The Transition Hypothesis

All discussions on the vision of the future for Russia face a rhetorical (although not purely so) obstacle: how can we talk about reform and a better composition of society in the situation wherein there is seemingly no opportunity to change the regime, or at least force it to make improvements? Today gives little reason for optimism. Nevertheless, meaningful discussions about how events in Russia may develop in the coming years are possible and necessary, believes Vasily Gatov.

Discussions about the future, especially a positive one, come off as unhinged optimism.

Even the pointless war in Ukraine, which may – only may – end with the inglorious defeat of the Russian military forces, does not provide us with a meaningful hope for change. Ukraine has no foundations for “liberating” the territories of its neighboring nuclear superpower; all Ukrainian allies view a direct conflict with Russia at its turf as a sure risk of nuclear war (and they are not wrong). Even the Crimean issue hangs on this nervously trembling thread: would the Kremlin consider attacks on the territory of Crimea (whose incorporation  into the composition of the Russian Federation is not recognized by any of the prominent world countries, including the allies from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)) as attacks on national territory? Would it provoke the use of tactical nuclear weapons?

The situation with the country’s future is therefore a dead-end one, and some authors offer to accept it as a status quo. The super-institution of the President (and Putin personally) wants to remain in power  and continue its policy, including aggression against Ukraine. Other branches of government are fully subordinate and do not possess the efficient status  to change or at least correct the current trajectory of the president. The Government is absent in the political field as it is preoccupied with the restoration of the economy, and the Central Bank is doing the same. The quantitatively significant opposition has been forced into exile, incarcerated in prisons and detention centers, and continues to struggle for the preservation of at least a marginal influence on the public opinion.

This pessimistic image and the sad conclusions drawn from it dominate the current political analyses and discussions.

Nonetheless, meaningful discussions on the future and the prospects of various scenarios coming to life are possible and necessary. As a basis for such discussions, one can use many various analysis methods – or refrain from analysis altogether and instead rely on our feelings, intuition or Tarot cards. We offer to arm ourselves with a long-standing methodology, which allows us to view the future changes from a formal point of view, evaluating not only the feasibility of the manifestation of what we want, but also the desirability of what is possible.

This method is known as the theory of change. It was offered by Peter Drucker in the mid 1950s as a business instrument and was developed in more detail at the Aspen Institute in the 1990s. The theory of change can be applied to most processes in society and is actively used in planning by American public and charitable organizations.

The basic parameters that we must define for the analysis in the framework of theory of change are as follows: a desired result (or a certain pattern of results), the participants of the change process, the available and necessary resources, forces that counteract change, and, finally, potential allies.

In the case of the future of Russia, the theory of change will help not only to check the feasibility of our desires, but to also to evaluate what efforts and what time frame will be necessary to achieve, let’s say, the minimal desirable outcome, and how much time and toil will lead us to the perfect results.

Let’s say that we’ve defined the minimal result in the pattern of what we desire is the end of war in Ukraine, a return to diplomacy, and to at least the basic principles of international relations. The maximal desirable result is the reinstatement of normal representative democracy, human rights and political freedoms in Russia, as well as the conduction of peaceful, constructive (albeit non-aligned) and independent policy.

A possible result is almost always more realistic than the desired result, since it is to a higher degree determined by natural logic, the desires of the internal participants of the process, and the macro characteristics of the system (as applied to Russia – the qualities of its quantitatively large institutions, such as the army, the security service and the law enforcement organs). The object of the analysis is, simultaneously, its subject with its own internal will and conflict.

We don’t know, how the regime change will be taking place, but we know the following for certain: only the forces that are occupied with dreams for the future, the construction of what is yet to come, the details of the transitional period – only they will be critical in the moment when the form and essence of the regime in Kremlin will change, whether due to biological, military or political reasons.

See and download the paper here.