The vertikal: power and authority in Russia



    1. Researcher in the Research Division of the NATO Defense College in Rome.
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    • The views expressed are the author's own and should not be attributed to either the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the NATO Defense College. The article builds on views first outlined in a briefing paper published by Chatham House in May 2011 and presented to a discussion group at Chatham House in July 2011. The author would like to thank the participants for their comments and reflections. The author has also benefited from correspondence with Wayne Allensworth, and would like to thank members of the Roman Baths group and an anonymous reviewer for their insightful comments on the text.


Power and authority in Russia are traditionally seen to reside with the president. Such an understanding was emphasized during the eight years of Vladimir Putin's presidency, from 2000 to 2008, as he sought to centralize power, strengthen the state and establish a strong vertical of power to implement policy. This article examines the nature of this power and authority in the light of the tandem, the ruling arrangement between current President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. While acknowledging the central importance of Vladimir Putin in Russian political life, the article argues that emphasis on his role draws too much attention away from the leadership team that he has shaped with Medvedev. This team takes shape in formal institutional structures such as the Security Council, which has become an increasingly important group as a reservoir of experience and authority. It also takes shape in an informal network that stretches across state and business boundaries. Although there are some tensions in the network, this team ensures broad policy continuity. Furthermore, the article questions Putin's success in establishing a vertical of power, and the authority of both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. The analysis explores evidence that suggests that, despite the appointment of loyal personnel in this vertical of power, presidential instructions, orders and personnel commands often remain incompletely and tardily carried out or even unfulfilled. In essence, therefore, although many have suggested a split within the leadership, particularly between Medvedev and Putin, the article suggests that the more important splits are horizontal ones between different layers of authority. Thus, a process of direct control is necessary, whereby the most senior officials are obliged personally to oversee the implementation of their instructions. The article concludes by suggesting a reconsideration of our terms of reference for Russian politics, replacing the tandem with the team, and introducing ‘manual control’.