Vladimir Putin has concentrated the power in his hands, but has not liquidate the democratic institutions. "We take the electoral process to be the first symptom of a democracy, but that in and of itself is very far from sufficient. By that measure, Russia is a democracy, as are Iran and Singapore — and indeed, many of the former Cold War Warsaw Pact regimes," Azeem Ibrahim writes. And it is not due to the fact that "these countries are opposed to the U..S and its Western allies", who seem to have a monopoly on the definition of "democracy," the expert says. "Rather, it is because in spite of the superficial electoral processes they have in place, a small and very well entrenched governing clique simply cannot be dislodged from power by normal political means," Ibrahim says.
Such countries that "are supposed to have democratic electoral practices in place, but do not behave at all democratically," – or, as Ibrahim calls them, "zombie democracies" – are easy to recognize, the analyst says. The main feature of these countries is the prevalence of various conspiracy theories promoted by "pro-government media outlets and even government bodies themselves."
According to the author, this feature was manifested in Russia the most – in the light of "the remarkable current developments in the global oil markets." Since Russia is "a Gulf-style petro-republic" and has lost all of its industrial potential, the decline in oil prices has hit the country's economy. Ibrahim is sure it would have strengthened people's discontent with Putin's policy, as "after 15 years in power, Mr. Putin has reduced the country's economy to an oil well and a gas field." However, the president's popularity does not fall – recently he has been even declared Russia's Man of the Year, the author writes.
The reason for this phenomenon lies in the fact that the majority of Russian citizens believe in the "international conspiracy between the Americans and the Saudi to artificially lower the global price of oil in order to tank the Russian economy," Ibrahim says. The Russians do not associate the current crisis with the economic policy of the president, or with the sanctions "the country has to endure as a result of Mr. Putin's military adventures in Ukraine," the analyst writes. Such theories are common in Iran – despite the fact that the low oil and gas prices are threatening to kill America's "Shale Revolution," and is doing few favors the Saudis as well.
However, not all "zombie democracies" can shift the blame for internal problems to the conspirators. Venezuela, which, just like Russia, is a carbon exporter and experiences serious problems due to the price fall cannot explain the fall in prices by conspiracy, since it is a member of OPEC. But the Venezuelan government has yet found an explanation – in recent months the state institutions and the country's media "have floated mostly unsubstantiated rumors of assassination and coup d'états plots," Ibrahim says. In the last few weeks the Venezuelan regime has moved against Maria Corina Machado, an electoral transparency campaigner with international standing, elected opposition politician. She stands accused of conspiracy to assassinate the incumbent President, Nicolas Maduro, and plotting to assume power in a coup, the analyst writes.