Legitimated State Repression in Authoritarian Regimes: Russia, 2010 - 2017
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This research aims to reveal and to account for the moderate levels of state repression under contemporary authoritarian regimes, focusing on the case of Russia. I show in this research that, contrary to the previous research and the conventional image of an omnipresent and a strong authoritarian state, the state’s deployment of coercion in Russia has been relatively mild in its severity. I argue that such moderate repression is a by-product of the regime’s pursuit of legitimacy, which leads the state to follow legally established procedures of coercion. Despite the formality of authoritarian institutions, the original design of repression made at the top is reshaped by the judicial institutions, as different actors of the repressive apparatus whose incentives do not necessarily align with those of the central state inevitably involve in constituting and enacting the state’s repressive policies. To prove this thesis, I analyzed the legislation that specifically targets the newly growing civil society and the processes by which such laws are applied, using data on the final verdicts from Russian federal and district courts, reports on judicial persecution by monitoring organizations, and interviews. The case of Russia reveals that the preexisting incentive structure of the repressive apparatus as a whole prefers quantity over quality in the direction of avoiding bureaucratic liability. This, in turn, dictates the terms of the investigation, prosecution, and, finally, courts’ rulings. The newly adopted repressive laws targeting dissent movements aid the tendency as the laws point to widening discretion in general due to dubiously defined jurisdiction, the vague contents of provisions, and expanding regulations that punish minor misconducts than felonies. The confluence of the repressive laws and the incentive structure results in a proliferating rate of convictions with light punishment, accounting for the relatively mild level of coercion.