In the 20th century Russia began to adopt more democratic tendencies following the corruption of the Soviet Union, but in the 21st century Russia’s actions have sparked growing concern for a democratic decline. Especially recently, in light of current events, the world has seen growing tensions of a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces clearly provoked by the authoritarian tendencies of Vladimir Putin.
The Freedom House ranks Russia under an authoritarian rule of Vladimir Putin who was previously elected in 1999 as president, then elected as prime minister, and re-elected in 2018 to a six year term as president. Recent constitutional amendments give Putin the ability to run for another two terms as president, hypothetically ruling until 2036. Putin’s strategic hold on the executive branch of Russia (the Kremlin) and censoring of Kremlin propaganda has resulted in the disruption of free and fair elections, placing democracy in the country at risk.
According to Robert Dahl, an important aspect of democracy is the ability of citizens to form preferences, signify their preferences, and have their preferences weigh equally. These are all necessary for democracy to occur but are not sufficient by any means. But there is a great difference between public contestation versus the right to participate. So although Russia has universal suffrage, it is not sufficient because they lack a system of public contestation. To elaborate, Russia has a “subservient judiciary, a controlled media environment, and a legislature consisting of a ruling party and pliable opposition factors (Freedom House).” Even Putin’s 2018 reelection campaign grew off of abuses of incumbency and an unfair vote count.
Furthermore, under Schumpeter and Weber’s conditions, Russia’s current regime would be questionable to their standard of democratic conditions. Schumpeter’s political formula requires a free press, one set of political leaders in office and one or more opposition outs. With a goal to hinder these variables, Putin has closed multiple media platforms and has launched criminal proceedings against his opponents. His most popular political opponent Aleksey Navalny was disqualified from the election. According to Freedom House this was “due to a politically motivated criminal conviction, creating what the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) called ‘a lack of genuine competition.’”
According to Ozan Varol’s ideas in Stealth Authoritarianism, the use of judicial review to consolidate power and the prosecution of political dissidents for non-political crimes to consolidate power can also be seen as a primary mechanism of stealth authoritarianism enacted by Putin. Putin’s strategic actions have corrupted partisan alteration (as Varol would refer to it) and is raising costs to the opposition.
In recent months Russia has been exerting more control onto Ukraine, and its agenda to invade Ukraine shows another example of an escalating authoritarian rule within Russia. Levitsky and Ziblatt categorize indicators of an authoritarian in their books How Democracies Die as one who rejects the democratic rules, denies the legitimacy of opponents, tolerates violence and shows willingness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents. With the placement of upwards of 100,000 troops from Moscow at the border of Ukraine, a serious threat is emerging from Putin’s authoritarian ways. Putin has also accused the United States and the West of “hysteria” and declared that Ukraine should not be admitted into NATO. It should come as no surprise if Russia does invade Ukraine since Putin’s authoritarian tendencies have been proven to undermine legal channels to get his way in the past.