‘State Building in Putin’s Russia: policing and coercion after Communism’ by Brian Taylor (2011)

Another quick foreshadowing of a forthcoming review, this time in the Russian Review. Read the review for my full comments, but in brief, State Building in Putin’s Russia: policing and coercion after Communism is an excellent and deeply-researched book on the MVD and other institutions of internal control under Putin. Brian Taylor (Maxwell School, Syracuse University) very usefully conceptualizes the siloviki of the military and security interests as at once a cohort (a distinct social body with certain common traits and values), clans (competing factions) and corporate (bureaucratic and institutional) interests. However, the core of this book is devoted to assessing the overall contribution of the police and security institutions to the development of the Russian state, demonstrating that state capacity only improved to a very slightly, a process largely limited by an inattention to what he calls “state quality” – essentially, good governance and the satisfaction of society’s needs. Taylor doesn’t really dig into how far poor governance reflects a failure of Putin’s state-building project and how far it is because Putin wasn’t interested in this kind of thing but wanted to create a centralized hybrid state. What this first-class book proves, though, is that even if Putin thinks he got what he wanted from the siloviki, if his aim was lasting, effective and reliable state building, then he was wrong.

(In fairness, though, I’d in any case always be a sucker for a book that declares itself to be committed to “bringing the gun back in” to the comparative literature on states.)

Taylor, Brian D. State Building in Putin’s Russia: Policing and Coercion after Communism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. xviii + 373 pp. $95.00. ISBN 978-0-521-76088-1.

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