the US are not going to get warmer any time soon (Tsvetkov, 2014).
Finally, “moral superiority” is going to become a new “basis of Russian foreign policy” that will be aggressive concerning participation in and prevention of serious conflicts such as the ones in Syria and Ukraine (Tsvetkov, 2014). However, there are several challenges faced by Russia in implementation of its foreign policy, including “the new direction of U.S. foreign policy” dictated by the Republican majority in the Congress, economic crisis, Chinese foreign policy, the EU’s united position on Ukraine, and the ISIS (Tsvetkov, 2015). Therefore, it is to be seen the way the policy is adapted to these challenges. In any case, Russians view their president’s foreign policy as successful according to the 2014 poll organized by the Levada Center (RT, 2014). Hence, 30% of respondents suppose that “strengthening of Russia’s position on the international stage” is a key success of Putin (RT, 2014).
Regional and Domestic Policy of Russia
According to the 2013 Concept of Russia’s Foreign Policy, its regional policy is going to prioritize the following: CIS, including CSTO, EurAsEC, Eurasian Economic Union, Ukraine, South Ossetia, Black Sea region, Caspian Sea region, and Euro-Atlantic region (Gonzalez, 2013). As evident from the recent events in Ukraine, it has become a focus of Russia’s regional policy, especially after the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which seems to be a part of Russia’s policy on strengthening its position in the Black Sea region. Moreover, Russia’s interference with Ukraine’s internal affairs has become a reason of various international sanctions. The ruling elite of the federation under consideration shows no signs of willingness to reach a compromise and restore peace in the region. Russia’s position on Ukraine is a clear sign to other neighboring countries. Therefore, they have to choose whether they want to be integrated into Europe or become a member of the Eurasian union headed by Russia, which is likely to result in the “fragmented neighborhood” in the region (Delcour & Kostanyan, 2014).
Domestic policy is marked with centralized control of the ruling elite over all sectors of the economy. Putin has strengthened his position by privileging a selected few from various sectors and getting rid of strong opposition or potential rivals (Kaczmarski, 2014). State censorship of the mass media enables manipulation of the public opinion and establishment of the highly patriotic and pro-Russian ideology, which negates most Western values and is anti-American. The annexation of Crimea and Putin’s stance on the Ukrainian issue have strengthened his position in the country.
Withal, Russia’s foreign and internal policies are characterized by ambiguity and dualism of an attempt to create a national ideology and pro-Western orientation regarding trade. However, it is evident that the current regime of Russia strives to create a new world order where the country would become a major player and a superpower. Moreover, Putin and his supporters seem to be convinced that Russia deserves the status of the superpower to be reckoned with on the international geopolitical arena due to its Soviet past and vast reserves of natural reserves. Therefore, it views the US as its main rival and does not foresee the warming of the relationships between the two countries. Current events involving Russia only prove such a position of the country’s leadership that does not want to lose influence on its neighboring countries hence trying to establish its dominance over other cooperating countries. Moreover, internal policy based on an appeal to patriotism and belief in the moral superiority of the nation serves as the foundation for aggressive foreign policy, which should be taken into consideration by international actors when dealing with Russia.