Soft authoritarianism is defined as “political control in which a combination of formal and informal mechanisms ensure the dominance of a ruling group or dominant party, despite the existence of some forms of political competition” (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph, 340). Some scholars have assessed that Russia has fallen under the category of “soft authoritarianism” since 2008, “when Putin became prime minister” while also being elected as chairperson of the United Russia political party (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph, 356) .
The Russian government structure is not vastly different from the United States. The legislative branch is comprised of an upper and lower house, better known as the State Duma and the Federation Council. While the State Duma, or Lower House, is “chosen by direct election”, the Federation Council, or Upper House, have members “appointed by heads of regional executive and representative organs” and this is one factor contributing to the “soft authoritarianism” label applied to the United Russia party.
Another factor can be found in the link between president and prime minister. The president appoints the prime minister “with the approval of the lower house of the parliament (State Duma)” (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph, 334). The presidential post is limited to two consecutive terms, which changed from four year terms to six year terms in 2012, but there is no restriction on overall terms served. This means that a president who has served two consecutive presidential terms can be re-elected to presidency after a member of his affiliated political party serves a term. A prime example of the United Russia party control can be seen with Putin, who “recorded consistently high levels of popular support throughout his tenure and successfully managed the transition to his handpicked successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev, who won the 2008 presidential elections handily”, which resulted in Medvedev appointing Putin as Prime Minster (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph, 340) . Before Putin’s re-election to presidency in 2012, Medvedev “announced at a party convention in Moscow that he would step aside for Mr. Putin, who served as president from 2000 to 2008 but was limited by the Constitution to two consecutive terms” and that he would assume the position prime minister after Putin’s re-election (Barry, 2011). Putin has recently suggested that he may run for a fourth presidential term in 2018.
Another area of interest with Russia and the “soft authoritarianism” label is the fact that “partial or complete state ownership has remained fairly intact or even been restored after earlier privatization was carried out. (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph, 357). A prime example of this would be Gazprom, the natural gas monopoly, in which the federal government controls just over 50 percent of the shares” and the fact that “Indirect state influence is also realized through the dominant ownership share in many regional TV channels by Gazprom-Media, a subsidiary of the state-controlled natural gas company” (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph, 358).
The following link is for a Bloomberg news report from this month that illustrates state control over Gazprom.
The following link is for a November 2013 new report that illustrates possible trouble between Putin and Medvedev, the current economic issues in Russia, and possible signs of future political and economic hard lining by Putin.
Barry, Ellen. 2011. Putin Once More Moves to Assume Top Job in Russia. New York Times, September 24, 2011. Accessed on November 27, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/world/europe/medvedev-says-putin-will-seek-russian-presidency-in-2012.html?ref=dmitriamedvedev&_r=0
Mark Kesselman, Joel Krieger, and William Joseph. 2013. Introduction to Comparative Politics, 6th edition. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.