Lessons Learned from the Russian Experience

                                   Lessons Learned from the Russian Experience

Consulting the government of the Russian Federation on critical economic issues has been a rewarding and mind enhancing experience. It has been rewarding because it is not common to be present, close to decision making mechanisms, during a society’s rapid change. The duration of the project coincided with Russia’s transformation from a disaster prone and unstable economy and society to a robust state, consolidating power and accumulating economic strength. Russia became a world power again exploiting its immense natural resources and becoming pivotal for sustaining global energy security. Within this context discovering the internal workings of the Russian administration, understanding processes and power sharing and implementation mechanisms and unearthing the real procedures behind rule making and adjudication has been of paramount importance.

The Russian government operates essentially on three parallel levels. The cabinet deals with all major issues related to the Ministries under direct Prime Minister control. There are also certain government departments, mainly the ones dealing with security, foreign policy and the armed forces that fall directly under central Kremlin control. Finally, all decisions pertaining to legal initiatives, before they are sent to the Duma for debate and final vote, need to earn the approval of the Presidential Administration. It is therefore a lengthy process, touching upon many agencies and departments, before a proposal or legal initiative is presented in Parliament (Duma) and becomes federal law.

Likewise, the process of working in Russia and coming in contact with people and institutions was a knowledge enhancing experience. Getting acquainted with a new and, for many of us in the West, different culture made us realize that processes and institutions do not go hand in hand with overall economic development. There is an overall lack of trust not only towards foreigners and strangers but also among Russians, of various political and social standing, themselves. Earning the trust of institutional representatives is not a light experience. After an atmosphere of confidence has been established however things run very smoothly and Russians, members of the administrative machine or representatives of the private sector, are open and very cooperative.

Working in the Russian provinces projects a substantial difference as far as peoples’ attitudes are concerned. Life there is less intense, substantial opportunities exist for more relaxed discussions on issues of major importance and pundits are more disposed to unveil their views on existing problems and on what must be done about them. Laws can be enacted but implementation relies to a very large extent on regional authorities and individual local bureaucrats. The more informed therefore cadres are in the regions the more possible reform can be materialized. This lesson we drew from the project application appears to be valid for far beyond the borders of the Russian Federation.