A number of policy reforms in post-Soviet Russia have been conducted within the framework of the technocratic model. Policy proposals have been developed and to some extent implemented by certain teams of professionals appointed by legitimate political leaders. The leaders, in turn, have tended to monopolize policy adoption and evaluation and to insulate the substance of reforms from public opinion. This article is devoted to a critical reassessment of the technocratic model of policy-making in the context of changes of the 1990s–2010s. The main focus of the analysis is on the political and institutional constraints of policy-making resulting from the influence of interest groups and mechanisms of governance within the state apparatus. Poor quality of governance and rent-seeking aspirations of major actors create significant barriers for reforms, while insulation of policy-making, although beneficial for technocratic reformers themselves, has resulted in an increase to the social costs of reforms and distorted their substantive outcomes. In the conclusion, possible alternatives to the technocratic model are discussed.
Among many arguments for constitutional changes presented in the wake of the 2020 campaign for the popular vote in Russia, there was the idea that “cementing” Russia’s political landscape for the sake of the regime’s durability would serve as a tool for improvement of quality of governance. This argument, in a way, followed the essential point of Mancur Olson describing many autocrats across the globe as “roving bandits” with their short-term time horizons and incentives for predatory behavior. To what extent may the constitutional extension of the time horizon of Russia’s authoritarian regime contribute to conversion of Russia’s state officials and top managers from the “roving” to the “stationary” model, in Olson’s terms? On the basis of previous research, I argue that the nature of Russia’s political regime—electoral authoritarianism under personalist rule—prevents such a trajectory of further evolution. Indeed, the set of constitutional changes adopted in Russia in July 2020 is likely to preserve bad governance as a mechanism of maintenance of politico-economic order, as intentionally built and developed during the post-Soviet period. While certain technocratic solutions for Russia’s governance, aimed at “fool-proofing”, may avert the risks of major disasters, under conditions of durable authoritarianism the use of these devices will not result in major advancements in the quality of governance. Rather, they may contribute to further decay and aggravation of the numerous vices of bad governance.