Control over the security services is a key ingredient of political survival in authoritarian regimes. This is particularly true during periods of leadership succession and high political uncertainty. In this paper, we compare the strategy used by Vladimir Putin towards the siloviki – the Russian security services – with that employed by Xi Jinping towards the Chinese security services. We find that in both countries, the security services have been significantly strengthened in recent years, while at the same time extensive anti-corruption campaigns have been used to eliminate key officials within the security structures. We argue that both developments can be seen as elements of a strategy to increase control over the public, while eliminating potential competition from regime insiders, in view of a deteriorating economic situation, and the constitutional (or quasi-constitutional) term limits faced by Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in 2024 and 2022, respectively.
Russia’s political system must be understood as inherently dynamic, with constant regime change being essential to how the regime operates and survives. This regime change does not proceed monotonically toward ever tighter authoritarianism, but can move in both liberal and repressive directions at different times. While on aggregate the trend has been to greater authoritarianism under Putin, certain liberalizing moves have also been important that are meaningful for how ordinary Russians and elites experience their own regime, and greater repressiveness is not foreordained. We document two forms of endemic regime dynamism in Russia, each involving contingent, improvisational efforts at short-term recalibration in response to crises that are both endogenous and exogenous to the regime: structural improvisation and ideational improvisation.
Although 4 July 2020 saw the coming into force of constitutional changes in Russia, this was far from the end of the story. Most clearly, these changes to the 1993 constitution required implementation, including through amendments to, and the writing of new pieces of, federal legislation. In part, this process was the mundane work of legal bureaucrats, tweaking and creating many pieces of legislation to reflect the new constitutional text. But the implementation process also reveals much more about the broader constitutional reform project. This article reviews the implementation process, discussing its complexity, the improvisation shown when fleshing out certain new constitutional details, its relationship with other political developments, and the chasm laid bare between Putin’s promise of the rebalancing of power in his 15 January 2020 Address to the Federal Assembly versus the reality of reform in practice.