Russia’s personalized power and democracy

Throughout its history, from Soviet Union to Russia, the government has often functioned under personalized power, including Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Putin. However, the previous two leaders played role in ideological effect, while Putin’s approach is more from political aspect and military control. As Shevrtsova argues, because Putin’s non-ideological base, his personalized power may not be persistent as those party leaders, and he secures it through “military-patriotic mobilization,” or even ethnic approach (178).  However, whether such personalized power hinders democracy is debatable. Russia has a multiparty system, elections, and democratic institutions, so its deteriorating signs of democracy may have other causes. In Shevrtsova’s explanation of things that make Russia system unique, she points out “tradition of personalized power and the lack of resistance”, its nature of militarized state, its empire system, and “its ability to concentrate resources and survive by devouring its own human potential.” (175) Personalized power only counts for one of these factors that alter Russia governance. I felt that although these factors are coexisting, the influence of personalized power is further exaggerated because of Russia’s uniqueness that there is a positive feedback loop among these factors. Therefore, as the personalize power may hinder democratic political system, other factors are likely to enhance the resistance. However, if one of these factor, such as change its war state, from the effort of its political elites, may diminish the support for Putin since its political image as strong man should be no longer attractive.

However, whether its economy will force the Kremlin to be more democratic and aligns with Western values is also uncertain. In 2014, in response to change Putin’s tack in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, Western countries imposed economic sanctions, affecting not only oil prices, but also its bank transfer (Roxburgh). However, in the same year, Putin and Xi Jinping signed the preliminary gas-supply agreement of almost $400 billion pact (Paton and Guo). This agreement lowers the price of import from other countries to compete with Russian’s supply, including Australia, Canada, the U.S. and East Africa (Paton and Guo). Economic sanctions were meant to restrict Russia’s behavior, and do not expect the interconnections between Russia’s economy and Western economy, yet the Western countries were being affected through the economic approach. Moreover, the harm of sanction seemed to go more direct to its people than to the government (Roxburgh). The approach that the rest of countries facilitate to change Russia’s state is really important to make Russia better serve its people. The image of Russia now from the Western perspective starts to get similar to that in the cold war age, such as Shevrtsova points out that Putin tries to “render Russia more demoralized that they were at the close of much longer Soviet age,” (181) and this image and corresponding polices did not went well for the people and global seecurity back then.


Shevtsova Lila. 2015. “Russia’s Political System: Imperialism and Decay.” Journal of Democracy 26(1): 171-182.


One thought on “Russia’s personalized power and democracy

  1. Comment: Emelie has asked me to take a look at her class’ blog.
    “Through its history, from Soviet Union to Russia, the government has often functioned under personalized power.” That is an excellent point. This is because of evolution, not revolution. Every one of us knows that democracy is still young. And we also know the change in cultural learning is slow. Also a good point is that Putin is non-ideological base. He is a materialist, believing in money and power. In other words, money comes from power, and power comes from money. When you have both, you are in a good shape. It looks that he is building himself into an object of hatred. People everywhere in the world demand a fair share of what world can offer, and feel they have the right to it. And more and more feel that democracy is the way to go. I can see the tenacity for Putin and other leaders to hold on to power through personalized power is fading in light of this world’s fast moving progress in technology.

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