Policy Memos

Strong Men, Weak State: Power Ministry Officials and the Federal Districts

Policy Memo:


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Vladimir Putin's KGB past, strong state rhetoric, and specific policy decisions (Chechnya, the attacks on media oligarchs Boris Berezovskii and Vladimir Gusinskii, etc.) have heightened fears of the return to a police state in Russia. The creation of seven federal districts in May 2000, five of which were headed by police and military generals, seemed to provide further evidence of this authoritarian drift.

Two and one half years later, we can now draw some conclusions about the extent to which Putin's federal reforms are based on the use of military and police power. Although some of the nightmare scenarios have not materialized, the degree to which power ministry officials dominate federal district structures is striking.

Paradoxically, however, the presence of so many officers in these positions will ultimately weaken, rather than strengthen, Putin's efforts to build a strong state. In the twenty-first century, effective state administration relies as much on horizontal ties as on vertical ones. As a general rule, Russian officers lack the political skills and training required to create these ties. Russia's strong men are likely to create a weak state. [...]

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About the author

Professor, Political Science
Syracuse University