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The Russian social contract and regime legitimacy



The social contract in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia has concerned not classical political rights but socio-economic issues. Loyalty is accorded to the powers-that-be partly from fear of repression, but also in return for new opportunities of advancement—whether resulting from social upheaval or from educational expansion—and for modest improvements in living standards. The Soviet era ended when such benefits could no longer be delivered, on account of lower oil prices, arms-race burdens and lagging productivity and innovation. After the turmoil of the 1990s, the contract was re-established under Putin in the early 2000s. Public opinion accepts relatively authoritarian rule if economic stability appears guaranteed in return. Moreover, world events from 2008 onwards have dampened economic expectations. Nonetheless, the sustainability of the present contract is doubtful, with economic modernization likely to prove elusive in the absence of effective democratic institutions.