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Thu. February 02, 2023
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IA-Forum Interview: Thomas Remington
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International Affairs Forum: A new poll by the BBC shows a majority of people in G-7 nations think Vladimir Putin has hurt democracy in Russia. Is this a fair assessment? Thomas Remington: Of course he has. That's patently clear. Since Putin's been in power, he has systematically dismantled checks on the executive branch. He has strengthened the power of the presidency and centralized power in central government, taking it away from the regions. So all independent sources of power - from the media to Parliament to the judiciary to civil society - have all been systematically weakened as potential sources of destabilization to Putin. IA-Forum: The same poll showed he has overwhelming support in Russia. Why such a difference in perceptions? Remington: The question of how much support he has is interesting. Public opinion polls seem to show very high levels of support and I tend to believe that. I suspect this support is contingent on no adverse events now or in the future. If there were, Putin's reputation would suffer. But the overwhelming belief among close observers of Russia is that Putin's high approval ratings are associated with the restoration of order, prosperity, rapid economic growth, predictability, stability, international prestige, etc. He's done a great many things that ordinary citizens have to be grateful for. Real incomes have indeed increased, unemployment has fallen, poverty has fallen. So he is given credit, whether justifiably or not, for an economic recovery and really a recovery of political order. IA-Forum: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has said it is going to boycott next week’s election. Do you think Putin has any regard for such criticism from overseas? Remington: Yes. The OSCE has sent observers to many countries to ensure that elections are free and fair. And they need to send delegations that are appropriately sized, sent far enough in advance so they can observe media coverage, reaction to opposition, and the like. So, in the Duma elections in December and the presidential election coming up Sunday, the OSCE was not able to reach an agreement with the Russian Central Election Commission which allowed them to do an adequate job of observing the elections. The Russians do care to some extent about world public opinion, but not at the expense of forcing them to make concessions. Right now Russia's taking a fairly belligerent stance in which the authorities are saying “we're going to do democracy our own way.” Still, at the margins, yes, Russia's leadership does care about international prestige. Putin has made clear he wants to be included in international decision making bodies. It was very important, for example, for him to have Russia in the G-8 and for Putin to be able to host the G-8 in St. Petersburg a couple of years ago. So the idea of respectability in the eye of world public opinion is important to Putin. Not so much though that he would in any way relinquish or allow anything to jeopardize his hold on power. IA-Forum: Is there any chance the expected winner, and Putin choice, Dmitri Medvedev will have any influence of his own? Remington: I think we're entering a very uncertain time now where Medvedev will in fact have the position of president; and formally under the constitution the president does have enormous power. So I have the feeling that there may be, not an immediate, but a gradual conflict that will develop between Medvedev and Putin. Putin will presumably become head of government. The head of government formally does not have the ability to build up a power base that the president does. So I suspect with time, one of the two men will vacate the scene, and the other will emerge as a president with full power. IA-Forum: So you think Medvedev is going to stay Putin’s course then and not try to stir things up too much? Remington: It depends on the outcome of the power relationship between the two. Medvedev is considered to come from a relatively liberal, if you will, pro-market somewhat technocratic wing of the Putin entourage. Putin and Medvedev have given speeches saying they recognize the need for serious reform in order to get Russia on the track of innovating the economy and not being dependent on its energy resources. So it might be that between the two men they're going to shift policy back towards reform. IA-Forum: Russia’s opposition seems like it’s in a bit of a shambles. Is there any chance in the near future it can regroup? Remington: Yes, I think that with time the democratic opposition wing- not so much the nationalist or communist oppositions- will regroup. I think you're looking at a few years, but I think especially there are businesspeople that are going to want a more orderly and well-governed state and they're going to back a pro-market liberal party. Thomas F. Remington is Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Political Science Department at Emory University. Among his publications are two books on the Russian parliament: "The Russian Parliament: Institutional Evolution in a Transitional Regime, 1989-1999" and "The Politics of Institutional Choice: Formation of the Russian State Duma" (co-authored with Steven S. Smith).

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