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THE SILOVIKI UNDER PUTIN’S PRESIDENCY

DPE Ortak Kuruluşu

By Damla İrem Üstüntaş

Democracy in Russia is a topic that has been questioned and researched by both academicians and the world for a long time. This debate’s main reason is that even though the political system in Russia is a democracy, the way the country ruled is an authoritarian regime that has less allowed voice and freedom of exchanging ideas among people. The system is more like a hard authoritarian or soft dictatorship rather than an effective democracy and the elections that are made are not harmonious with the democratic values and these values are not followed by the authorities. Illarionov also discusses the political regime types and he states that there are three types which are democracy, authoritarian, and dictatorship. According to him, Russia represents the hard authoritarian regime or soft dictatorship since there can be opposition but it is almost impossible for them to come into government or become more powerful than the siloviki.[1] The government especially under Putin’s rule and leadership is more likely to be based on a loyal and powerful group who are called the “siloviki”. The siloviki are not just a group that is emerged under Putin but it is also a fact that in Putin’s ruling times they are stronger than ever and cause more influence on Russian politics and foreign policy. The siloviki have a long history that goes back a long time that they are also going to exist for a long time. That is why what is discussed in this paper is the siloviki and its influences on Russian politics with a close look at Putin’s presidency.

To understand the influences of a political group that are consists of political elites, one should understand the meaning of the siloviki in a detailed way since the concept refers to a group which is consists of the most powerful elites in Russia in terms of economy, politics, and energy. Looking at Russian politics it can be said that the siloviki are existed due to the strong and militant tradition that comes from the military background and this aggressive military background also path way for offensive foreign policy instead of a defender strategy. As Russia is a country that has attached importance to the military and made its biggest investments to the defense industry since Soviet times, it is not surprising that the elites that have the most power in the country still consists of people who took or are taking an active part in the military especially KGB. Even Putin himself is coming from a KGB background and he was a KGB agent in his youth. From my point of view, this background tells so much about the Russian politics’ tendency to Realism because just like in the realist theory, Russia has the tendency to be offensive rather than cooperative with the other countries and they do not trust any other nation rather than their own while giving less importance to the democratic values, fair elections, international law, and human rights. There is also huge importance that is giving to the power and being the most powerful nation of the world as if it is not, other countries can threaten them. That is why the level of democracy is too low concerning these powerful elites that are called the siloviki. It is also very crucial to understand Putin’s leadership as according to Bremmer and Charap, understanding Putin himself is to understand Kremlin policy. They even stated that understanding Kremlin’s policy is called Putinology.[2]  Besides, according to the Bush who is one of the old presidents of the U.S., figuring out the sense of the man’s soul can provide reliable information for the U.S. strategy and politics, so looking Putin himself can provide valuable information for the game of the politics in the long term. With especially Putin’s rise to power in Russian Federation, the literature and scholars mostly regard Russia as correlated with different types of power structures. As even if the constitution legally states that the Russian Federation is a democratic republic country, the executive is mostly regarded as an autocracy especially with Putin after the 1990s. This can especially be seen by looking at Putin’s long-time leadership in the country as with the elections that took place in June 2020, the rule of Putin in the country paved way for Putin to stay in the power until 2036.[3] Some scholars called Putin a lifetime leader. In addition to Putin’s stay in power, the other key element as is mentioned before is the oligarchs that are called the siloviki in Russia as they support the power of Putin and they are highly loyal to the executive while they also have a strong place in the Russian economy and politics, so it can be said that the loyal silovikis’ strategic positions enable Putin to even more powerful. The Russian political development is mostly associated with the military and security personnel which refers to the siloviki. This group also enables scholars to question democracy in Russia as the group is motivated by different values that are based on loyalty instead of fairness and no opposition group can take place in the strategic positions for Russia. With the rapid privatization after the collapse of the Soviet Union, businessmen who are close to the presidents become even stronger and wealthier than in the past and they started to influence the political matters as they have a certain power that helps them to show their side and make themselves heard. Therefore, oligarchs emerged and they achieved considerable power under Putin’s presidency. However, as there are lots of different intentions among the businessmen and the siloviki, it cannot be said that the group is always making decisions that can benefit all group, as they still have personal gain and interests such as profiting more than other members among the group. There is also the point that they all want to rank higher positions by time, so there is also a race among the group that can change the group’s dynamic. The conflict in the siloviki makes them vulnerable in some ways and this is also caused by the hierarchy that is existed in the group, as they do not value democratic matters, they also highly believe in the ranking among people in the group.[4] Not all of them can be the most powerful member as there should always be a ranking that determines who is going to follow the orders and who is going to command. As there is no equality and homogeneity in the nature of the group, they consist of three groups in themselves which are core, secondary and tertiary groups.[5]  The most powerful group is the core group and they are much closer to the center so that they can benefit from the privileges more. Their relations with president Putin are very good. After the core, secondary and tertiary groups can enjoy privileges but it is a bit lesser than the core. Looking at the groups, Ivanov, Patrushev, Sechin can be considered as the core group and the most powerful ones in both the politics and economy. From my point of view, this conflict and the slippery ground also cause some limitations for Putin’s direct control. The siloviki are not only existed in the executive but they also dominate the business companies, non-governmental organization, and the media, so it is even harder to control what is impartial from the government and the president. The siloviki have many aims that share one common point and it is making Russia even more powerful and greater in the international era. Thus, while analyzing the siloviki with the help of this common point, it can also be said that they are economic nationalist who believes that the resources that Russia has only belongs to the Russians. For this reason, there is also less entrance to the economy of Russia by foreign-owned companies. As they have the power in economic matters, they have also a high influence in agenda-setting and policymaking. However, as it is stated before the group has some inside conflicts, there are also some main shared beliefs, policy preferences, and goals that they have in common. Firstly, this nationalist group promotes a continued consolidation in the politics and economy of Russia as according to the siloviki, there are much more fundamental elements such as order and stability than democratic values and civil society that a strong country has. Thus, to become more powerful and centralized, the government must exercise more power in every strategic sector and era to play a decisive role in determining the country’s future. Strategic sectors such as energy should not be in the hands of foreigners and the domestic producers should be protected. The siloviki also aim at restoring the greatness of Russia on the international stage and to provide this, they do not trust NATO allies as NATO undermines the power and sovereignty of Russia. They regard NATO as an external threat to both their existence and the country’s future. For this reason, they mostly come from a military background which also led to more integration into the military, continuity in a strong army, and military capabilities. The siloviki also shared the belief that the former Soviet States should be integrated with Russia again. Moreover, as the group itself is a nationalist group in every aspect they are also conservative, so they view the Russian Orthodox Church as a very crucial element in the county’s politics and public life, and as it can be observed Putin himself has also very close relations with the church since this has an enormous impact on his image. For the nationalist approach, it can also be said that the siloviki are not in favor of immigrants and they support anti-immigrant policies, especially towards Muslims. While analyzing and understanding these aims, it can also be seen that to reach them, there is a need for strong allegiance, loyalty, strict discipline with some special training-apart from normal citizens because their motivations, skills, mentality are different. This is also the reason for the siloviki to use force against other people. They even use force against those who are the siloviki in case of unloyalty as there is a strong emphasis on obeying superiors. There is no enforcement of law but there is the enforcement of power. These aims, motivations, and skills also enable them to have many distinctive privileges in society. For example, the siloviki can carry and use a weapon in the public and they can also enter into any private or public place and territory that they want with some special card.[6]  Thus, in a way, they regard themselves as the rightful bosses in the society that are superior to normal people. This aggressive and superior mood that they have is not only for the society but is also reflected in Russian politics and foreign policy. There are aggressive and militant behaviors and tendencies towards other countries especially towards their neighbors as they are more likely to embrace Realism so that they can be safe while becoming the most powerful nation. They tend to give more importance to the military capabilities instead of cooperation and international values as they think that these can endanger and threaten their existence and power. So, they are likely to declare war or solve their problems by using force. This is especially seen in the violent behaviors that were related to Ukraine events most recently. The reason for the siloviki to resort to the use of power immediately when encountering and opposition or possible threat is also about some rational motive that is very related to psychology since they think that by behaving more violent to others who do not share the same interests with them, they inhibit and lessen the oppositions. Thus, in the end, they are able to reach their aims without showing more effort and struggling with lots of opposition due to fear that they release. That is why their tendency causes a distraction for them to acquire their interest more easily.[7]  Looking at the siloviki’s inside dynamics it is mentioned that they have both common aims and different interests, so they are in both conflict with each other while they are trying to reach their biggest common aims. The power that they have mostly comes from the economic factors as they are the owners of the fundamental sectors in Russia. For this reason, it cannot be said that Putin has all power as the loyal group also has a considerable amount of power that helps Putin to stay in power. This is especially about the political side of Russia as without the siloviki the opposition groups or parties can have more chance to become government and come into power. However, with the existence of such a loyal and influential group even if there are oppositions, it is still hard for them to be the government. Illarionov also discusses that the formation of the siloviki is very similar to Nazi and Shah’s Iran. The difference that the siloviki is separated from them is being more systematic and powerful as they also have a substantial amount of political power. That is why the Russian case is totally unique.[8]

To conclude, the siloviki is a very significant distinctive group in Russia and they have some beliefs and purposes for the sake of the government as well as their special private interests. They rule strategic sectors. They have lots of privileges as well as power especially under Putin’s presidency but this does not mean that Putin is the only power in Russian politics. The siloviki are also very influential in determining the politics, foreign policy, and political economy as they are deeply entrenched in bureaucracy. That is why understanding how much the siloviki is influential is very significant to map the Russian political development, especially under Putin. By looking at major events in Putin’s presidency it is seen that siloviki dominance in administrative bodies gives rise to more assertive foreign policy. Russia’s position in Ukraine, Chechnya, Syria, and most recently Libya can be the most prominent examples of the interventionist approach taken in the Kremlin.[9]  Looking at Putin’s era, it can be said that Russian Federation has become more anti-democratic, statist, and imperialist.

REFERENCES

Bremmer, Ian and Charap, Samuel. “The Siloviki in Putin’s Russia: Who They Are and What They Want,” The Washington Quarterly, 30:1, 83-92. Accessed January 21, 2021 doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/wash.2006-07.30.1.83.

Chadwick, Lauren. “Russia referendum: All you need to know on the vote that could

see Putin stay in power until 2036.” Euronews. Accessed January 19, 2021.

https://www.euronews.com/embed/1113522

Derinova, Anna. “Who Rules Russia?” Central European University, 10 March,2013. Accessed 21 January, 2021 doi: https://www.e-ir.info/2013/05/22/who-rules-russia/.

Illarionov, Andrei. “Reading Russia: The Siloviki in Charge,” Journal of Democracy, Volume 20, Number 2, April 2009, pp. 69-72. Accessed January 20, 2021 doi: https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.0.0066.

Staun, Jørgen. “Siloviki versus Liberal Technocrats: The fight for Russia and its foreign policy.” Danish Institute for International Studies 9, 2007.


[1] Andrei Illarionov, “Reading Russia: The Siloviki in Charge,” Journal of Democracy, Volume 20, Number 2, April 2009, pp. 69-72. accessed January 20, doi: https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.0.0066.

[2] Ian Bremmer and Samuel Charap, “The Siloviki in Putin’s Russia: Who They Are and What They Want,” The Washington Quarterly, 30:1, 83-92, doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/wash.2006-07.30.1.83.

[3] Chadwick, Lauren, “Russia referendum: All you need to know on the vote that could see Putin stay in power until 2036.” Euronews, accessed January 19, 2021.

[4] Bremmer and  Charap, “The Siloviki in Putin’s Russia: Who They Are and What They Want.”

[5] Bremmer and  Charap, “The Siloviki in Putin’s Russia: Who They Are and What They Want.”

[6] Andrei Illarionov, “Reading Russia: The Siloviki in Charge,” Journal of Democracy.”

[7] Anna Derinova, “Who Rules Russia?” Central European University, 10 March,2013, doi: https://www.e-ir.info/2013/05/22/who-rules-russia/.

[8] Andrei Illarionov, “Reading Russia: The Siloviki in Charge,” Journal of Democracy.”

[9] Staun, Jørgen. Siloviki versus Liberal Technocrats: The fight for Russia and its foreign policy, p. 81.

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