The ties that bind: big business and center-periphery relations in the Russian Federation

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Speckhard, Christopher Thomas

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This dissertation examines the development of Russian federalism from 1990- 2002, focusing on patterns of intergovernmental conflict and cooperation that have persisted across both the Yeltsin and Putin presidencies. It argues that unexpected instances of cooperation between the federal government and the wealthier regions can be explained by the political and economic integrating role of Russia’s largest business actors, or “national-level” businesses. As these businesses increase their impact on regional political economies, they tend to enhance the central government’s capacity to coerce and co-opt regional politicians. Although the comparative politics literature has increasingly emphasized the dangers of political decentralization in democratizing federal states, this study demonstrates how certain types of state-business alliances can, instead, bind the interests of federal and regional politicians, helping to “make federalism work” in an environment of intense economic adjustment and weak democratic institutions. The dissertation concludes with an assessment of two contrasting scenarios focused on the direction of Russia’s federal system during the next several years. One scenario is clearly more positive than the other, envisioning the gradual institutionalization of the state-business relationship, coupled with the development of a strong national party system, as contributing to a deepening of democratic federalism and to a “market-preserving” balance of power in intergovernmental relations that would promote economically salutary competition between subnational governments. The other, more negative, scenario foresees national-level businesses as becoming instruments of coercive recentralization in Russia’s federal system, with potentially deleterious effects for democratic consolidation and fiscal federal performance.