Oil and Russia. An Analysis of Resource Politics

Essay, 2012

9 Pages, Grade: 1.3



Majority of publications on the so-called resource curse tend to focus on key characteristics identified by Michael Ross such as modernization, rentier state and repression. This paper is an attempt to identify various other causal mechanisms that contribute to the symbiosis between increasing oil revenues and growing authoritarianism in Russia. With a mixture of various qualitative and quantitative data, the discussion focuses on the causal implications of corruption, freedom of media and pluralistic ownership structure while referring to the ways that they are exploited by Putin government. The conclusion idealizes an alternative approach for the study of resource politics through the case of Russia and provides recommendations for further research.

Keywords: resource politics; authoritarianism; oil; Russia; corruption; media; ownership


British economist John Keynes was not that wrong when he said "Almost everything one can say about the country is true and false at the same time" (1925) while referring to the colorful political-economy tradition of Russia. Almost a century after his statement, it is still possible to make the same interpretation when the history of Russia's resource-oriented economy and its democratization patterns are considered. This paper will mainly investigate the question of how oil revenues influenced Russian democracy in Putin-era. The hypothesis about the hindering impact of higher oil revenues on democratization of Russia will be tested within relevant empirical basis. Following a brief description of Russia's regime spectrum, the hand-in hand relationship between oil revenues and Putin's maintenance of power will be underlined. The discussion will then critically focus on the driving mechanisms of this relationship such as corruption, media freedom and pluralistic ownership structure in oil industry.

Defining Russia: Regime & Oil

Differing from the polyarchic democracy of Dahl (1971) which asserts free elections, universal suffrage and multidimensional understanding by citizens, Ekman (2009) identifies Russia as an archetypal hybrid state. Relying heavily on the idea of competitive authoritarianism, Ekman suggests that although the elections may have been the subject of manipulation through state power yet they have the potential of creating a difference and contestation. Building upon Bogaards (2009), as an archetypal hybrid state Russia should be considered with its own type of regime rather than a transitional one. Furthermore, Bogaards (2009) accommodates these hybrid regimes in between electoral authoritarian states and defective democracies as the median of his regime typology. However, they can be interpreted as a distinct combination of autocratic and democratic features.

This distinctness also represented in terms of Russia's resource curse (causality between the rich hydrocarbon reserves and authoritarian tendencies) whereas it does not perfectly fit with characteristics defined by Ross (2001) such as modernization, rentier-state and repression. As an already modernized country, Russia's fiscal system is not associated with a rentier-effect and its stat spending as a share of GDP is lower than international standards while its military investment is not significantly higher than the average (Rutland, 2006). Hence, as it is recommended by Fish (2005), this essay will magnify other causal mechanisms of Kremlin's resource politics such as corruption, pluralistic ownership and media.

The Symbiosis:

Putin's Russia showed a relatively bright economic performance in last decade (Figure 1) in addition to its authoritarian tendencies as it can be interpreted from the country's Freedom House scores (Figure 2). This economic performance chiefly depended on country's operations in oil industry and this dependence is quite observable even today as the oil accounts for 25% of GDP, 50% of federal budget revenues and 33% of all exports (Heuty, 2012). In fact, this bright oil-intensive economic performance has the potential to portray a Potemkin façade for the overall assessment of Russia.

As it is theorized by Ufelder (2007), the increasing revenues from oil (Figure 3) had reduced Russian democratization, helping Putin to consolidate his power with a growing authoritarian approach. The parallelism between economic growth rate and increases in oil prices (revenues) which is followed by the increase in Russia's FH score should be pointed out. Diamond (2011) confirms this analogy with his comparative analysis and indicates Putin's abuse of power as the X-factor in the demise of democracy in Russia. This vicious cycle between executive powers and the revenues from oil industry is at the core of this symbiosis and leads our discussion to another main mechanism: corruption.

Corruption is embodied from most of the units of the oil-intensive Russian system. The high concentration of oil windfalls and rents leads to a close but complex relationship between economic and political power. As it is asserted by Treisman (2010), this unstable framework of decision-making processes creates a cause and effect relation between the amalgam of oil surplus and weak institutions which result in an increased corruption and an undermined democracy. Moreover, Russia does not have a public accountability culture. The state-owned oil companies like Gazprom do not announce any information on corporate and/or corruption measures and this leads them to make the last place in Transparency International Index (Nielsen, 2012).


Excerpt out of 9 pages


Oil and Russia. An Analysis of Resource Politics
Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH
Comparing Political Systems
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Resource Politics, Authoritarianism, Oil, Russia, Corruption, Media, Ownership
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Kaan Akkanat (Author), 2012, Oil and Russia. An Analysis of Resource Politics, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/292754


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