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Working paper

School of Autocracy: Pensions and Labour Reforms of the First Putin Administration

The early 2000s marked a surge in uncertainty in Russian politics caused by the succession crisis and the profound political turnover it triggered. This uncertainty could resolve in a number of ways, each leading to a different political development. We trace the actual way out of this uncertainty and suggest that the major factor to condition the further regime trajectory was the way reforms were conducted. The article questions the teleological approach that sees government as knowingly and purposefully building autocracy, and contributes to the tradition emphasizing the plurality of possible regime developments (Golosov 2011) and the role of contingency therein (Hale 2004) by providing a more systematic treatment of such contingency. We use insights from basic coordination game theory and cognitive institutionalism to show how local reform practices become accepted as a trusted way of interaction by political actors and stick with the regime in a path dependent manner. This intuition is substantiated with a casestudy of pensions and labour reforms. Course of these reforms determined the major features of the Putin regime, such as building up a single party of power, crowding out the political market, opposition decay, and informal institutionalisation.