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Studying Russia’s Authoritarian Turn

New Directions in Political Research on Russia

Regina Smyth

Between 2011 and 2016, the Kremlin altered its strategy to maintain elite coherence and shore up social support. The papers presented in this volume argue that these changes in formal rules, informal practices, state policy, and ideational narratives constituted a second authoritarian turn since 2000. In comparison to the first regime shift in the mid-2000s this strategic change combined tactics designed redefine the Kremlin’s core support and construct electoral majorities that could deliver victories in the 2016 national parliamentary election and the 2018 presidential election. While the outcome of the 2016 election suggests overwhelming regime success, these papers raise important questions about the long-term efficacies of these strategies, their unintended consequences, and the contradictions that are evident in social attitudes. In the context of the growing literature on contemporary autocracy, these papers present a strong case for increased focus on social attitudes and behaviors as well as the ideational and informal elements of the state’s mechanisms to maintain regime stability.

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Regina Smyth and Irina V. Soboleva

This paper explores the legacy of the For Fair Elections (ffe) protest movement in 2011–2012 for electoral competition in Russia. We argue that through strategic innovation, oppositions in authoritarian countries can challenge the autocratic state on multiple fronts by transferring resources from street protests to the electoral arena. Our empirical focus is on Alexei Navalny’s campaign for Moscow mayor in late summer 2013. The successful mass mobilization in the movement enabled the campaign to implement a model of electoral innovation based on ideational frames, resources, and tactics drawn from the protest movement. Voter response was stronger than expected, demonstrating the persistence of voter opposition in the face of genuine electoral choice. Relying on press reports, blogs, campaign materials and interviews with activists, we investigate the campaign’s strategy and show why it presented a particular challenge to the regime. Our conclusion underscores the state’s advantage in countering elite opposition innovation, but also highlights how effective opposition innovation can lead to significant changes in strategies to maintain regime stability.