Democratic institutions, even weak ones, do not wither and die overnight. Leaders bent on undermining free elections or co-opting the judiciary often require years of methodical plotting and legislative chicanery to achieve their goals. And such changes often unfold far from the eye of the general public. In this comprehensive historical study, Aleksashenko does a great service by documenting the decades-long institutional erosion and consolidation of authoritarian rule in Putin-era Russia. The author hits his stride in his discussion of the state’s intervention in the economy. Many previous works have described the consequences of the Kremlin’s takeover of the lucrative oil industry. But the state’s hand has extended into many other sectors, as well. Through detailed interviews and careful work with primary sources, Aleksashenko shows how the Putin regime has taken on oligarchs, pressured international investors, built gigantic state-owned enterprises, and bailed out failing firms. The book offers a definitive account of how, since the late 1990s, the balance of power in Russia has shifted decisively in favor of government officials over private firms. The regime’s economic dominance helps explain its lack of interest in reforms that would protect the property rights or political freedoms of potential challengers.
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