Ds Scholarship

New scholarship on Russia presented at the 2021 Virtual ASEEES Convention

Virtual sessions of the annual conference of the Association for Slavic, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) took place from 1-3 December 2021. To understand the current state of scholarship in this field, we review five panels that participated in the latest research on Russia: Foreign Agents Law, Elections, Protests, and Propaganda and factors leading to the legitimization and support of Putin’s rule.

Photo: screenshot of the ASEEES website.

How Putin rules

This committee considered the ways in which Vladimir Putin and his regime are gaining and maintaining support. In the article “Do despots need a foreign enemy: Evidence from Russia,” Henry Hill (George Washington University) and Adam Linton (George Washington University) theorized that the idea of ​​a foreign enemy could gain support for a leader and foster a sense that the country needed to rally around him, but found that this was not exactly the case with Russia. When the US/NATO are seen as threats, the Russians are only 5-10% more likely to support Putin. But support also comes from those who prefer a cooperative rather than an aggressive response. According to Hill and Linton, Putin’s supporters believe that he is in fact pro-Western and favors cooperation. Russians who think he is anti-Western are 5 percent less likely to support him.

The authors argue that support for Putin escalated in the wake of the annexation of Crimea not because it generated anti-American sentiment, but as a result of the euphoria of territorial restoration and identity assertion. While autocrats like Putin do benefit from practicing statecraft, stability lies in their primary appeal. Hill and Linton concluded that the West should not be tempted by the “Fortress of Russia” narrative and instead reckon with the regime’s concrete ideas, identities, and interests.

In other papers of the commission entitled “What does the law have to do with it: national legitimacy and the Soviet past in Russia”, Paul Good Carleton University has explored Russians’ views of the Soviet Union and the way they relate the past to patriotism. The question he posed was whether the Kremlin’s promotion of Soviet-style patriotism was actually successful as a form of legitimizing contemporary politics. The study found that people experience a lot of nostalgia for the Soviet past, but rarely make connections between the present and the Soviet past. These links were determined only in terms of comparison of standards of living and consumption, as well as the organization and activity of civic groups. For example, the Soviet past, despite the lack of goods, was seen as a time of social cohesion, while today people feel isolated or isolated, even though their standards of living are higher.

Judd also found, in today’s Russia, greater similarity to the daily patriot, which bears less resemblance to the officially approved patriotic ammunition in the Soviet Union. This means that while the Russian government is promoting patriotism with special reference to the Soviet past, the Kremlin may have instead tapped into a sense of Soviet-era nostalgia. Goode also concluded that the Kremlin misunderstands these different types of public affection for the Soviet past, as leveraging them to legitimize the current political system has proven ineffective.

This session also included two other papers: “US-Russia Relations: The Year We Live in Dangerously” by Peter Rutland (Wesleyan University) and Dimitro Babashanikh (Foundation for Democratic Initiatives), and “Mixed Signals: What Putin Says About Gender Equality 1999-2020” by Janet Elise Johnson (CUNY Brooklyn), Alexandra Novitskaya (Stony Brook University), Valerie Sperling (Clark University), and Lisa Mackintosh Sundstrom (University of British Columbia).

Changes in the interaction between civil society and the state in Russia

For scholars to understand how the Putin regime maintains control Lisa Mackintosh Sundstrom (University of British Columbia) and Elizabeth Plantin (Stetson University) considered the reasons for Russian NGOs’ access to the list of foreign clients. In their paper, “Foreign Client Financing,” they analyze three main factors: Ties with specific foreign donors. Whether these foreign donors are state-funded agencies or private foundations, US or European; and cooperating with “undesirable organizations” or donors of the so-called “national stop list”. The National Endowment for Democracy was a major foreign funder of Russian NGOs until it was blacklisted as “undesirable” in 2015, prompting two other prominent donors (the MacArthur Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation) to leave Russia that same year in anticipation to set them.

Sunstrom and Plantan found that foreign agent status is more likely under the following circumstances: a non-governmental organization that focuses on issues, such as human rights, the environment, media freedom, and destitute affairs; 2) location in certain areas; 3) receiving three or more foreign scholarships; 4) Receive funding from Western governments and US-based donor organizations.

This session also included three papers that examined protests in Russia. First, “The Most Meaningless Form of Protest: Law, Politics, and the Practice of Single-Sit Up in Russia” Nicole Marie Daphnese (UMass Amherst). Alfred Bourne Evans (California Fresno) presented “Conflicts Burning Here and There: Trends in Protests in Russia,” and Lauren Alicia McCarthy (UMass Amherst) Filed in “People’s Legal Aid in Russia.”

Public opinion in Russia

This session began with a paper entitled “Demanding Democracy in the Shadow of Authoritarianism: Approval of the Regime and Abolition of Local Elections in Russia”, in which Ora John Edward Reuter (University of Wisconsin-Madison/High School of Economics), Noah Buckley (Columbia University) and Quentin Beezer (Florida State University) considered canceling mayoral elections in Russia and replacing them with the appointment system. Today, about 80 percent of mayors are Kremlin appointees — a significant rise from less than 20 percent in 2002, although several polls show Russians prefer direct municipal elections over appointments. Cancellations are often met with dissent and protest, and the study found that hiring actually leads to a significant drop in a candidate’s popularity. The authors argue that, with these findings in mind, autocrats may wish to retain the election, because voters demand elections and suppressing them will have political costs.

The Committee also presented the “Authoritarian People’s Self” by Kyle Marquardt (Higher School of Economics) and Katerina Tertechnaya (University College London), and “Covid, Anxiety and Information: Lessons from Russia” by Gregor Bob Ellis (Princeton University) Brian Rosenfeld (Cornell University), and Graeme Robertson (UNC Chapel Hill).

Propaganda and protest: How Russians perceive media narratives

In her paper entitled “Protests, Permits, and Opposition in Electoral Autocratic Regimes,” Katerina Tertechnaya UCL has analyzed changes in the Russian authorities’ repressive strategies in relation to the protests. Recently, she said, there have been more nonviolent pre-repression measures backed by legislative acts. For example, protesters are required to be “punished” by local authorities and this permit is subject to rejection on various pretexts – a precautionary approach in the run-up to the protests. This approach had limited success: in 2017, a third of protests were not allowed in Russia, but they continued. The author also noted that site changes and other bureaucratic obstacles create confusion among protesters, and coordination dilemmas distort their activism and help tarnish their reputation, which is why it is designed to be visible. According to Tretichnaya, the suppression of nonviolent protest is an important tool of political control, which increases the power of autocrats.

He pivoted another sheet of the board toward the media. In “Preference for Propaganda: How Content and Beliefs About Sources Shape the Demand for State and Independent News in Russia”, Ashley Bloom I asked UCLA why people watch state propaganda, given known biases, especially when independent news is available. According to a Bloom survey, 65.7 percent of people regularly read government news sources, and 36.7 percent only read state news—no independent sources at all. One reason is that country news in Russia is free and available on every platform, while independent news usually requires more effort and sometimes money to access it. People like to see news that aligns with their political beliefs or that evokes feelings such as pride.

This painting also included a paper written by Georgy Syonyaev (Columbia University / WZB Berlin) and Anton Chirikov (UW-Madison), who discussed Russian media in “Recognizing Bias: An Experience on News Consumption in Russia,” arguing that people can review their beliefs about media bias in two situations: they notice a discrepancy between media coverage and reality, or they watch alternative media coverage shed light on Russian media. light on bias. They find that these reviews can occur if people notice the bias themselves, not after someone else has reported it.

Making Russian Autocracy Work: Mechanisms of Political Control and Regime Stability

Continuing to talk about the media in “Fake News for All: Disinformation and Polarization in Russia” Anton Chirikov (UW-Madison) noted that most autocrats use propaganda, censorship, and disinformation, but little is known about the public’s response to such manipulations. Chirikov also noted that propaganda does not work by persuasion, but by exploiting and reasserting existing beliefs. It also works through the constant repetition of pro-government messages on widely available government news platforms. He found significant political bias in the assessment of news in Russia, making it easier for an authoritarian regime to spread lies among sympathetic citizens; Thus, independent information does not pose a threat because regime support is already biased against it. However, it is important to note that news perceptions are politicized on both sides: opposition-minded citizens are as vulnerable to false anti-government messages as government supporters are to anti-opposition propaganda.

The session also included “The Digital Gains of Local Government: Evidence from the Moscow Drilling Department” by Gulnaz Shervutdinova (King’s College London) and “Civil and Political: The Social Roots of Totalitarian Power in Russia” by Natalia Forat (University of Michigan).

* Lia Wisevich is a leadership team member at the Stanford US-Russia Forum. She holds a BA in Russian and Eastern European Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA in Phil. in History from the University of Cambridge.

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