One of the most lingering questions about Russian politics that dominates public discourse and media coverage is the future of political regime after the 2012 presidential elections. The answer to this question is inextricably linked to the extent of differences between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, how long their “tandemocracy” will last and what can bring about regime change as scarce critics of the Kremlin, from ultra-liberals to communists, have been haphazardly co-opted into the power system, leaving no political ambitions that they would not, in principle, be ready to abandon in return for proper compensation.
In sharp contrast to the views of many regional experts and commentators, the presentday Russian Federation is the world’s most anti-Soviet state. It is based upon a very different set of values: private ownership, dire individualism, the cult of money, a clan-based political system, and pervasive corruption at all levels of government. The North Caucasus ethnocratic elites, however, do not have access to abundant resources for sale, and are forced to look around for alternative sustenance, as rigid centralism and unification limit their rent-seeking capabilities. Alexander Khloponin, the incumbent presidential envoy in charge of the North Caucasus Federal District, seems to continue the policy of buying the loyalty of regional archaic clan-based elites that aggravates rather than improves the situation.
The paper addresses this puzzle: why, against rigorous rhetoric and demonstration of tight grip over the region, neither Putin nor Medvedev has real power to bring change to the North Caucasus? In an attempt to solve this puzzle, the paper examines the triadic relationship among central political elite, who benefited from the massive privatisation of lucrative segments of Soviet industry in the early 1990s, regional clan-based ethnocracy, and non-systemic religious opposition. Drawing on the works of Russian scholars and experts in Russian politics, the paper explores the hypothesis that on-going instability in the North Caucasus can no longer be explained by a well-known set of theories of ethnic violence, because it is carefully negotiated by regional and central political elite, who do not see the North Caucasus as an indispensable part of the Russian Federation and whose clan-based rent-seeking agendas have gradually driven Russian statehood into a complete dead-end. Instead of facing the real challenges that are addressed in this paper, it is only able to make a public show of action on the eve of crucial political campaigns: the 2012 presidential elections and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The paper concludes that the deep freeze in the Russian political system has exhausted its debatable potential for change through the existing tandem model of government with its obscure division of roles between two leaders. What we actually see is an imitation of political reform and the resulting degradation of the entire system of governance. Over the past century, Russian polity has never been as weak as today, because the only legitimate source of power in Russia is corruption.