Staying Out of Trouble: Criminal Cases Against Russian Mayors
Although repression against elites is a common occurrence in authoritarian regimes, we know little about which elites are targeted. This paper uses an original dataset on the prosecution of mayors in large Russian cities to examine the factors that make elites more likely to be arrested. We argue that in electoral authoritarian regimes like Russia, regime leaders are reluctant to arrest popular officials. Such officials command political capital that is useful to the regime, and arrests of prominent officials can produce popular backlash. We examine this argument using an original dataset on all arrests of municipal leaders in Russia’s 221 largest cities between 2002 and 2018. We find that mayors who won their elections by large margins are less likely to be arrested. In addition, we document several other substantively important patterns: (1) a mayor’s professional background is not related to the likelihood of arrest, (2) opposition mayors are four times more likely to be arrested, and (3) mobilization of votes for the regime is not protective against arrest.