The Russian Systema

Nadin Brzezinski
14 min readAug 13, 2023
Mongols in Russia

The Russian system is unlike the Western system of governance. It has evolved over the millennia into a highly centralized government where those at the top have almost complete control. This is not just control in general. It can be very precise control of all aspects of life of the Russian subject. This is not present-day Russia. The way the country works has a history and traditions, in some cases going back millennia. Many believe Russia works the way it does because of Vladimir Putin. He recreated a system that Russians are comfortable with after the country went through Democracy, managed democracy, oligarchy, and now a full power vertical. Russians conceive of the state, power, and the continuity of government in a very different way than we do.

This is essential to understand. We are not dealing with a system where there are citizens with free will. Instead, it’s a tradition where rights are fungible and depend on the goodwill of the ruler.

This is what is called the Systema, the System. It is not new, and it started to take shape as early as Tsar Ivan the Terrible, who used a form of secret police, the Oprichnina. This was the first attempt to create one of the legs of the stool. This is a police state. That the Oprichnina was religious, mostly, is beside the point. It was incredibly loyal to the young Tsar and helped him secure what he considered essential lands for Rus. It also kept disloyal Boyars from his back. Indeed, like many previous and future Tsars, Ivan was not really paranoid, and some of his Boyars were utterly disloyal. Indeed, two of the leading families may have been behind the poisoning of his mother. Poisoning is not new as a method of political assassination in Russia.

The Oprichnina got weird, especially from our present perch. It helped enforce order by confiscating lands, and at times splitting streets between the lands of the Tsar and those of the Boyars. The rule of the young Tsar had another feature that is part of the systema. This was granting lands to favored Boyars and using whatever existed in law to punish those who got out of line. Finally, this is the beginning of a bureaucratic system that ultimately ends in whoever occupies the top of this pyramid. The one at the top will get tribute. It is a vertical of power, with intense, at times, manual control of the state and its resources. This is…

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Nadin Brzezinski

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game. You can find me at CounterSocial, Mastodon and rarely FB