, Volume 91, Number 4

Nigel Gould-Davies
Next year marks a quarter century since the end of the Soviet Union. How has power evolved in the region? What might the future hold? What are the implications for the West? Three important works illuminate these questions from different angles. Henry Hale argues that (except for the Baltic states) post-Soviet regimes are fundamentally similar to one another in being constituted by informal networks that dominate resources and institutions. They converge around, and compete for, influence with a powerful presidency that imposes selective rewards and punishments. Succession is the key weakness, and an unpopular lame duck leader invariably leads to upheaval. Karen Dawisha charts the rise of Vladimir Putin’s network of friends and colleagues, and documents allegations of corruption and illegality. She shows how quickly this network, on gaining presidential power, revived state strength and undermined other networks. Peter Pomerantsev vividly portrays a society of simulations ruled by a deft and disorienting ‘postmodern authoritarianism’. But as systemic popularity has declined this has given way to a harder, shriller anti-western course, and ultimately to the annexation of Crimea. The future may see the international context play a greater role in regime evolution than before. The compelling anatomy of power laid bare in these three works points to growing tensions and flaws in patronal rule across the post-Soviet space.

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