Russia’s Security-Related Decision-Making: The Case of Crimea

Stephen Fortescue

There are two big issues in the political science of post-communist transition. First, the relationship between rulers and ruled; second, governance arrangements within the executive. The first could be summed up as “politics,” the second as “policy.” The first has received the most attention: are regimes democratic, and if not what other feedback and accountability mechanisms exist? The general consensus is that post-Soviet Russia, particularly under Putin, is not democratic, in that - among other shortcomings - it does not have genuine electoral contests that can potentially produce a change in government.

Our concern here is not with “politics,” but with “policy.” Does the Russian state have the policy-making arrangements to allow it to respond wisely and efficiently to policy challenges? Doubts on that score focus on an overly presidential constitution, and the reliance on personalist, “crony” methods of rule by the overly powerful president (Minchenko 2014; Gaaze 2014). In studies of the policy-making process, the author has devoted considerable attention to the other side of the coin: the split structure that comes from a semi-presidential constitution and the

S. Fortescue (*)

University of New South Wales and Australian National University,

Canberra, Australia

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Fish, Gill, Petrovic (eds.), A Quarter Century of Post-Communism Assessed, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-43437-7_12

highly bureaucratic nature of policy-making (Fortescue, 2010a, 2012). In this view, a large number of individually powerful, specialized agencies participate, utilizing elaborate consultation and sign-off procedures. The result has been slow decision-making in many cases, with “lowest common denominator” policy outcomes, something that has encouraged Putin to turn, somewhat half-heartedly, to more direct personal involvement, the so-called ruchnoe upravlenie (hands-on management).

In earlier work, I concentrated on important but not directly security- related issues (Fortescue 2006, 2009, 2010b, 2014, 2015). There was an almost complete absence of security agencies in at least the public record of these policy processes. My concern here, however, is not with the possible presence of security agencies in nonsecurity policy-making. Rather, I look at a security-related policy decision - to annex Crimea - in order to ascertain whether security policy is decided differently from nonsecurity policy, and, if it is, whether the difference explains Russia’s rather adventurous foreign policy in recent times.

One expects security-related policy to be treated differently, not least because of the division of state agencies into those with security and nonsecurity responsibilities with the former being directly subordinate to the president. Thus, the semi-presidential issue is relevant in a different way from nonsecurity policy-making. There the question is how the president involves himself in policy areas for which the prime minister- led government is responsible; on security issues, the question is how nonsecurity agencies compete for policy influence against the special presidential status of the security agencies.

The special status of the security agencies is accentuated by the personal status of the so-called siloviki who head those agencies. There are those who explain Russia’s foreign policy adventurism in terms of a hyper-version of the crony model of governance, that policy is made in a small circle of Putin’s silovik cronies who share with him a highly aggressive view of global order and Russia’s place in it (Renz 2012, pp. 214-215). In this chapter, the question posed is: was the Crimean decision a reckless one made by Putin within a small group of ideologically driven cronies operating on the basis of a narrow range of distorted information; or was there a bureaucratic process that ensured that action followed discussion among a range of participants with varying expertises and policy responsibilities and based on all relevant information?1 The latter does not exclude the possibility of aggressive, securitized policy outcomes, if the bureaucratic agencies engaged in the policy process share a single approach or if the leader is able to impose his/her will regardless of the bureaucratic process. But there is at least a greater opportunity for moderated policy outcomes if policy-making involves a wide range of participants, with procedures which encourage the exchange of opinions, bargaining, and compromise. Two stages of the decision-making process are examined: what I call the “actual” decision, the moment when it was decided to annex Crimea; and any preliminary consideration of options, implications, costs, and benefits.

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