Main features of GR and lobbying in Russia

Egor Novgorodov,
Faculty of Social Sciences, HSE University,

In the current Russian socio-political context, the successful functioning of any private company largely depends on building relations with the authorities, which is especially true for foreign enterprises. Establishing contacts and maintaining such relations is very important in any state, but the specifics of the political and legal conditions in different countries intensely affect the content of such relations.

Traditionally, GR is defined as a certain area of communication aimed at interacting with the state and various groups of society in order to achieve the business interests of the company. This concept is often correlated with lobbyism, but it is much broader than that – if lobbying is only a certain set of tools for influencing, then GR is rather management and organization of specialists in lobbying. At the same time, the concept of lobbying in the public perception is loaded with a lot of negative connotations, as a result of which it is often replaced by the term public affairs or another similar euphemism, like protection of business interests or policy marketing. In any case, building relations with the state, especially if it has a significant impact on the economy and social life, is a very complex, multifaceted process, and at the same time extremely significant for any enterprise.

The Russian specifics of GR are largely determined by the existing features of the relevant state traditions, the constitutional structure and the historical context. To begin the brief analysis of features and development trends of government relations in Russia it is necessary first of all to turn to the regulatory framework. Nowadays in Russia, unlike most Western countries, there are absolutely no legal acts regulating lobbying activities at the federal level. Therefore, the norms of the Constitution on the right to form public associations and trade unions, the right to protect their freedoms and the right to apply to state authorities are technically the only legal basis of lobbying. This lack of regulation creates a huge “gray zone”, in which a hidden “behind-the-scenes” struggle of various groups that influence officials is unfolding.

Historically, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, repeated attempts were made at the level of the newly formed State Duma to develop a special law on lobbying (five draft laws only for the period 1992 – 1993). Later, in 2003, a project was proposed to register lobbyists by analogy with the American system. The institutionalization of lobbying at the federal level is also implied within the framework of the President’s national anti-corruption projects. However, none of the proposed bills has been adopted, and even the exact number of lobbyists in Russia is not possible to establish due to the lack of mandatory reporting.

The lack of high-quality structured regulation creates fertile ground for various corruption schemes. For example, back in the early nineties, the phenomenon of “soft money” emerged – donations to the needs of political parties from individuals and corporations that can influence political power in this way. Financial incentives for decision makers are widespread. Corruption is considered a natural process, the real fight against which is almost impossible, as indicated by both public opinion polls and the frequency of the use of appropriate metaphorical constructions in public speeches of top officials.

Also, in addition to the prevalence of financial corruption, an important role in the success of a business project is played by maintaining personal ties with government officials. Due to the large volumes of state interventionism and the aggravated interdependence of the political and economic spheres, the variability of the internal and external political course can either strengthen business through state support or destroy it. If GR is unsuccessful this can lead to a serious conflict with the authorities and significantly complicate the conduct of business. Without any transparent, institutionalized and universal mechanisms for interaction with government agencies, favoritism is actively developing. A significant part of large entrepreneurs, for whom cooperation with the state is most relevant, are not ready for the transition from shadow lobbying to limited and constructive forms of GR. Rather, they prefer to interact directly with the authorities (especially with executive authorities), preventing greater competition.

The almost complete absence of legislative regulation of relations between business and government through lobbying, a large share of corruption, and constant attempts by business owners of different levels to achieve their goals not through regulated procedures, but through personal relations with government representatives – these are the key features that determine the field of GR and its problems in modern Russia.

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