Inside Out: Domestic Political Change and Foreign Policy in Vladimir Putin's First Term

By Charap, Samuel | Demokratizatsiya, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Inside Out: Domestic Political Change and Foreign Policy in Vladimir Putin's First Term


Charap, Samuel, Demokratizatsiya


Introduction

How does political upheaval at home affect a state's behavior abroad? The vast domestic political change in Russia in the past twenty years has given political scientists occasion to address this question as it pertains to Moscow's foreign policy. In the 1990s, they sought answers through the lens of regime change, assessing the impact of democratization on the country's international conduct.1 The notion that democracies do not go to war with each other (democratic peace theory) was refashioned for transitional regimes. New theories-most prominently, one that held that democratizing states are likely to behave belligerently in international affairs-were built and tested.2

Although the operational assumption of the early studies-that politics, and thus foreign policymaking, in post-Soviet Russia was more "democratic" than it was during the Soviet period-was relatively uncontroversial, there is disagreement about the democratic trajectory of Russian politics under Putin. There is a consensus that pluralism has declined significantly since 2000, but academic analysis is divided over the impact of Putin's first-term political reforms on the overall democratic quality of the Russian political system. Moreover, the apparent "consolidation" of a hybrid regime calls into question the utility of the term "democratization" in the Russian case.3 Focusing on the regime's democratic credentials in a study of the links between domestic politics and foreign policy under Putin could therefore obscure more than it would illuminate.

This article addresses the external consequences of domestic political change in Putin's first term while avoiding assessments about the democratic quality (or lack thereof) of his regime. Given the degree of change, it seems likely that Putin's reordering of domestic politics has affected Russia's international behavior. For the most part, however, little work on this question has been conducted.4 This article fills this gap by suggesting a framework for analysis and then investigating the empirical evidence from the political change that took place in Putin's first term.

Accounting for Change: A Domestic Politics Framework

One aspect of political change in post-Soviet Russia that seems likely to have an impact on foreign policy output is variation in the authority and capacity of the executive branch in domestic politics.5 This analytical lens, which I call executive strength-derived from the political science literature on state strength6-provides for a higher degree of analytic specificity than state-centric approaches. A focus on the executive-in the Russian case, the president, the presidential administration, the government (pravitel'stvo) and the executive ministries-avoids certain assumptions in the state strength literature that have proven problematic in the post-Soviet context.7 This concept is applicable across the post-Soviet states, where the executive has, on the one hand, played a central role in public life and, on the other, varied in strength.

The concept of executive strength involves two related considerations: first, the relative power of the executive vis-à-vis other political institutions; and second, the level of fragmentation within the executive. The first aspect refers to the degree of competition between the executive and other institutions in a polity-in other words, the strength of actors in domestic politics outside of the executive. Relevant actors include the legislature, regional governments, the judiciary, and interest groups. All of these groups are centers of possible interference in the executive's policy behavior; they can prevent the executive from translating its preferences into policy outputs.8

Whereas direct influence on concrete matters of policy is the most extreme manifestation of this phenomenon, the diffuse effects of criticism, independent behavior, and intense lobbying are also important. When the executive is forced to confront strong political institutions in the formulation of policy, outcomes are likely to be affected even if coercion is not employed. …

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