In partnership with the Institute of Modern Russia, the Legatum Institute published Russia: A Postmodern Dictatorship? by journalist and author Peter Pomerantsev. The paper describes how the Russian state has constructed a democratic façade through the use of ‘simulated institutions and simulated narratives’, replete with opposition media and strong Western cultural influence, masking clear signs of ‘hard’ authoritarianism —blunting the impact of Western criticism.

The paper also critiques Western, and particularly British, policies that separate entirely Russia’s political and human rights dialogues from business interests.

Key themes of the discussion included the importance of reconnecting business with human rights, Russia’s new opposition and the hostile business environment faced by Russian entrepreneurs.

London, in its role as a global financial centre, was highlighted as central to the process of consolidating and legitimatising much of the capital which has flowed out of Russia.  The new Russian opposition sees an implicit connection between financial corruption, political rights and human rights. The separation of these discourses in the West, and in the UK in particular, has led to great scepticism of Western policies and ideals.

Addressing this Peter stated that the West’s relationship with Russia should be re-framed within the broader context of addressing the laxness of the West’s own financial system and approach to international corruption. Seen in this way Russia becomes the sub-text for these issues and will become part of domestic political debates in the UK about the future of finance, weak foreign capital controls and foreign owned London property.

Also discussed at length was Russia’s opposition and the potential emergence of a new grassroots opposition movement. Peter noted the lengths that Navalny has had to go to prove he is an authentic opposition leader and not a ‘puppet’ of the Kremlin, highlighting the extent to which opposition under Putin has successfully been co-opted. Navalny reflects a new ideology that combines anti-corruption, anti-Putinism and a more naked nationalism which is a departure from traditional liberal opposition.

A third theme was the challenges that small businesses face in Russia in an environment that is both arbitrary and hostile to new and potentially disruptive companies. Peter described how businesses can be criminalised overnight and how rival groups within government use private businesses as pawns in their disputes, battling over spheres of influence. Peter states that approximately 120,000 entrepreneurs and business owners are in prison for “economic crimes”.

Russia: A Postmodern Dictatorship? was launched at a livestreamed discussion in London with opening remarks from the president of the Institute of Modern Russia, Pavel Khodorkovsky. The conversation was moderated by Anne Applebaum, Director of Global Transitions at the Legatum Institute.

The paper was later presented at an event in Washington DC at the National Endowment for Democracy.


About the Speakers
Peter Pomerantsev is a British author and documentary producer. His writing on Russia features regularly in the London Review of Books, Newsweek/Daily Beast, openDemocracy, Le Monde Diplomatique and other European and US publications. He has also worked as a consultant on EU and World Bank development projects in the former USSR. He is the winner of the SOPA (Society of Press in Asia) award for writing about Mongolia and was a fellow of the 'Russia in Global Dialogue' programme at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM) in Vienna. His first book on society and politics in 21st Century Russia will be published by Faber in 2013.

Pavel Khodorkovsky founded the Institute of Modern Russia in 2010 to continue the work his father Mikhail Khodorkovsky began through the Open Russia Foundation. IMR is committed to strengthening respect for human rights, the rule of law, and civil society in Russia, and to promoting a principles-based approach to relations between the West and Russia, and Russia’s integration into the community of democracies.

Anne Applebaum is the Director of the Transitions Forum at the Legatum Institute. She is also a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate, and the author of several books, including Gulag: A History, which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction as well as other awards.