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  • Author: András Rácz
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The destabilization of Ukraine and the possible escalation of the crisis have presented a direct security risk to the Visegrad countries - Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary - particularly concerning military security, the potential interruption of energy transit, and the possible influx of refugees. These factors have forced the Visegrad states to show unprecedented unity and activism in addressing the crisis. However, regarding the possibility of sanctioning Russia, the Visegrad Group is unable to take a joint position. The main reason for this is that Russia does not pose a direct military threat to the region. Consequently the individual policies of the Visegrad countries towards Russia are defined by a constellation of geopolitical concerns, normative motivations, business interests and domestic political ambitions, which are decidedly different in all four cases. Domestic political motivations, such as the will to increase domestic legitimacy, and concerns over the economic effects of sanctions, obviously influence the foreign policy actions of the Visegrad governments. However, Viktor Orbán of Hungary was the only one to break the Visegrad solidarity on Ukraine with his domestically-motivated remarks in May 2014 and demanding autonomy for Hungarians living in the Trans-Carpathian region. As most normative, business and domestic political motivations are of a lasting strategic nature, it is highly likely that the general incoherence of the Visegrad region regarding Russia will prevail.
  • Topic: Security, Politics, International Security
  • Political Geography: Russia, Ukraine, Poland
  • Author: Maria Nozhenko
  • Publication Date: 09-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Debates on nationalism acquired a great deal of significance in Russia in the summer of 2013, with the activities of right-wing nationalists increasing during this period too. Modern Russian nationalism has its roots in anti-immigrant sentiments, mainly as a consequence of failed nation-state building in the post-Soviet period. Most right-wing organisations are marginalised, with membership and support relatively low. But the anti-immigrant ideas which these organisations propagate currently enjoy high levels of support in Russian society. Over the past eight years, the activities of right-wing nationalists have been largely limited to 'the streets', due to the lack of opportunities open to nationalist parties to participate in electoral processes. The prospects for Russia's right-wing nationalist organisations will depend on the regime's approach to 'illegal' immigration, but also on the state's overall policy towards right-wing nationalism. Three scenarios are seen to be possible at this juncture: 'marginalised nationalists', 'underground nationalists', and 'incorporated nationalists'.
  • Topic: Nationalism, Politics, Immigration
  • Political Geography: Russia
  • Author: Sinikukka Saari
  • Publication Date: 11-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Many in Russia have expressed their disappointment with Putin's decision to run for a third presidential term.They claim that Putin is becoming the new Brezhnev and that the stability he was once praised for bringing about in Russia is now turning to stagnation. Cynicism and disillusionment with the Putin regime seem to be becoming more widespread in Russia. Ever-increasing corruption, lack of the rule of law and political competition as well as lack of innovation and dynamism in the economy all reinforce the general feeling of pessimism. One would expect that the weakening legitimacy of the regime would lead to vocal demands for change. However, this is not the case in Russia, where several historical, political, structural and sociological conditions make wider popular protests unlikely. The tragedy of today's Russia seems to be that the regime is too weak to reform itself, yet simultaneously strong enough to prevent viable alternatives to its rule from gaining ground. Despite the likelihood of a negative future trajectory, Putin's Russia seems set to drag on.
  • Topic: Corruption, Politics, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Russia
  • Author: Katri Pynnöniemi, Sinikukka Saari
  • Publication Date: 01-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The political system that Vladimir Putin established during the first decade of the 2000s is often referred to as 'the power vertical'. The term suggests a stable, streamlined and effective centre-led system. Yet, this image does not quite correspond with Russian reality. The system creates inefficiency, encourages corruption and is hostile towards bottom-up political initiative. The current leadership acknowledges that Russian stability is on shaky ground and therefore the system is in need of modernization. The economy is clearly a priority for the leadership: it believes that the political system's modernization should emerge gradually and in a highly controlled fashion from economic achievements. The current system in Russia is hostile to innovation and prone to corruption and therefore Medvedev's modernization plan is unlikely to succeed unless transparency and open competition within the system are considerably enhanced. This will be difficult to achieve because the elite benefits from the current corrupt and non-transparent system where the lines of responsibility are unclear. The West should not expect dramatic changes and radical liberal reforms in Russia. Western actors should, nevertheless, actively support and encourage economic and political reforms in the country and engage with it through international cooperation on specific issues such as anti-corruption policy. By stepping up its engagement with Russia, the West can demonstrate that a prosperous, competitive and modern Russia is also in the interests of the West.
  • Topic: Democratization, Politics, Power Politics
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Asia
  • Author: Sirke Mäkinen
  • Publication Date: 06-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Stability has not been characteristic of the Russian party system: political parties have appeared and disappeared between the federal elections, both politicians and the electorate have changed their affiliation, and legislation regarding political parties and elections has been amended. During the 2000s, the party system has also undergone significant changes. Both the changed political culture and the creation of Putin's power vertical have required – and enabled – a stronger control of the party system by the executive power. We can even argue that the most important actor in the party system is the executive power and, in particular, the presidential administration. The parliamentary tool in the hands of the executive power is the United Russia Party, which received the majority of the seats in the State Duma in the last two elections in 2003 and 2007, and thus ensured a smooth process for adopting the bills prepared by the president, the presidential administration or the government. Economic growth and the popularity of Mr Putin have secured the survival of the current party system as part of the power vertical but now, with the consequences of the economic crisis and with a president more liberal in his rhetoric than his predecessor, there are expectations, and even some signs, of the liberalization of the party system.
  • Topic: Democratization, Politics, Governance
  • Political Geography: Russia
  • Author: Vadim Kononenko
  • Publication Date: 12-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The global financial crisis has had both an economic and a political impact on Russia. Inasmuch as Russia's political system is infused with business interests and economic considerations, the crisis presents an external and unexpected challenge to the system in terms of rocking the balance between the elite groups. In effect, the crisis calls into question the assumption that the economic and social stability of the Putin years has been successfully sustained during Medvedev's presidency. The Kremlin's response to the rapidly changing situation has been essentially conservative and geared towards strengthening the regime rather than addressing the challenges stemming from the crisis. The anti-crisis measures that are being taken reveal that the government is relying on its finance reserves as the ultimate means to solve the problem rather than reforming state institutions. The president, the government and the key business groups have yet to define the terms of their relationship in the new situation. The plans to increase state control over companies as a means of tackling the crisis are problematic and likely to lead to an intensification of the struggle between the elites. At the same time, as the state takes on even more responsibility, the question of its efficiency becomes more pertinent in the crisis conditions. The return of Vladimir Putin as president remains uncertain despite the constitutional change initiated by Medvedev. His return becomes more probable if the crisis lingers and the overall situation worsens, thus prompting the return of the “national leader” to the driver's seat. The crisis alone cannot lead to major political or social turmoil or a regime change, but it nonetheless presents a major challenge for Russia in the short-term perspective. Ultimately, the outcome of the crisis will depend on how well the incumbent leadership is able to maintain a balance between tackling the crisis and protecting its own interests and legitimacy.
  • Topic: Economics, International Political Economy, International Trade and Finance, Politics
  • Political Geography: Russia
  • Author: Sinikukka Saari
  • Publication Date: 12-2007
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The Duma election and its results reinforce the prevailing undemocratic trends in Russia. The changes in electoral laws, the election campaign and its biased coverage in the Russian media, the Russian authorities' hostile attitude towards international election observation and the so-called Putin's Plan leave very little hope of democratic pluralism developing in Russia anytime soon. Russia's political system has been built gradually over the years. The system aims at controlling the competition for power and securing the political elite's interests. The system is characterised by non-transparent and manipulated political processes, misleading doublespeak on democratic norms, and the misuse of soft and hard administrative resources. Putin's overwhelming popularity does not compensate for the lack of democratic accountability. Likewise, his possible premiership would not strengthen parliamentarism in Russia because the decision is driven by instrumentalism towards political institutions. Instead, it would create a dangerous precedent for an ad hoc separation of power. Western actors should be more aware that the stability that Putin is often praised for bringing about is not build on solid ground, and they should change their policies accordingly. Promoting democracy – and thus longterm stability – in Russia is in western actors' interests.
  • Topic: International Relations, Democratization, Politics
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Asia