St. Petersburg is more liberal than Moscow

The liberal flank of the Kremlin Russia: who are the Sisliby?

What do the "system liberals" want and what role do they play in Russia?

The term "system liberal" first appeared in the late 1990s. It is a class within the Russian elite that represents the values ​​of the free market economy and wants to modernize Russia accordingly. So that you can do business more successfully and more freely here. Because the state capitalist system paralyzes Russia: the private sector is pushed back, diversification and innovative developments are not strengthened and that is exactly what would be important so that Russia no longer remains so dependent on oil and gas.

In the late 1990s and mid-2000s, the "system liberals" had a much stronger position in the Putin administration and better access to power than they do today. They are now less represented in the government and the Russian elite. But some have personal contact with Putin and are now beginning to return to power. For example, former Minister of Finance (2000-2011) Alexei Kudrin was appointed head of the Moscow think tank CSR by Putin in April. This made him the main economic advisor to the Kremlin. Elvira Nabiullina, chairwoman of the Central Bank of Russia since 2013, and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov should also be mentioned.

But if the actors are part of the system, how liberal and reformist can the ideas of the "system liberals" be?

To be called a "system liberal" is actually rather offensive to these people. Because the term indicates that you are not a real You are more liberal, but one who is within an authoritarian system and serves it and thus contributes to the continued existence of the system. But that is really often not the case. In fact, the "system liberals" - so it would be better to call them "technocrats" - strive for a peaceful transformation of the system: away from the current hybrid, autarkic regime, towards economic capitalism.

Kcan you do that?

Indeed, there are actors who could achieve this goal. Because, on the one hand, they belong to the Russian elite and therefore actually have the resources to influence them. And because, on the other hand, their course in the direction of a free market with contacts and openness to the West is effective for the entire Russian Federation. Compared to everyone else in the Kremlin, the aim of the technocrats is to transform the regime in such a way that not only they benefit from it, but the entire Russian economy.

Why should the Russian elite and Putin be interested in it?

Look, right now the elite are afraid of social protests. The high Kremlin elites as well as oligarchs and other power structures fear this. They fear that there could be violent social unrest because the population is getting poorer and the standard of living has been falling for two years. If it stays that way, if there are no visible positive developments in the economy that cannot be achieved without structural reforms, then social protests will become more and more likely and the risk for the elite to lose power and capital will increase.

Putin and the Russian elite cannot be interested in repeating the Arab Spring or the Ukrainian Maidan. The fear of it drives the elite to change. And in view of the fact that the democratic opposition is divided and has little support from the population, the technocrats or, as we call them, the "system liberals" have a good opportunity for a bloodless transformation. And they give the current Kremlin nomenclature enough room to negotiate to embrace reforms without losing face. Whether it will work is a big question. It all depends on the program and goals with which Vladimir Putin will run for the next presidential election.

What is your personal opinion about the Sisliby?

I support the values ​​of these technocrats. You are very close to me.

The so-called "system liberals", also known as Sisliby for short, are a group of economically liberal economists in Russia who have access to President Putin, who advocate reforms, but do not question Putin and his system. They are convinced that Russia has to change and sometimes sharply criticize the government - but without affecting Putin's power.