The Powerless Vertical

The Power Vertical

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is unhappy that presidential orders are not being carried out.

In one of the oldest moves in Russia’s political playbook, it appears that the good Tsars Dmitry and Vladimir are blaming the country’s problems on the bad boyars — or, in this case, on the bad bureaucrats.

At a Cabinet meeting on Thursday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lit into the country’s civil servants, ordering them to cut bureaucratic red tape or else:

“There are still refusals, formal write-offs, requests to bring in unnecessary paperwork,” Putin said according to Moscow News. “Officials still keep sending citizens around in circles. There will be administrative responsibility for the violations. We need to break the vicious circle.”

According to legislation introduced by the government, bureaucrats demanding superfluous paperwork will face fines of up to 5,000 rubles ($180) and those who do not respond to citizens’ complaints within a 10-day time period could pay as much as 30,000 rubles ($1,075).

Earlier in the week, Medvedev surprised much of Moscow’s political class when he complained that Russia’s  top-down administrative command-and-control system was not working and needed to be revised or replaced:

What Putin and Medvedev seemed to be saying — without actually saying it — was that the vaunted power vertical that was painstakingly constructed over the past decade and which was supposed to bring order to post-Soviet Russia’s administrative chaos is not working.

Interestingly enough, this is the same conclusion reached in a report issued by Chatham House that I cited in my last post.

Here’s how the report’s author, Andrew Moneghan of the NATO Defense College, described the situation:

Moneghan writes that Medvedev has become “‘particularly annoyed’ by the length of time it takes to prepare the paperwork for one or other activity.”

And the reasons for the logjam?

Nezavisimaya gazeta” spoke to several political analysts about the situation and the consensus was that the system needed to be opened up and made less top heavy.

“When control is executed from one agency only, its neutralization becomes very easy,” Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center said. “I believe that was what the president was talking about. Bureaucrats at all levels care for nothing except retaining their positions. Whenever there is no accountability, there is no motivation to send accurate information upstairs. Why bother?”

Likewise, Olga Kryshtanovskaya of the Russian Academy of Sciences Center for Elite Studies — and a State Duma deputy from United Russia — called for the establishment of a meaningful separation of powers.

“You cannot just up and break the vertical because it will result in chaos and anarchy,” Kryshtanovskaya said.  There ought to be several management pyramids. We live in an authoritarian state within which democracy is growing. These two are incompatible.”

Indeed they are. And therein lies the paradox facing Russia’s ruling elite. To make the system more effective and rational, it needs to be opened up. But opening up the system would threaten the positions of those at the top.

— Brian Whitmore

Tags: bureaucracy, vertical, Russia, Medvedev, Putin

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