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Context

In general, authoritarian leaders who have been in power for a long time are at risk of being misinformed: their advisors may be tempted to hide the bad news by fear of being blamed for them, they might embellish the truth to stay in the leader's good graces. By definition, authoritarian leaders tend not to tolerate contradiction and surround themselves with people who think like them. Confirmation bias and a lack of diverse perspectives would obviously hinder their ability to get an objective and complete picture of the situation.

Putin's government appears to show signs of this problem:

Beyond Putin himself, there seems to be a culture of non-transparency and fabricating "alternative facts" at the top of the Russian government which may affect how the government and the army function: if at every level in a hierarchy people tell their boss what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear, it can lead to vast discrepancies between the situation as observed at the bottom of the hierarchy and as reported at the top.

Question

  • Is there evidence that the Russian government decision process is systematically biased by a culture of non-transparency and repression of diverging opinions?

Edit: a couple weeks later, the US and the EU were making remarks along the same lines as my question, e.g. Why is GCHQ saying Putin has been misinformed about Ukraine war?, Putin misled by 'yes men' in military afraid to tell him the truth.

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    How would we know? And by what objective measure would you define a "yes man"? The answer is probably yes, from people inclined to believe the worse of Putin (me). But you could equally well point to "impressive credentials" of his close associates to state this wasn't the case. Also, there is a subtle difference between a yes man clique and a group think situation. I'd say the Bush administration, when it invaded Iraq in 03 was group thinking, not yes men. But from the outside, the outcome is much the same. VTC, not answerable. Mar 18 at 18:21
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica my title question is perhaps too simplified. the non-simplified question is about how the Russian government actually works in general, what is their culture. For example, do officials get punished when they voice different opinions or report true but unpleasant news? Do competent people get sidelined if they are perceived as reluctant to embellish things? Do people get rewarded just for systematically siding with the boss? I'm aware that the question may not be easy to answer, but I think it's reasonably objective.
    – Erwan
    Mar 18 at 18:41
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    This questions needs more focus because it is clearly asking two different questions. Mar 18 at 19:07
  • Honestly the question seems just like an occasion for us to list reasons to believe how corrupt, coercive and unpleasant Putin's regime is. Which could very well be true, but not objectively provable from the information we have access to. From all indications, no one really knows what drove Putin to take this decision despite the risks. The yes man hypothesis has traction, in fact FSB agents are reportedly under arrest for just this reason. But everyone is reading tea leaves and insisting that this is an important question does not make it answerable. Mar 18 at 19:27

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It's rather difficult to know what goes behind closed doors in the Kremlin, but he is surrounded by the TV version of yesmen given the public dress down he gave to the SVR chief recently, whom looked very eager to revise every sentence he had just uttered, to please Putin.

What has been more easily seen/measured from the outside is that in 2016-2018 Putin did a "soft purge" moving to less consequential positions a number of his "old guard" confidants, including e.g. Sergei Ivanov, whom once (1999) Putin had declared to be his most trusted adviser. The guy (Vaino) whom replaced Ivanov was someone who literally had carried Putin's umbrella on a number of occasions.

On the other hand, Putin is somewhat famous for promoting former bodyguards to positions of power that often enough exceed their competencies, like region governors and ministers. From this it's speculated that he values loyalty above much else, although they are also easily dismissed from such posts, sometimes soon (months) after such high-level appointments. Perhaps he takes "sink or swim" approach.

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