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Who Will Replace the Current Russian Authorities?

Over the course of the next decade, the Russian elite will undergo a gradual change of generations. Today the key government and economic positions are held by people born in the 1950s, the 1960s and to some extent the 1970s. But in time they will be ousted by those born in the 1980s. By 2020, this generation will hold the “blocking stake” in the government. Studying the attitudes and values of this age group is of particular interest.

Over the course of the next decade, the Russian elite will undergo a gradual change of generations. Today the key government and economic positions are held by people born in the 1950s, the 1960s and to some extent the 1970s. But in time they will be ousted by those born in the 1980s. By 2020, this generation will hold the “blocking stake” in the government. This is why studying the attitudes and values of this age group is of particular interest and helps to predict how Russia will develop in the next few decades.

In order to understand the nature of future Russian leaders, we should take into account the following: Russia, like the majority of world countries, is transitioning to a post-materialist society, with an active development of so-called emancipative values among the public. These emancipative values, unlike values of survival, which emphasize the priority of material needs, reflect a striving for self-expression and self-fulfillment and are closely associated with liberal democratic views. As a rule, emancipative values are more widespread among younger age groups. It could be assumed, therefore, that members of these groups will also transform the public system within which they exist, making it more democratic and open as they fill the key positions in the state.

So far, however, the diffusion of emancipative values in Russia proceeds at a moderate rate and there is no major difference in this regard between generations ( See Figure1 below ). Consequently, we should not expect a strong demand for democratization either on the part of the elite or the rest of the population in the mid-term.

Moreover, the authoritarian form of rule grows increasingly popular, while the number of those supporting democracy among the younger age groups is declining. Currently, an approximately equal number of people born in the 1980s support several different types of political system, with authoritarianism and technocracy being no less acceptable for them than democracy ( See Figure2 below ). Given the increase in the number of supporters of authoritarian forms of rule, we can assume that with time authoritarianism will become increasingly popular among this group.

Thus, there is every reason to believe that ten years from now the elite circles will form two main groups – democrats and authoritarian-minded technocrats – differentiated on the basis of their political preferences. This may sound sufficiently unexpected but the generational change in the Russian elite will not lead to a drastic liberalization and democratization of the political regime. More likely than not, the emphasis in governance will be on a combination of authoritarian and technocratic methods. Russian supporters of a Western-style democracy will either have to adapt to the existing political system, which is characterized by a considerable polarization of views on the preferable form of political organization, or quit politics.

As for the foreign policy attitudes of those who will form the core of the elite groups in the 2020s, we can discern several standpoints. In the first place, their attitudes toward the United States dictate caution with regard to US policy. This cohort demonstrates a rather aggressive foreign policy stance over the USA, particularly in periods of heightened international tension and confrontation between the two states. It may be presumed that Russia will adopt an increasingly hard line in talks with America and other influential actors in world politics as more members of the 1980s’ generation become involved in foreign policy decision-making.

But it must be noted that the younger generation estimates the sphere of Russia’s national interests in narrower terms than their predecessors. This is why the Russian Federation’s foreign policy is likely to be focused on border areas and post-Soviet space. The younger cohort does not regard the Soviet-era ambitious geopolitical plans as a priority; they are more realistic in their choice of goals and tools in the international arena. The course for integration with former Soviet republics that emerged in recent years is certain to be preserved after the new generation comes to power. Stability in Eurasia will be their key aim in foreign policy. Internationally, maintaining Russia’s prestige and present spheres of influence will be favored over a strategy of expanded domination.

In response to the numerous rallies held in the wake of the 2011 parliamentary elections many experts said that the younger generation of Russians demonstrated unprecedented political zeal. It seems, however, that the upsurge of what analysts hastened to interpret as civic activity could be explained by an emotional reaction to processes under way in the country and should not be regarded as a steady trend pointing to the desire to be involved, directly or indirectly, in politics. This assumption is confirmed by the current decline in the protest movement, which is increasingly running out of steam, despite the opposition’s powerful mobilization campaign and its use of the most advanced communication technology. At the moment, the 1980s’ generation is not ready to state their civic position in a body and defend their interests by participating in political and public movements; their activity is rather occasional.

Even though this group’s political activity is rather low, the formation of civil society institutions in Russia will continue, albeit in a limited area. These processes will be powered not so much by the wish of the new generation of the elite to defend freedom of expression, equality and other democratic values, as the need to secure a dialogue between the authorities and the business community, which is essential for successful economic development and, therefore, for the stability of the regime.

In general, the generation of the 1980s is marked for holding pragmatic views and preferring real economic benefits to ideology. For the age group under review, the democratic values are of less importance than a perspective of economic prosperity. In this regard, they are not much different from the present decision-makers. This is why the current course will not change in its basic elements: economic prosperity and stability will be prioritized over political freedoms. The latter might be used only as an ideological manipulation tool to preserve the existing regime.

Figure 1.

The figure shows how the mean level of emancipative values varied in Russia for six age cohorts. The emancipative values index is calculated using a complex methodology and takes into account people’s attitudes to various political and social changes involved in a transition to a postindustrial society. The index ranges from 0 to 1. The figure is based on six waves (1990, 1995, 1999, 2006, 2008, 2012) of mass representative polls conducted within the context of the World Values Survey for the Russian Federation.

Figure 2.

This figure shows the changes in Russian attitudes to different types of political system – authoritarianism, technocracy, military rule, or Western-type democracy. Respondents were asked to say which of the above types of political system was best suited to Russia. The figure shows what proportion of those polled regarded this or that system as acceptable for Russia during different years. The darker colored lines designate the views of the 1981-1990 cohort. The figure is based on five waves (1995, 1999, 2006, 2008, and 2012) of mass representative polls conducted within the context of the World Values Survey for the Russian Federation.

The authors are laureates of the Valdai Club Foundation Grant Program.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.