Addressing the challenges of Russia's "failing state":The legacy of Gorbachev and the promise of Putin

John P. Willerton, Mikhail Beznosov, Martin Carrier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Concerns about the prospects for democratic consolidation in Putin's Russia have been heightened with the further expansion of the hegemonic presidency and the strengthened position of the federal authorities vis-à-vis the regions. Such developments, mirroring earlier institutional reforms of the Gorbachev period, are strongly tied with late Soviet and post-Soviet political regime efforts to address the challenges of Russia's "failing state." The authors focus on the political dimension of Russia's "failing state," illuminating Putin's and Gorbachev's efforts to reinforce the state capacity for implementing those structural reforms necessary to sustain democratization. They contend that Putin's efforts to control federal-level institutional rivals and to rein in regional elites are designed not to recreate an authoritarian system but to bring balance among powerful political interests and to raise policy-making efficiency through "managed democracy." A strong parallel can be drawn with the objectives of Gorbachevian reformism, intended to bolster the "failing state" by enhancing the accountability and effectiveness of political executives throughout the country. They assert a sort of organic link between Putin's and Gorbachev's political-institutional reforms, albeit granting significant contextual differences between the ossified Soviet system of the 1980s and the corruption and post-Soviet system weaknesses of the early 2000s. The authors conclude that many judgments offered by Western (especially American) observers about the weakening of democracy have been more guided by a projection of those observers' own conceptions of democracy than by an understanding of Russia's traditions or thinking in establishing the necessary conditions for democratic consolidation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-239
Number of pages21
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005


  • Democratization
  • Dictatorship of the law
  • Failing state
  • Gorbachev
  • Managed democracy
  • Putin
  • Russian and Soviet state

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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