An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Spring 2017

From Boom to Bust: Hardship, Mobilization & Russia’s Social Contract

Samuel A. Greene

This essay revisits the debate about Russia's “social contract,” arguing that the ability of the Russian system to maintain macro-political stability in the face of significant and prolonged micro-level economic hardship hinges on a peculiarly disengaged relationship between Russian citizens and their state. Russian citizens are seen clearly to understand the failings of the political system and leadership, reinforcing habits of “involution” learned over decades of institutional dysfunction. A review of recent protest movements, indeed, demonstrates that general quiescence coexists with a deep-seated antipathy toward the country's ruling elite, which lends particular animus to grassroots contention in a variety of settings. The question for Russia's sociopolitical future, however, remains an old one: can reactive civic mobilization lead to a proactive process of bottom-up agenda setting?

SAMUEL A. GREENE is Director of the Russia Institute at King's College London and Senior Lecturer in Russian Politics. He has worked as Deputy Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, as Director of the Center for the Study of New Media & Society, and as a freelance journalist in Moscow, Hungary, and the Balkans. He is the author of Moscow in Movement: Power and Opposition in Putin's Russia (2014). His blog, Moscow-on-Thames, may be accessed at

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