24 March 2010

Book: Russian Resistance to Democratization in the Former Soviet Union

Thomas Ambrosio, "Authoritarian Backlash: Russian Resistance to Democratization in the Former Soviet Union" (Ashgate, January 2009):


Publisher's description: "Authoritarian Russia has adopted five strategies to preserve the Kremlin's political power: insulate, bolster, subvert, redefine and coordinate. Thomas Ambrosio examines each of these in turn, all of which seek to counter or undermine regional democratic trends both at home and throughout the former Soviet Union. Policies such as these are of great concern to the growing literature on how autocratic regimes are becoming more active in their resistance to democracy. Through detailed case studies of each strategy, this book makes significant contributions to our understandings of Russian domestic and foreign policies, democratization theory and the policy challenges associated with democracy promotion."

Contents: The authoritarian backlash against democracy; The external promotion of democracy and authoritarianism; Political trends in the former Soviet Union: an overview; Insulate: shielding Russia from external democracy promotion; Redefine: rhetorical defenses against external criticism; Bolster: Russian support for authoritarianism in Belarus; Subvert: undermining democracy in Georgia and Ukraine; Coordinate: working with others to resist democratization; The Russian 2007–2008 election cycle; The future of democracy and the challenge of authoritarianism

Reviews: "[O]ffers a cutting edge account of active international strategies of authoritarian persistence and survival. Studies of international democracy promotion should take note. Future research will profit by building on the book's analysis well beyond its focus on Putin's Russia." (Peter Burnell, University of Warwick)

"[A] compelling framework for how dictators resist internal and external pressure to expand rights and freedoms for their citizens. Authoritarian Backlash contributes to our understanding of Russia as a consolidated dictatorship, rather than democracy, from its chilling portrayal of the 'Putin Youth' to the ominous signs of a budding partnership with other dictatorships around the world." (Joel M. Ostrow, Benedictine University)

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search:


Thomas Ambrosio is Associate Professor in Political Science at North Dakota State University.

The recent Briefing Paper 2/2010 of the German Development Institute, "Russia: Supporting Non-Democratic Tendencies in the Post-Soviet Space?", authored by Antje Kästner, appears to be drawing on Ambrosio's book.

The article can be read free of charge here:


From the abstract: "Over the last decade, Russia has not only adopted a more authoritarian form of government, but has also become more active in the former USSR. Russia's growing engagement in its 'near abroad' has been paralleled by the rise of illiberal regimes in the region, a development precipitated by active Russian policy action constraining the rise of Western democracy and reinforced by interests shared by the various governments."

Excerpts: "The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was the key event that led Russian authorities to fear the spread of political unrest into Russian territory. In reaction, the Russian government adopted an overtly critical stance towards Western democracy promotion efforts and began to develop its image as an alternative donor in the region. At the same time, Russia stepped up its efforts to cooperate more closely with authoritarian countries [....] Central Asia's natural resources are vital if Russia's authoritarian form of government is to be maintained, while the promotion of controlled instability in the post-Soviet space strengthens Russia's economic and political influence with the aim of ensuring Russian hegemony in the region. [...] Russia is not only supporting incumbent dictators in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, but also reinforcing undemocratic practices in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and trying to prevent democratisation in Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. [...] For many leaders in the 'near abroad', Russia has become an attractive alternative to Western donors, not least because the conditions which the Russian government attaches to its commitment pose less of a threat to the incumbent government's position than democratic conditionality."

Antje Kästner is an Associate Fellow at the German Development Institute.

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