What are the political systems of Ukraine, Russia, and US, and why “bringing democracy” rarely works?

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There are many opinions on what is a “democratic” or “authoritarian” regime. So, to answer the questions put forth in the title, we’ll first need to set up a clear theory of state organization, and only then place states within such a framework.

At the heart of the state there are two opposing goals:
1) The drive to consolidate power, and to keep the system stable against influences foreign or domestic. We’ll call this “government power”.
2) To be responsive towards the needs of the population and the challenges of the changing world, to listen to feedback. We’ll call this “listening to feedback”.

The lowest level of social organization is when central government is weak, and simply can’t do much. This system, in different technological eras, could be called “tribal alliance”, “early feudalism”, “league of city-states”, “oligarchic capitalism”, etc. The point is, there are multiple competing interest groups, and the central government is torn between them. Obviously, this system is the most detrimental to economic activity – to get anything accomplished, one must satisfy the whims of multiple different groups, and any of them can arbitrarily change their minds. This system is also weak against pressure from abroad (more on that later).

Eventually, one of the interest groups emerges supreme. The reasons could be many: the nation develops closer internal ties and/or gets tired of the chaos, an outside force intervenes, or technological development gives some group the edge to dominate others. The power then gets concentrated in the hands of a small group, usually personified by one man - he could be called king, emperor, dictator, Supreme Leader or Grand Priest, doesn’t really matter. He could even be called prime minister or president – whether his power is justified via “divine right of kings”, “glory of the empire”, or “choice of the people” is really mere window dressing.

Such “authoritarian” regimes are often far more beneficial for the country - it’s easier to feed one gang of oppressors than multiple competing ones, it’s easier to do business, and since kings/dictators assume that their power will be preserved for a long time, they tend to take decent care of the populace. Centralized countries are also a lot more resilient to foreign exploitation.

However, authoritarian regimes often have a problem with feedback - as the ruling group gets more and more entrenched, it gets more and more detached from the people, and reality in general; and being the uncontested center of government means governing well ishttp://www.badassoftheweek.com/niyazov.html to stay in power.

Basically, “government power” is strong, but “feedback mechanisms” are weak. In fact, popular and competent leaders are usually seen as potential competition to the main ruler(s), and removed through various means. Therefore, “classic” authoritarian regimes - those where the ruling elite are a small and closed group - are still not very efficient either in their domestic policies or on the international arena, and tend to get less efficient with time.

There are two ways to escape this conundrum, and both of them involve expanding the size of the ruling group. One is the modern “democracy” or “republic”, usually brought about when a lengthy period of stability builds up a substantial number of influential/wealthy people outside the authoritarian elite. They are unhappy with the inefficient authoritarian government, and even more upset that they don’t have a slice of the government budgets. Thereupon, these people pressure the king/dictator (through armed force or threats) to sign the Bill of Rights, or agree to their Declaration of Independence, or abdicate in favor of the parliament, etc. Thereupon, the country is governed via “representative government” - usually under the pretenses of following “the will of the people”, but in practice more of a power-sharing agreement between the wealthy, the government bureaucrats, and the population.

Despite being superficially similar to the “feudal” system, it is very different in practice, due to having a highly organized legal and social framework within which everybody operates, and a strong government which is controlled through the so-called “checks and balances” system. In short, unlike the feudal system, where problems are resolved arbitrarily, usually through brute force, “democratic” systems resolve them according to defined mechanisms (generally givinghttp://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746), with strong but controlled government acting as the arbiter. The main problem faced by these systems is keeping all sources of power in balance - people have to be kept content and believing in “democracy”, lest they revolt and change the system to e.g. communism, capitalists have to be kept from robbing the people and buying off the government too much, or the system may slip back into feudalism, government bureaucrats have to be kept from gaining too much power, or the system may become authoritarian.

One last type of government system that needs to be discussed are communist, fascist, or nationalist/traditionalist regimes. Forgive me for dumping all of them into one broad category: while classic fascism is essentially counter-communism (usually arising when the wealthy create a repressive “middle class”-based collectivist movement to counter underclass-based communists), it uses very similar rhetoric and patterns of organization, at least until it seizes power.

Such systems are based on expanding the size of the ruling class, rather than separating it into multiple regulated groups like “democratic” systems do. Ideally, the whole country becomes part of a single political party, which inevitably declares achieving Paradise of Earth as its main goal. What the ruling party is called - communist, national-socialist, salafist, Baathist, etc. - is not as crucial as the fact it holds ultimate political power. Whether it chooses not to have private property, or have private enterprise as cash cows in service of the ruling party, is important from an economy standpoint, but not for our organizational analysis. The key difference is that the new “nobility” is made large and structured enough to avoid the problem of “classic” authoritarian regimes of having a small and inaccessible elite. Ideally, the ruling party structure would allow for new leaders to get promoted through the ranks, and its size and presence at all levels of society keeps it in touch with all the problems of the common people. Such systems are, potentially, the most beneficial for the common people (benefits are more or less equally distributed among the nation - e.g. Cuba has a https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Human_Dev than some EU members, despite lower per capita GDP), but also have the greatest potential for country-wide repression. Also, they have have an unprecedented potential for nation-wide mobilization of effort through the huge ruling party, so regimes tend to become more collectivist as they feel threatened. As USSR showed, such systems are vulnerable to the ruling party growing detached from the population, but as China shows, it does not seem to be inevitable.

One needs to remember, of course, that each of these categories is not absolute and each state has some of the traits of all of them – a state is different degrees of “feudal” based on how much power the local groups have, different degrees authoritarian/collectivist based on how strong and numerous/representative the ruling elite is, different degrees “republican” based on how strong the power-sharing mechanisms are, etc.

So, to sum this up, here’s how a disagreement between two interest groups is resolved under different systems:
Feudal - by who has more www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/20/us-ukraine-crisis-kolomoi allies.
Authoritarian - by whom https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/putin-fires-olympic-off favors.
Democratic - by who can best navigate/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobbying_in_the_United_States the legal and legislative systems.
Collectivist - by who is judged to have greater merit by ruling party officials, but “lobbying” generally carries a www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/9bba0d9e-b02b-11e4-a2cc-00144feab7de.

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Now, let’s examine the world (and then East Europe specifically) from the viewpoint of this model of social evolution:

After the fall of the colonial system and, later, the fall of USSR, most of the newly independent states immediately degraded to various degrees of “authoritarian” and “feudal/bandit capitalism”. A good impression of this can be found in Transparency International corruption index (as both government systems eschew any limits to the power of elites, which leads to corruption): a www.transparency.org/cpi2014/results marks the states that went to more basic forms of government (of course, “bandit” corruption is also inversely proportional to https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6f/GDP_%28P- as mentioned above, rich people want laws to protect their business; note, however, that “lobbying” and other “regulated” forms of big money subverting the state are not generally considered corruption).

Ostensibly, the way forward for these states is to progress towards “democracy” or “collectivism”.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll put aside the complex issue of collectivist regimes coming to power, and talk about rise of “republican” or “democratic” regimes.

Recent history showed that this process can not happen quickly.
The common view that “democracy makes countries rich” actually puts the cart before the horse. In fact, wealth makes countries “democratic”. Or, more specifically, having a large number of powerful interest groups does. For that reason, resource-based economies are generally less “democratic” / “lawful” - what use is a complex system of legal checks and balances if the national economy is limited to a few “oil princes”? Why would they support more rules and limits on their power?

Moreover, history shows the procession from “feudalism”/”oligach capitalism” towards “republic”/”democracy” almost never happens rapidly and directly*, because “oligarchs”/”nobles” actively resist increases in central government power, and because a country does not become wealthy when being torn between multiple gangs of oppressors. Almost always, there is a middle stage of “autocracy”, when centralized rule allows the country to become stable and developed, whereupon business interests become numerous and influential enough to impose limits on the government (17th century England, 1825 Russia or post-Cold War South Korea - the story is the same).

These days, “autocracy” can put up a democratic or collectivist facade, but that changes nothing. During the Cold War, primitive autocratic regimes would often pretend to be “communist” or “democratic”, frequently changing - a simple example would be Zimbabwe‘s Mugabe, who styled himself a leader of “maoist” insurgents and then became “democratically elected” president, and in fact was never more than a glorified tribal chief.

In post-Soviet space, autocratic governments tend to perform far better than “feudal” ones - compare the results achieved by e.g. Putin’s Russia, Lukashenko’s Belarus, Nazarbaev’s Kazakstan, etc. to the sad state of Yeltsin’s Russia or today’s Moldova, Ukraine, and such. Of course, there are some “non-prosperous” autocracies, like the regimes of aforementioned Mugabe or www.badassoftheweek.com/niyazov.html, but overall we can say that while an autocratic regime won’t _always_ be successful, a chaotic “oligarch” system that lacks a center can_never_be successful.

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And here we come to the question of the role of foreign capital and foreign influence on government type.

In general, foreign powers try to install and/or support an autocratic or autocratic-collectivist regime whenever they desire a stable country, i.e. if it is their close economic partner and neighbor, or they want it to be capable of fighting a war and resisting outside intervention. The examples of such regimes are numerous - Franco’s Spain, Shah’s Iran, Pinochet’s Chile, or Najibullah’s Afgranistan. As such regimes are installed by an outside force and usually keep their position through repression, and need to cater to foreign interests as well as their own, they tend to be worse for population and economy than purely “local” autocracies, but still better than a “feudal” state.

However, if foreign actors are primarily interested in economic domination (so-called “neocolonialism” or “fortruss.blogspot.com/2015/07/ukrainian-economy-after-year-o model”), then their influence generally pushes countries towards “feudalism”.

This is simply because a local “king” or “ruling party” necessarily competes with foreign interests for revenue - demands more taxes for itself, nationalizes natural resources, resists foreign influence on domestic and foreign policy, etc., and any foreign corporation or even government gets relegated to a role of yet another supplicant asking the “man in the crown” for concessions.

The only way to get natural resources for pennies on the dollar, or to get cheap labor without any pesky minimum wage or OSHA laws, is to “divide and conquer” between different power groups. In a “feudal” situation, foreigners become a very powerful interest group among many squabbling locals, and can easily do what they want with relatively minor effort.
It doesn’t even have to be an organized process: If foreign companies and governments merely act in their own interest, and support those local groups that offer them the biggest benefits at the country’s expense, the local “government” naturally turns into a competition for being the biggest https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quisling.

Thus, foreign influence tends to prevent “feudal” countries from progress and freezes them in “banana republic” state.

Moreover, foreign intervention often puts countries in this “feudal” state in the first place: if a foreign power is unhappy with the country’s government for some political reason, and overthrows it using military force and/or covert means, the country naturally** moves towards “feudalism” and chaos (unless there is no force in place to seize firm control). Libya is the most striking example of that, but there are many other examples such as Iraq, Ukraine, Syria, not to mention multiple countries in Central Africa.

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Now that we’ve set up our framework, we can (finally) explain the Ukrainian conflict within it.

Ukraine was moving to greater centralization and order under Kuchma, who stayed in power for 10 years (1994 to 2004). However, he was undermined (and ultimately removed from politics) by an alliance of local oligarchs and Western interests via a “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonid_Kuchma#Kuchma_and_the_C” case that many consider fabricated.

Subsequently, “Orange revolution” (Maidan #1) was used to invalidate 2004 election results and bring to power a weaker, pro-Western Yushchenko (wife a US citizen, and all). However, after just one term of disastrous rule plagued by “feudal” infighting between factions, Yushchenko was thrown out, earning an unprecedented result the incumbent president - only 5% of the popular vote.

He was replaced by Yanukovich, who had extensive backing from East Ukraine and was seen as the more stable, reasonable candidate by Russia. He also chose to consolidate state power and started reformatting Ukraine as a one-party, one-oligarch state, making a giant “Party of Regions” and doing his best to eliminate all competition. However, Yanukovich miscalculated and was removed from power by an alliance of local oligarchs and Western interests in the “Revolution of Dignity” (Maidan #2).

Thereafter, as a decade before, the government of Ukraine broke into multiple squabbling factions, and country’s economy went down the drain at an unprecedented pace. This was compounded by the fact that the multiple gangs of thieves fighting for government positions didn’t give a damn about Ukraine’s long-term interests, and succeeded in driving the country to civil war and confrontation with its closest economic partner, Russia.

Now, we see that President Poroshenko slowly tries to consolidate power and erase any opposition. He succeed in weakening rival oligarchs like Firtash and Kolomoiski, and removing their men from government posts. He even succeeded in deposing the head of State Security Nalivaichenko (widely considered to be an American agent), ostensibly due to Nalivaichenko’s ties to oligarch Firtash.

In this, Poroshenko is supported by both USA and Russia.

USA, because they would like their proxy war in Ukraine to continue, and would rather build “South Vietnam” than “Somalia”. Russia, because their government (being an autocratic regime), plans for years ahead and also prefers living next door to “South Vietnam” rather than “Somalia”. Plus, Putin probably bets on the fact that if Poroshenko gets enough power, he would start slipping from Western control and acting in Ukraine’s objective interests - i.e. peace, balanced domestic and foreign policy, and close cooperation with Russia.

On the USA-Russia front, the situation is even simpler: US is trying its best to overthrow Putin’s autocratic regime and return Russia to the “feudal” times of Yeltsin, when Russia was essentially a quickly degrading, Western-dominated banana republic. For now, their efforts are fruitless because the Russian population understands all of the above very well - maybe not in so many words, but the overall sentiment of “Putin is not great, sure, but look at what Americans brought us before, and what they brought to Ukraine, Libya, Yugoslavia!” is very clear.



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Notes:

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The Baltic states or Georgia, which seemingly made rapid progress from “feudal” towards a “republican” model, could be brought up as counter-examples. But we have to remember that an “autocrat” does not have to be local - those states had a strong government, only it got power from abroad.

Saakashvili got an internship from US State Department, then when he came back his regime put so many Georgians in prison, it was 3rd place in the world per capita (after US and Turkmenistan. www.badassoftheweek.com/niyazov.html, tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Characters/LlamasWithHats!). His “economic success” is similarly explained by the fact USA poured around half a billion dollars into supporting his regime every year (approximately equal to Georgia’s entire state budget at the time).

The same can be said for Baltic states: suffice to say that Latvia’s president for 8 years was ahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaira_V%C4%AB%C4%B7e-Freiberga who only arrived in country a couple years prior, and was appointed without a popular vote (the second time - in a one-candidate election!).

In fact, these occurrences are far from over, so one can argue that most East European “democracies” are still foreign-controlled colonial regimes putting up a facade.

**
Whether a particular foreign military intervention or economic pressures created yet another “banana republic” by design or by accident can be argued ad infinitum; I suspect it is usually a mixture bit of both.

written by Tatzhit