Visiting Assistant Professor of Government David W. Rivera and Professor of Government Sharon Werning Rivera recently published an article titled “Are Siloviki and Democracy Still Incompatible? An Analysis of the 2016 Survey of Russian Elites.” It appeared in a special fall 2021 issue of the sociology journal Monitoring of Public Opinion: Economic and Social Changes.
The article examines the implications of a trend long identified in Russian politics: namely, that after assuming power in 2000, Vladimir Putin appointed many fellow ex-KGB officers to positions of power and authority throughout the polity and economy. Since the start of his fourth presidential term in 2018, Putin has resumed the practice of staffing the state with former military and security officers, called “siloviki” in Russian. Prior research has demonstrated that these siloviki possessed a less liberal worldview than did civilian elites in both the Soviet era and the immediate post-communist period. The Riveras’ article seeks to determine whether this pattern continues to the present day.
They answer this question on the basis of data collected by the Survey of Russian Elites, a data set consisting of eight surveys of high-ranking Russians that were fielded in 1993, 1995, 1999, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020. Sharon Rivera currently serves as principal investigator of the project. The most recent data were collected in 2020 with funding from the National Science Foundation, the University of Michigan, and the Levitt Center, among others. In 2020, Rivera involved Hamilton students in several classes and in two Levitt-funded research groups in the data collection, cleaning, and analysis.
The authors find that attitudinal differences between siloviki and civilians persist into the late Putin-era. As was the case in previous decades, elites with professional backgrounds in the military-security field are less supportive of political pluralism and individual rights than are those with purely civilian resumés. In addition, active-duty officers are even less liberal than either their retired former colleagues or lifelong civilians.
The Riveras conclude their article by drawing out the implications of their findings for Russia’s evolution after Putin departs the Kremlin. Some members of the Putin-era elite will almost certainly rise to leadership positions during and after the transition to a post-Putin era. The more that Putin continues his past practice of staffing the state with siloviki, they conclude, the lower is the likelihood of renewed democratization in Russia in the future.