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The Logic of Kleptocracy: Corruption, Repression, and Political Opposition in Post-Soviet Eurasia


This dissertation asks why some non-democratic regimes give political opponents significant leeway to organize, while others enforce strict limits on such activities. I examine this question with reference to two in-depth case studies from post-Soviet Eurasia: Georgia under President Eduard Shevardnadze and Kazakhstan under President Nursultan Nazarbayev. While a non-democratic regime was in place in both countries, opposition was highly tolerated in Georgia, but not allowed in Kazakhstan.

I argue that these divergent policies can be traced to variation in the predominant source and pattern of state corruption in each country. In Georgia, the primary source of rulers' illegal income was society itself, which created incentives for the government to tolerate political opposition. In this pattern of corruption, illegal income flowed into the state from society in the form of bribes, and then upward within the state. Private citizens made informal payments to state officials, who in turn were required to channel a percentage of the proceeds to their superiors and to political rulers. This pattern created a state that was dependent on society. Consequently, the elites were constrained: the government was more likely to tolerate political opposition in an effort to continue amassing private profits. In contrast, in Kazakhstan, political leaders faced a dramatically different set of incentives. Rulers embezzled natural resource wealth, which were outside of citizens' control. As a result, government officials could pursue unpopular policies--including aggressive repression against opposition groups--without jeopardizing the flow of illicit profits.

These findings contribute to the growing literatures explaining variation among non-democratic regimes and the sustainability of non-democratic rule. By tracing this cross-national variation to differences in state corruption, this study moves beyond the literature's current focus on how authoritarian rulers spend resource wealth to sustain authoritarianism. Rather, I emphasize how the variation in the sources of illegal wealth--and its profound effect on the autonomy of state elites vis-à-vis society--influences the regime.

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