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Police Brutality & Police Reform in Russia and the CIS - Book Reviews (5)

Mark Galeotti (Ed.), The Politics of Security in Modern Russia

Ashgate, 2010, 250 pages
Eva Bertrand
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Mark Galeotti (Ed.), The Politics of Security in Modern Russia, Ashgate, 2010, 250 pages

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Dédicace is grateful to Shaun Long who edited this review

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1The Politics of Security in Modern Russia gathers together papers by some of the best specialists in the field. It gives a broad picture of political, institutional, strategic and economic changes related to security matters in Russia since 1990, with a particular focus on the evolution under the Putin administration. This book questions the reciprocal impact of politics and security, that is to say, what role security issues play in politics, and, in reverse, how the political (and economic) context impacts on security politics. Each article provides a good – but, to some extent, too short – overview of a particular topic related to security.

2In the first papers (1 to 5), the politics of security is understood through its relationships with politics at large. These papers broadly discuss the political implications of Russian choices in strategy and military affairs. In the introductory article, Mark Galeotti emphasizes the importance of security matters to the understanding of historical changes in Russia. He proposes analyzing the Russian system “from the inside”, namely to appreciate security politics regardless of foreign policy and foreign influences. From this perspective, Graeme Herd examines different threats currently being faced, or at least considered, by the Russian power, through a detailed study of official strategy documents and speeches, but also through various experts’ analysis. His main conclusion is that “sovereign democracy”, as the “official new national ideology” is a key to understanding current Russian policies on different issues such as the economy, defence, foreign affairs and strategy.

3Mark Smith goes further in his observation of the governing system, showing that the executive branch of power, which overshadows the legislature, political parties and public opinion, dominates the implementation and formation of security policy. The Russian political system is here pictured as a hyper-presidential one, where checks on the executive power are lacking.

4This finding is close to what is then developed by Bettina Renz, who, through an acute study of civil-military relations, shows that the failure of the democratization of post-soviet Russia is linked to the lack of civilian control over governing structures. This feature is analyzed as a consequence of the strong presidency established by the Constitution of 1993, but reinforced under Vladimir Putin, in which civilian control is replaced by presidential command. This brilliant article also focuses on the role and rise of the siloviki (representatives of ‘force structures’ who get involved in politics) during the Putin era and convincingly undermines their generally admitted centrality within the government. She argues that if there is a rise of the so-called siloviki, this is one of the consequences of a super-presidential system of appointment, which is based on personal loyalty, and which does not result in the control of the military structure over the political sphere – siloviki remaining a non-homogeneous group. Consequently, according to Bettina Renz, the rise of siloviki under Putin is not as worrying as the lack of social control over the governing structures at large.

5Then, deepening this examination of Russian security policy “from the inside”, Pavel Baev explains the reasons for the complete failure of successive attempts to reform the armed forces in Russia. Rivalries and power struggles between “force structures”, and their leaders, are among the main causes of this failure, he claims.

6The first five articles of the book provide a good picture of the governing system (super-presidentialism, role of siloviki in politics and power personalization) under Putin’s presidency, and question what is new under Medvedev. These articles are a great read for everyone interested in Russian contemporary politics as a whole, and not only in security politics.

7The next group of papers analyze concrete cases of contemporary Russian politics: security policy in Chechnya (chapter 6), Russian nuclear strategy (chapter 7), the fights against terrorism and crime (chapter 8), and the financing of the armed forces (chapter 9). In his article on Chechnya, C.W. Blandy presents the evolution of security policy, the forces and the strategy of the Kremlin in the North Caucasus since the mid-1990s, with a focus on the Russo-Chechen conflicts and on the actions of the special federal services. Echoing Baev’s and Galeotti’s, one of the main outcomes of Blandy’s analysis is that the use of force remains central to Russian military strategy.

8Stephen J. Cimbala describes the strategy of Russia in matters of nuclear armament, the implications of nuclear arms control, the centrality of Russo-American relations in global disarmament, and offers a prospective study of the evolution of nuclear forces strategy in Russia and in the United-States based on the calculation of a potential reduction of nuclear weapons.

9Mark Galeotti draws a detailed picture of the various force structures and security agencies (and of their reorganization since the 1990s) dealing with crime and terrorism. This excellent paper offers an interesting reflection on non-traditional threats in Russia and the way traditional forces can deal with them. According to Mark Galeotti, even if at the end of Putin’s presidency “the country feels safer”, the struggles against crime and terrorism were not that tough, since concerning crime, as long as criminals act discreetly, they seem free to continue their business, and concerning terrorism, acts of terror are expanding in the North Caucasus.

10Julian Cooper offers a precise analysis of the fluctuations of defence spending under Putin, with a parallel examination of the general economic situation of the country, and some reflection on the difficult modernization of the armed forces. The budget devoted to the armed forces has increased through the Putin era, but has not brought about a qualitative improvement of the armed forces. The main reason for the inefficiency of budget expenditure in the military lays in the obsolescence of the military structures: a large part of the budget is devoted to their maintenance and repair. The author stresses the technological backwardness of the Russian armed forces, which is also obvious in the difficulties faced by the country in maintaining competitiveness on the arms export market, and its obsolete defence industry.

11Stephen Blank’s article on the idea of securitization, and an afterword by Dmitri Trenin close the volume. Stephen Blank explains how political leaders extended the notion of security to a large range of issues, as a way of legitimizing and justifying their actions. This process of “securitization” under Putin replaced democratization. In conclusion, Dmitri Trenin emphasizes the need for Russian leaders to find a new approach to security and defence policy.

12To sum up, this selection of articles draws a picture of the current political context in Russia on a range of topics related to defense and security policy. Compact and up-to-date, this book is a useful and well-informed resource, even if quite expensive (more than 60 Euros), for students and fellows starting research on Russian security matters. Specialists in the field will expect more in depth analysis on well-known topics, such as the obsolescence of the Russian armed forces, or the Russo-Chechen conflicts. It seems indeed that the short length of the articles (about twenty pages) did not allow their authors to go into detailed analysis of complex topics. We can add that Mark Galeotti closes his introductory paper with the following question: “Will the generation have learned from the lessons, not just of the Soviet era but the Yeltsin and Putin presidencies?” After reading this volume, we feel quite well-aware of these main lessons, or at least the main challenges, that Russian security powers face: the reform and modernization of the armed forces, and the establishment of an effective civilian control over the military; but also of some of the main features of the security field in post-Soviet Russia like the important role of ‘force structures’ in government, NATO as a major threat, and the primacy of the use of force in the country’s strategy.

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Eva Bertrand, « Mark Galeotti (Ed.), The Politics of Security in Modern Russia », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [En ligne], Issue 13 | 2012, mis en ligne le 15 juillet 2012, consulté le 10 avril 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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