Democracy in Russia is a distant prospect. Such a conclusion can be drawn from a study conducted by the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSS) in collaboration with U.S. researchers Ronald Inglehart and William Zimmerman under a research grant from the Foundation for the Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club. On July 31, the RIA Novosti News Agency hosted a presentation on the study’s findings.
Russia is currently experiencing a transformation of attitudes, both among the elites and the general public. The study’s authors attempt to figure out how this transformation may affect Russia's domestic and foreign policy in the coming decade. They have examined the attitudes of both the older generation currently in power, and the younger generation born in the ‘70s and ‘80s who will soon start to assume key positions in government, politics, and business.
The authors have focused on indicators such as geopolitical ambitions, attitudes regarding the importance of the defense industry, attitudes towards the United States, ideological attitudes, and the perception of potential threats to Russia's security. The study is based on empirical evidence collected from six waves of a survey conducted by William Zimmerman; data from Richard Rose’s joint project with the Levada Center (VTSIOM), the New Russia Barometer [Rose, 1992-2009]; and data from six waves of the World Values Survey [World Values Survey, 1981-2008].
According to LCSS Director Eduard Ponarin, the survey respondents included State Duma members, CEOs of major corporations, chief editors of various media, and representatives of the military elite. One of the study’s key findings is that Russia's domestic and foreign policy will be largely determined by the elites' slow transition from materialism to post-materialism. One can hardly expect a cardinal restructuring of the country's political system towards a genuine democracy in the coming years.
Characteristic of the attitudes among the ‘70's and ‘80's generation is their focus on Russia's internal affairs, rather than on geopolitical expansion. However, the authors conclude that Russia’s elites still perceive the country's military potential as significant in case they may need to use force in response to international conflicts.
The experts have focused in particular on the elites' attitudes towards the United States' policies. The study reveals that the elites are generally more aggressive towards the United States than the general public is, and no reasons currently exist forthe elites' anti-Americanism to decrease. "If necessary, the government could easily orchestrate anti-American hysteria," Eduard Ponarin concluded.