Concentrating Benefits and Delegating Costs: How the president undermines the governors’ chance to raise their own political credentials while handling the pandemic

This post, written by Margarita Zavadskaya and Elena Gorbacheva, is the seventh in the special series “Politics&Pandemics”.

Reading time: 12 minutes

Three days ago, on May 11th, during his latest address to the nation, Vladimir Putin stated that from the 12th of May the regime of non-working days is over, and each region should proceed to gradually lift off restrictions according to their own schedule. Does this imply that the pandemic has reached the long-awaited plateau and Russian authorities handle the corona crisis successfully? This does not seem to be the case: since the beginning of May, there have been more than 10.000 new cases of coronavirus infections recorded daily in Russia. At the moment, Russia has the second highest toll of the number of COVID-patients in the world after the US. Not to mention the growing number of complaints from the business, doctors, and impoverished citizens locked in their homes.

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Is it who is saying or what is being said? Mechanisms of disinformation under non-democracies. Evidence from a survey experiment in Russia

Self-isolation does not prevent research seminars from happening. Today, Margarita Zavadskaya together with Anna Shirokanova, senior research fellow, Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR) presented their research, that they have been doing together with Elena Sirotkina, doctoral student, University of North Carolina, at the Russian Media Lab Network cyber lunch. The paper they presented is titled “Is it who is saying or what is being said? Mechanisms of disinformation under non-democracies. Evidence from a survey experiment in Russia” and is a result of the research based on a nationwide survey, where the participants were asked how do they perceive two ideologically polarised media messages depending on the media outlet they are published in – Channel One or Ekho Moskvy.

How good citizens are in defining disinformation in an autocracy? Which information they name credible and what influences their perception of credibility? On a representative sample of the Russian population, we run a story-based vignettes experiment to find out how consistency of the message and the source influences credibility to the information provided given partisanship and perceived neutrality. We find that overall citizens accurately identify which of the polarized opinions is more likely to appear at a pro-government and a pro-opposition source. However, the message content and its tone coupled with the respondents’ partisanship define whether s/he deems the piece of information credible and trustworthy. Perceived neutrality is the main mechanism, which forces credibility to the message. This perceived neutrality proves to be a key heuristics for navigation in media for citizens from both pro-government and pro-opposition flanks. The results of the survey experiment suggests that respondents generally admit that the Russian media mostly transmit pro-government messages, while largely fail to spot the pro-government bias having been intentionally exposed to it. These findings adds up to the argument that public opinion under autocracies does not entirely result from the preference of falsification, but also from ‘the preference for propaganda’.

The Privatization of Rosneft: An Unintended Consequence of the Coronavirus Pandemic and the 2020 Oil Crisis

Some day in the future, economic historians will likely consider the dramatic decline of international oil prices, which occurred in March 2020, as a turning point in the development of the global petroleum industry. This collapse puts the end to the era of expansive oil, which began after the Iraq war of 2003. That era is over now as the global economy seems to return to a period of low oil prices, similar to the one at the end of the 20th century after 1986.

There are a lot of explanations for the collapse of oil prices in the business and academic literature. Some experts think that the coronavirus pandemic undermines the global demand for petroleum, while other economists suppose that the dissolution of the coalition of OPEC countries and Russia in March 2020 was responsible for the destruction of the previous oil price equilibrium at the international oil market. However, the question of why this collapse of the oil price equilibrium happened is no longer relevant. The questions scholars should focus on now are how the decrease in oil prices will impact the economies of oil-exporting countries in the world after the pandemic? What reaction to this crisis can we expect from the governments of oil-producing countries? Finally, what will happen to the Russian economy?

The oil crisis and the escalating oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia of 2020 might open intellectual debate on what is the best way of the organization of the petroleum industry in the conditions of low oil prices. What model of petroleum ownership is optimal for the economy in the new age of cheap oil prices? What will the reaction of the state to this problem be? Could we expect the mass privatizations of state-owned oil companies around the world? This essay is an attempt at addressing the problem. This is the sixth blog post of the Politics & Pandemics special series, written by invited researchers Aleksei Pobedonostsev* and Nadezhda Stepanova+.

*Aleksei Pobedonostsev, Ph.D. candidate in political and social sciences (European University Institute in Florence), Aleksanteri Institute visiting fellow, Aleksei.Pobedonostsev@EUI.eu

+Nadezhda Stepanova, Ph.D. in economics, Aleksanteri Institute, Invited Researcher nadezhda.stepanova@helsinki.fi

Reading time: 14 minutes

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Does trust help fight the COVID-19? A brief overview of the pandemic situation in former Soviet and communist societies

By now, the COVID-19 has spread to every corner of the world, and only a handful of dictatorships and tiny island countries have not yet reported on confirmed infections. At the same time, the social and political dimensions of the crisis have come more and more apparent. There have been concerns, for example, about how authoritarian political leaders might use the crisis as an excuse to consolidate their power, discussion about whether authoritarian or democratic countries fare better in handling the pandemics, and how the situation has affected elections coinciding with the crisis. In this post, Eemil Mitikka is going to consider how the COVID-19 crisis relates to one of the key concepts in social sciences, which is trust. This is the fifth post of our “Politics & Pandemics” special series.

Reading time: 12 minutes

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Finland and its coronavirus strategy

Our project members Margarita Zavadskaya and Elena Gorbacheva not only write about the life and politics changed by the coronavirus for ElMaRB Politics&Pandemics series but also wrote an analytical note for European Dialogue expert group about how Finland deals with the outbreak and what can be learned from it.

In the paper titled “Борьба с пандемией в Финляндии: бесполезные уроки?” (Fighting the pandemic in Finland: useless lessons?), the researchers provide a detailed overview of how the state reacted to the emergency, what measures were undertaken, how the decisions are made, and when will the restrictions be lifted. They conclude, that even though the Finnish strategy seems to be efficient, it is not likely to be borrowed by states with a different political system. However, some things from Finnish experience can still be taken into account. Which ones? You can find out about them from the analytical note.

Electioneering in the times of pandemic: an overview of the elections and referendums from February to July 2020

Pandemic throws a monkey wrench into many plans, including national elections and in some special cases like Russia – attempts to call ‘a referendum’ or symbolic vote to support constitutional amendments that will extend the president’s term in power. Electoral timing has always been a highly sensitive issue for political elites: in Westminster democracies, early elections are a way to extend the government’s longevity and to surf the wave of massive support, in others – electoral time-table is exogenous and can be altered only under extreme circumstances. The COVID-19 epidemic is definitely one of those. Here we collected the data on all the countries that scheduled elections and/or referendums, whether these countries altered electoral schedules given the pandemic and how it affected electoral outcomes. This is the fourth post of our special coronavirus series “Politics & Pandemics”, written by Margarita Zavadskaya and Elena Gorbacheva.

Reading time: 10 minutes

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Uzbekistan faces COVID-19

During the last months, we observe a dramatic variety of how countries with diverging healthcare systems and regimes react to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to several accounts, the Chinese coping model of containing the disease seems to provoke a lot of interest if not admiration. However, China is infamously known for systemic misreporting on the state of affairs and this experience should be taken with caution. Communist and post-communist states share the common legacy of a universalistic welfare system based on political compliance (putting aside special services for the privileged groups) (Cook 2011) and it is the case of former-USSR states. Today we are glad to publish a short analytical entry by Mirzokhid Karshiev, Doctoral Candidate in the Global Processes and Flows in the Eurasian Space research group, with an insider’s view on how Uzbekistan – another example of a closed state with communist legacy – manages the challenges of COVID-19. Mirzokhid Karshiev is currently conducting fieldwork in Tashkent in the H2020 MSC RISE project New Markets.

Photo: Shavkat Boltaev

Reading time: 13 minutes

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Shifting the Blame: Does COVID-19 Undermine Political Support for Putin?

We continue with our special coronavirus series “Politics & Pandemics”, and this week’s post is written by ElMaRB project leader Dr. Margarita Zavadskaya. In the series, we provide weekly updates on the coronavirus outbreak and its effects on politics, media, and activism. We will publish blog entries written by us and invited experts,  where we will try to look at the current events through the prism of political and social sciences.

You self-isolate while I withdraw myself. Source.

Reading time: 5 minutes

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Social Distancing under Autocracy: How Pandemic Changes Protest in Russia?

This post opens a series “Politics & Pandemics” – weekly updates on the coronavirus outbreak and its effects on politics, media, and activism. We will publish blog entries written by us and invited experts,  where we will try to look at the current events through the prism of political and social sciences. The first entry is written by Doctoral student Elena Gorbacheva.

Reading time: 5 minutes

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Should we trust Russian surveys?

In the latest issue of Baltic Rim Economics you can read an article written by our Doctoral student Eemil Mitikka – “Should we trust Russian surveys?”. Eemil has been using survey data in his Master’s Thesis and will continue to use it in his Doctoral dissertation. Russian surveys might indeed raise concerns of preference falsification and under-representation, but what if the situation is not that bad? Eemil in his piece discusses the common challenges that arise when working with survey data and comes to the following conclusion:

To answer the question posed in the title, it is obvious that we should not trust blindly Russian surveys. Yet, since alternative ways to study mass attitudes are limited, surveys maintain their functionality and relevance in public opinion studies. Naturally, it is possible that better methods to study public sentiments will occur in the future. In the meantime, however, traditional surveys serve as valuable tools in analyzing societies – including contemporary Russia.

Read the full article online here.