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Argument: Russia’s New Prime Minister Augurs Techno-Authoritarianism Russia’s New Prime Minister Augurs Techno-...
Mikhail Mishustin, Russia’s new prime minister, comes to prominence little known by the public but as a rock star among technocrats. Mishustin became famous within a policy genre that, even for hardcore wonks, has only a niche audience: tax enforcement.
Between this public service and his private sector background, many commentators say, Mishustin’s nomination underscores President Vladimir Putin’s concerns about the resuscitation of Russia’s stagnant economy. They are not wrong. But to view the significance of Mishustin’s nomination only in terms of its first-order implications for Russia’s economic growth is to indulge a myopia that would itself advance the farther-sighted strategic vision for Russia that his appointment likely reflects: a pivot toward a new brand of techno-authoritarianism.
Like many a rock star, Mishustin’s path to international fame has its dark side. He delivered his eye-popping performance by constructing an economic surveillance apparatus that would elicit envy from any authoritarian state. As prime minister, yes, his technical savvy may enhance efficiencies and boost growth. But his time as tax czar also underscores the extent to which he can marshal his technocratic acumen to advance Putin’s strategic objectives about more than dollars and cents.
If the direction in which Mishustin’s appointment signals Putin’s Russia is about to head has any contemporary analogue, it lies in a country that is increasingly its ally and also the world’s epicenter of techno-authoritarianism: Xi Jinping’s China. Like Xi, for Putin, economic growth is likely only part of an overall strategic vision. By his own admission, in spite of his Ph.D. in economics, Mishustin’s role as tax czar was more technologist than economist. And so he is poised to fill the prime minister slot within Putin’s authoritarian regime, in effect, having thrived in a government post as a self-identified technologist who developed new and impressive ways of extending the state’s surveillance of the economy.
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