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Opposition and dissent in petro-states : international oil markets and political mobilization in Russia Kniazeva, Olga


Using Russia as the main case study over a number of historical periods and Venezuela as a secondary case for comparison, this dissertation proposes an argument which links oil rents to political contestation in petro-regimes and suggests that this, along with the elites’ actions, is the key factor that helps to explain the regime type and the direction of the change in times of external economic shocks. When oil prices are high, petro-states have overwhelming incentives to expand social spending in order to ensure obedience and calm down potential political opponents, which appears to be an easy means of securing legitimacy. The state has more freedom to advance its policies and is less vulnerable to societal demands because it has access to external rents. However, the society is also affected: social groups demand the redistribution of oil wealth and engage in rent-seeking instead of establishing formal channels of interest representation. Consequently, the social contract that emerges is based on the shared understanding of the role of the state as a re-distributor of oil rents and guarantor of societal welfare. When oil prices drop, the state can no longer meet the expectations associated with its legitimacy, becomes more vulnerable to internal and external pressures; social forces tend to mobilize in response to cuts in social spending, and the social contract may break down. The pre-oil features of social organization and state-society relations shape the configuration of the resulting social contract and its disintegration. The main contribution of this dissertation is to create a compelling theory that convincingly explains the empirical observations with respect to one case, by identifying the mechanisms of how oil rent fluctuations translate into regime fluctuations and testing the hypotheses on the effect of external economic shocks on the state’s behavior and popular contentious claims, as well as the choices made by contenders to voice their political demands. Beyond that, I add another shadow case study for a substantially different polity, and demonstrate that the mechanisms I identified work very similarly in different sociopolitical systems, although the specific outcome depends on pre-existing sociopolitical features of the state.

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