Friday, June 11, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Republic Power Verticals Aren’t Stabilizing North Caucasus, New Study Finds

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 11 – Republic leaders in the North Caucasus have consolidated their personal positions through the construction of “power verticals,” but their efforts in that direction have neither increased their ability to solve social-economic “tasks” or promote stability, according to a new study.
And while the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Development study limits the conclusions of its 17,000-word study to that troubled region, many readers are likely to apply its findings that the power vertical of a leader may not help resolve social and political tasks to Russia as a whole (
The report’s basic conclusion is that “the consolidation of power does not correspond perfectly with an increase in its effectiveness in the resolution of social-economic and political tasks.” Some regional elites have build a power vertical without achieving much in those spheres, and others, without having constructed one, have made progress elsewhere.
Given that Vladimir Putin and other Moscow officials have pushed for the construction of a power vertical as a panacea for all the problems of the North Caucasus and not just there, this conclusion challenges one of the fundamental assumptions most Russian and Western analysts have made about the region and Russia as a whole.
As the authors of this study note, “it is customary” to treat the powers that be in the North Caucasus as invariably “bad,” “incompetent,” “corrupt, and incapable of resolving serious tasks.” Such “a stereotype,” they note, “has taken root even in expert circles” and has helped to provide support for those who argue that only a new power vertical there can work.
Moreover, the authors continue, it is generally assumed that because of these shortcomings in the regional elites, only an outsider can build such a vertical and bring order. But that assumption too breaks down, they argue, because some outsiders have been successful and others not both in building their own power verticals and in addressing local problems.
The study itself focuses on four times of effectiveness. First, “for the powers that be in a subject of the Federation, [effectiveness] is effectiveness in relation to society, in the administration of social processes.” Second, effectiveness is “effectiveness in relations with the center, which is especially important under conditions of centralization.”
Third, “effectiveness is internal effectiveness, which is defined by its own organization of administrative structures.” And fourth, effectiveness is “the achievement by bureaucrats and deputies of the key and narrow group tasks assigned to them by the powers that be and the use of the resources of power for these goals.”
If the first three can be measured more or less objectively, the authors of this study say, the fourth is very subjective. But they stress that it is important to unpack effectiveness in at least the first three ways in order to understand what is going on and to come up with effective policies to promote regime ends.
“In an analogous way,” they write, “the consolidation of power … is not an indisputable phenomenon. Its achievement is often converted into a goal in itself for many politicians. However, unconsolidated power is not necessarily a bad thing.” Indeed, it may allow for developments that the pursuit of power narrowly defined preclude.
In fact, the study concludes, “the striving for consolidation [of power] under Russian conditions often becomes a means for the realization of an authoritarian syndrome, of a striving to control everything and everyone,” an effort almost inevitably doomed to long-term failure whatever its short-term success.
Because their argument about “consolidated power” may seem counter-intuitive to many, the authors point out that “unconsolidated power can be effective if it is based on cooperation and partnership relations among autonomous centers of force,” as long as the competition among them is not conducted “with the use of force.”
The study’s authors provide a wealth of detail that supports not only these conclusions but others as well. First, they show that those regional elites which appear the most effective in satisfying Moscow may achieve the least in dealing with their own economies and populations, thus setting the stage for more explosions.
Second, they demonstrate that the maintenance of an ethnic balance within republic leaderships, something Putin and others have attacked, is often the best way to maintain stability and allow for development, even if it appears to be “a survival of the past” and even if correcting violations of it may spark other problems.
And third, and perhaps most important for the future of this region, the authors provide a wealth of evidence showing that as a result of the policies of building power verticals Moscow has pushed, “in the North Caucasus, a large potential for hidden dissatisfaction with the powers that be is taking shape.”

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