The siloviki – Russian security and military personnel – are a key part of Team Putin. They are not, however, a coherent group, and there are important organizational and factional cleavages among the siloviki. Compared with some security and military forces around the world, Russian military and security forces generally lack the attributes that would make them a proactive and cohesive actor in bringing about fundamental political change in Russia. In the face of potential revolutionary change, most Russian military and security bodies do not have the cohesion or the will to defend the regime with significant violence. Russian siloviki are a conservativeforce supportive of the status quo. Future efforts by the siloviki to maintain the stability of the existing political order are most likely to be reactive, divided, and behind the scenes.

The Russian elite under Vladimir Putin, according to conventional wisdom, are dominated by men in uniform. The Russian sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya was one of the first experts to make this claim, dubbing Putin's regime a “militocracy” dominated by people with backgrounds in the secret police, the military, and law enforcement organs: the siloviki. Average Russians agree; in polls they have consistently stated that, most of all, Putin represents the interests of the siloviki. A related approach, although partially at odds with the militocracy scheme, contends that Putin's Russia is a “neo-KGB state,” maintaining that the KGB evolved from being “a state within the state” in the Soviet Union to “the state itself” under Putin. Thus, in this narrower conception, it is not just any man in uniform, but only chekisty (from the name of the early Soviet secret police, the Cheka) who run Putin's Russia.1

If Russia is a militocracy or a neo-KGB state, it logically stands to reason that siloviki or chekisty will likely play an equally prominent role in a post-Putin political system. A powerful faction within the elite, with special access to both power (guns) and knowledge (state intelligence), the siloviki are well positioned to maintain their position. For example, political analyst Kimberly Marten has argued that even if Putin is no longer in charge, the system is unlikely to change, because of the dominance of “KGB/FSB [Federal Security Service] networks,” that can use their control over secret information and financial assets to squash any potential rival.2

This essay challenges this view of the likely trajectory of future political change in Russia. In particular, I explore what role the siloviki might play in fundamental political change in Russia over the next ten years, arguing that their ability to dictate the future direction of Russia is by no means assured. To the extent that representatives of the siloviki play a role in political change over the next decade, whether of a constitutional or extraconstitutional variety, they are likely to be reactive rather than proactive and divided rather than unified. Marten is correct that chekisty are likely to support the continuation of the status quo, but neither the siloviki in general nor the chekisty in particular are a coherent or unified team. The siloviki are internally divided along both organizational (formal) and so-called clan (informal) lines. Furthermore, the Russian siloviki do not possess the organizational or ideological characteristics that often lead men in uniform to decisive action in other parts of the world.

I draw on both comparative politics research on similar regimes around the world and examples from Soviet and Russian history in this attempt to forecast the future role of the siloviki. Lessons from other countries suggest that the role of coercive force is often decisive at times of fundamental political change, but only highly cohesive armed groups tend to be successful in gaining and holding power. The Russian siloviki do not fit this model. Furthermore, the lessons of Russian history suggest that even when force-wielding structures do play an important role, it is most often at the behest of other political elites, rather than as an autonomous force. Future siloviki behavior in high politics will above all be cautious and conservative. The siloviki are unlikely to be at the forefront of a radical political shift in Russia.

Russia's “force structures” (silovye struktury) are the state's military, security, and law enforcement bodies. Siloviki, then, are those who work or worked for one of the force structures, or “power ministries.” It was simpler in Soviet times, because there were three main agencies: the Ministry of Defense; the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), which controlled the police; and the KGB (Committee on State Security). After the Soviet collapse, the number of power ministries proliferated as part of a deliberate strategy by President Boris Yeltsin to divide state coercive resources, in particular the powerful KGB that in August 1991 played the lead role in organizing the attempted hardliner coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Although Putin has partially reversed this fragmentation, giving the FSB restored power in some areas, he did not return Russia to its tripartite structure from the mature Soviet system. Indeed, at times he has furthered this dispersal of power, most recently in 2016 when he created a powerful National Guard of over two hundred thousand armed personnel under the direct control of his longtime associate and former bodyguard Viktor Zolotov.3

It would be a big mistake, however, to assume that all siloviki share common interests and ideas. Indeed, the interests of these different organizations are often more in competition than in harmony. At a general level, this is Bureaucratic Politics 101: organizations with similar and overlapping missions often compete for power and resources. For example, multiple Russian law enforcement and security agencies – including the FSB, the MVD, and the Investigative Committee – have jurisdiction over economic crimes, an important (and potentially lucrative) realm of activity in Russia's rough-and-tumble capitalism. Russia's power ministries also have deep legacies of conflict from the Soviet past, related to issues such as KGB monitoring of the military from the inside, or the privileged status of chekisty compared with average cops. Putin could not eliminate these rivalries even if he wanted to, and the presence of competing power ministries arguably strengthens his position and provides him with more reliable information on their activities.

Russian siloviki, although generally possessing a conservative worldview, also do not represent an ideological monolith. It is generally believed that siloviki tend to be statist and illiberal, favoring a hard line at home and a confrontational foreign policy abroad. As one former KGB general put it, chekisty “are patriots and proponents of a strong state” committed to “the resurrection of our Great Power.” This characterization of chekist values does reflect many of the views of Putin and other chekisty from within his inner circle. As two of Russia's leading authorities on the FSB put it, “If the FSB has an ideology, it is the goal of stability and order.” According to a 2008 sociological study of Russian elites, the siloviki were among the most status quo – oriented elite groups. At the same time, it would be a mistake to presume ideological homogeneity, especially across the different agencies, given the different organizational cultures of the military, the secret services, and the police. Surveys of the elite, including siloviki, demonstrate that power ministry personnel hold a range of political views.4

Another reason why the siloviki are not a unified force in Russian politics is that they are not defined solely by their organizational background; they also have informal ties to people outside their agency and, indeed, outside the state, such as private businesspeople. In other words, individual siloviki are not just members of a state bureaucracy, but also inhabit a set of informal networks that cross administrative barriers and the public-private divide. Informal clans matter as much as formal positions and titles. The importance of clans and informal networks is, of course, not confined to siloviki and power ministry officials; it is true of economic and political elites at both the local and national level. This is part of “how Russia really works.”5

Unfortunately, when it comes to enumerating the important clans, this fundamental insight into Russian politics – that informal clans matter as much as formal position – often coexists with a simplistic reductionism. In particular, it is often assumed that there is a single, unified siloviki clan encompassing all of the siloviki officials with top positions in Russian politics. However, there has never been a unified siloviki clan. Instead, there are multiple and competing siloviki clans, with connections that cut across formal boundaries. The battles for influence between these different clans are often intense.6

Further, these clan and organizational battles are about not just power but also money. Siloviki politics have been punctuated in the Putin era by periodic flare-ups around commercial ventures, and the ability of law enforcement agencies to exploit their authority for their own ends. There have been scandals around furniture smuggling, underground casinos, and money laundering. In all of these cases, representatives of different agencies, such as the FSB, the MVD, the prosecutor's office, and the Investigative Committee, have been at odds over who gets to oversee these lucrative areas of the underground economy. Law enforcement agencies are also frequently found to be complicit in protection rackets or raids conducted to advance private business interests.7

It is also worth noting that the siloviki have weapons other than guns. Under Putin, the power to arrest and the control over information have been the most effective weapons. As Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy put it, “Core individuals collect and amass detailed compromising material (kompromat in Russian) that can be used as leverage on every key figure inside and outside government.”8 The agencies that have the upper hand in this gathering of kompromat are the FSB and the Federal Guards Service, the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service. This information can be used for either state or private goals, and Putin has proved himself the master of this process. Kompromat helps ensure loyalty in normal times; it might not have that effect in extraordinary times, however, when the rules of the game themselves are up for grabs.

Siloviki are clearly important players in Russian high politics. This is particularly true of chekisty, especially those with career connections to Putin. Claims that Russia under Putin is a “militocracy” carry an important element of truth, but they are also a serious oversimplification. First, the number of siloviki in top political positions has sometimes been exaggerated.9 Putin has relied not just on former KGB colleagues, but also on previous colleagues and friends from other parts of his life, including economists, lawyers, and businessmen he worked with in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s. Second, the siloviki, both in terms of formal organizations and in terms of informal clans, are not members of a single, unified team. As historian Thomas Gomart has written, “The siloviki are not a structured group. The siloviki are marked by intense rivalries and a high degree of heterogeneity.”10 Even within the different power ministries, there are intense battles for power, influence, and money. These differences make it harder for there to be a coherent siloviki response to a political crisis. Individual siloviki may play a role in affecting major political change, but not “the siloviki” as a coherent group.

The seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes theorized about the need for a powerful state, a Leviathan, to maintain social order and prevent “the war of all against all.” Ultimately, the Leviathan rests on coercive force because, as Hobbes wrote elsewhere, “in matter of Government, when nothing else is turn'd up, Clubs are Trump.”11 Indeed, clubs are often trump in authoritarian and semiauthoritarian states, which may lack stable and legitimate political institutions for resolving conflicts without force. The Arab Spring dramatically brought home this point, when seemingly stable and resilient authoritarian regimes collapsed entirely or descended into civil war. From Tunisia to Libya to Egypt to Syria, men with guns have determined the fate of regimes. Similarly, the conduct of the power ministries was critical to determining the outcome of a series of “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet states of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, and, arguably, in preventing such revolutions in countries like Armenia and Uzbekistan.

These dramatic events have led to renewed efforts to explain the domestic political behavior of military and security bodies in the face of crisis and potential change. It seems clear that raw indicators of state coercive capacity – the size and budget of the forces, the quality of their training and equipment, and so on – cannot by themselves explain military and police behavior, although extremely weak states unable to properly maintain or pay people in uniform are obviously vulnerable. Rather, issues of cohesion and will are central to explaining whether coercive organs will support the existing regime, throw in their lot with the opposition, seek power for themselves, or splinter into competing groups. Cohesion and will, in turn, hinge on such factors as whether the military and security chiefs have tight links with the political leadership, and whether their own fate, and that of their organizations, are dependent on these ties. Thus, during the Arab Spring, for example, militaries with strong communal (ethnic, tribal, or sectarian) and personalistic connections to ruling autocrats were more likely to shoot at protestors than those who had a more separate sense of institutional identity that made them less dependent on the existing regime. Similarly, coercive organs with strong ideological ties to civilian rulers, often forged in revolution or violent conflict, are more likely to remain loyal.12

Of course, force-wielding organizations are not acting in a vacuum, but responding to what other actors do. For example, police and security bodies may have no problem with harassing oppositionists and dispersing small groups of demonstrators (what political scientists Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way have called “low-intensity coercion”), but balk at being asked to shoot on large crowds (“high-intensity coercion”). Only those coercive bodies that meet the criteria just mentioned – such as strong communal or ideological bonds with authoritarian rulers – are likely to employ high-intensity coercion.13

Further, state coercive organs are not just objects of political activity, dependent on the actions of civilian rulers and opposition elites, parties, and movements – they can be subjects as well. This is particularly true of the military. As political scientist Samuel Finer observed, it arguably makes more sense to ask why the military does not get involved in politics than to ask why it does, given that it is a highly disciplined and hierarchical organization, with strong symbolic status as the defender of the nation and, particularly important, a lot of guns. At the same time, Finer noted, the military often lacks legitimacy to rule the state, and may lack the capacity to do so once the polity and economy are sufficiently developed. In general, opportunities for coups are higher in poor countries with weak states and fragile economies, where military officers may be motivated to act by threats to the army's organizational interests, or out of a desire to advance the interests of particular societal groups, such as that of coethnics. Countries also can develop a tradition of military coups, in which military and even civilian elites can come to see army participation in high politics as normal, such as in Thailand. Conversely, other militaries may develop an apolitical (sometimes called “professional”) identity that holds the view that their job is external defense and domestic military intervention is wrong. In contrast to the military, it is very rare for the police and secret police to be able to seize power on their own. Even in cases where the secret services played a central political role, such as in certain Middle Eastern so-called Mukhabarat (intelligence) states, they have never ruled the state in their own name, preferring to work behind the scenes.14

Whether clubs are trump, therefore, depends a great deal on the nature of the club. Some state coercive organs have the will and cohesiveness to intervene decisively in domestic politics, either to protect the existing regime or make a bid for power on their own. Other armed state bodies are more passive in periods of domestic political turmoil, seeking to shield the organization from the unpredictable consequences of taking on an internal role. The nightmare scenario that generals seek to avoid, but that sometimes arises regardless, is when internal divisions within the power ministries lead to outright confrontation or even civil war.

How likely is a Russian man on horseback to be a source of fundamental political change? Not very likely. Serving Russian military, police, and secret police officers almost certainly will not try to seek power on behalf of their organization. The last unsuccessful coup attempt in Russia was in August 1991, a desperate effort by hardliners from the kgb, the military, the police, and the Communist Party to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union. Before that, the most recent, and also unsuccessful, bid for power by a Russian general was during the 1917 Revolution and subsequent civil war. These two great cataclysms of twentieth-century Russian history are united by one central feature: they were periods of state collapse. During state breakdown, it is difficult for state coercive bodies, and especially the military, to stay out of politics. Absent another episode of state collapse, which seems improbable in contemporary Russia, a coup effort by a military or security grouping is highly unlikely. Russia is a relatively wealthy country with no tradition of military rule, and no successful military coup in over two hundred years – a poor candidate indeed for military dictatorship.15

What about power ministry behavior in the event of a major opposition challenge to the ruling regime, along the lines of a color revolution? Let's assume at the time of the challenge that it is either Putin or someone from his inner circle that he anointed as his successor in charge. Many would suppose that the power ministries would be firmly behind Putin or someone from his team, given that siloviki are seen as the dominant faction in the regime. In 2007, for example, political scientist Mark Beissinger argued that “the close association of the secret police (FSB) with the Putin Regime … renders it less likely that the secret police would defect, since the secret police have a direct stake in the preservation of their pervasive influence over government.”16

Given what we learned above about the nature of the different organizations that make up the Russian power ministries, and the attributes of coercive organs that remain loyal to authoritarian and semiauthoritarian regimes, however, there are reasons to doubt the cohesion and will of Russia's major power ministries to defend the regime during a crisis. Specifically, the three major power ministries – the Ministry of Defense, the FSB, and the MVD – all have strong and independent institutional identities and do not have robust ideological or communal commitments to Putin and his circle, particularly ones forged in violence during war or revolution. Obviously, the FSB is the closest of the three to Putin, and its current leader is a member of Putin's St. Petersburg chekist group, but the FSB does not command large numbers of troops. The military obviously controls massive coercive power, but it has traditionally resisted internal repression missions, particularly in the context of leadership struggles, and does not possess the attributes of a military inclined to embrace high-intensity coercion.

The leading force in dealing with domestic protests in post-Soviet Russia has been the MVD, with a combination of ordinary police, riot police, and, if necessary, the heavily armed Internal Troops. It was the MVD, for example, that played the central role in policing the 2011 – 2012 protests in Moscow, the largest mass demonstrations since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in 2016, as noted above, Putin created a National Guard subordinate to the president that includes the Internal Troops and the riot police, and placed a key ally in charge. This move was widely interpreted as an effort by Putin to create a praetorian guard that would be a reliable instrument of domestic repression in the face of potential internal unrest.17

The creation of a National Guard suggests two interesting things about the role of the siloviki in confronting major political change. First, it implies that Putin and his team are worried about domestic stability. The current head of the MVD, Vladimir Kolokol'tsev, is a career professional cop and is not known as a close Putin associate. The current minister of defense, Sergei Shoigu, is closer to Putin, but he also has independent political standing and popularity; his fate is not linked to Putin's. Plausibly, Putin believes that neither the MVD nor the military would be a reliable instrument of repression in a crisis. A new National Guard, shaped by his ally Zolotov, could be a more reliable weapon.

Second, the National Guard reconfigures the balance among the different power ministries. Not only did it undermine the MVD by removing more than two hundred thousand personnel from its ranks, it also created a new and potentially powerful competitor to the FSB. Putin's stated rationale for creating the National Guard was to fight terrorism and organized crime, but those are also FSB responsibilities. Future turf battles seem inevitable, in terms of access to power, influence, and opportunities for economic enrichment. Indeed, according to one source inside the security services, the creation of the National Guard was not about dealing with possible antiregime protests, but about redistributing power between the power ministries. “We are not afraid of crowds,” this person said, “we are afraid of each other.”18

This source did not say why the power ministries fear each other more than they fear crowds-is it because he thinks power ministry battles are more likely than mass protests, or because he thinks they can deal with crowds easily? If he thinks it will be easy to dispatch large crowds of protestors, his confidence could well be misplaced. It is doubtful that the National Guard would be a reliable tool of repression in the face of revolutionary pressure from below. It will have the necessary capacity in terms of personnel and resources, but it may lack the cohesion and will. Although Zolotov's personal fate is directly linked to Putin's, this is unlikely to be true at lower levels in the organization. These personnel do not have strong ideological or kin ties to Putin and his circle, and thus may balk if ordered to deploy high-intensity coercion against large groups of peaceful protestors. Material rewards and patronage can sustain the organization in less extreme circumstances, but could well prove inadequate when the chips are down. Thus, for example, the August 1991 coup failed when second-tier generals and lower-level officers in the army, MVD, and KGB dragged their feet and otherwise resisted orders to use force.

There is one internal coercive force, however, that might be considered reliable in high-intensity coercion scenarios: the Kadyrovtsy. These are the forces loyal to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, typically estimated at around twenty to thirty thousand people. Regardless of their formal designation – many of them were technically part of the MVD and should be transferred to the control of the National Guard – it is widely believed that their loyalty is more personal than institutional, belonging to Kadyrov himself. In turn, Kadyrov has on multiple occasions pledged his personal loyalty to Putin and suggested that he is willing to defend Putin against his enemies, and Putin has likewise shown great confidence in Kadyrov. The Kadyrovtsy do possess many of the qualities outlined above, in particular the close personal and communal ties forged during violent conflict, that suggest they could be a reliable force in a crisis. Central power ministries, in particular the FSB, allegedly resent Kadyrov's influence and unconstrained behavior, but Putin has repeatedly resisted entreaties to remove or discipline Kadyrov. However, any attempt to expand the role of the Kadyrovtsy during a crisis beyond Chechnya, particularly in Moscow, would likely face pushback from the FSB, and perhaps the MVD and even the armed forces.19

A major social challenge in the form of mass mobilization would not, of course, inevitably lead to an attempted crackdown. Indeed, the smartest regime strategy is often to do nothing and let the protests fizzle out on their own, and one might expect that the political leadership would be too smart to shoot at unarmed protesters.20 Another possibility is that popular challenges lead to splits inside the regime, and this is the environment in which siloviki insiders arguably could play the greatest role in bringing about political change. For example, one could imagine a situation in which an unpopular president, whether Putin some years in the future or someone else, faces both popular mobilization and elite defections. Under these circumstances, the leaders of the power ministries would likely be influential actors, sought out by various elites seeking to build an alternative coalition. Similarly, siloviki members in informal clan networks could use their connections and access to kompromat to maneuver on behalf of either the sitting president or an alternative ruler from within the elite. In these types of scenarios, however, we are talking about a change in leadership, not fundamental change in the nature of the regime.

Soviet and Russian history suggests that elite conflicts over the top job (albeit normally without mass mobilization) are the periods during which military and security leaders play the largest role. For example, a few months after Joseph Stalin's death in 1953, top Soviet military generals arrested secret police chief Lavrentii Beria at the order of Communist Party chief Nikita Khrushchev, removing a major contender for power. In 1957, both the head of the military and the head of the KGB backed Khrushchev when others in the top Party leadership tried to remove him. In 1964, the head of the kgb quietly supported an effort led by other top Party officials, including Leonid Brezhnev, to remove Khrushchev from power. Thus, the military and especially the KGB were important players in Communist Party leadership disputes, but their role was always secondary to that of leading Party officials.21

The most dramatic and violent struggle for power in post-Soviet Russia took place in September – October 1993. Yeltsin dismissed the parliament, which was still operating based on a heavily amended Soviet-era constitution. The parliament responded by impeaching Yeltsin and appointing his vice president as president. This constitutional crisis of “dual power” lasted two weeks, with both sides trying to elicit the support of the various power ministries. The force structures largely remained loyal to Yeltsin, including – critically – after an attack by armed parliament supporters on the mayor's office and Moscow's main television and radio tower left dozens dead. At that point, Yeltsin was able to call on the army, and especially his own presidential guard, to gain control of Moscow and arrest the opposition leaders. But the military only agreed to act after armed rebels initiated violence, and it took a personal visit by Yeltsin to the Ministry of Defense, and a direct written order taking personal responsibility, for the military to relent.22 The loyalty during the crisis of the Presidential Security Service and its head, Aleksandr Korzhakov, led Yeltsin to give Korzhakov more powers, telling him to turn his service into a “personal mini-KGB.”23 In this case, like most of the Soviet-period cases, the coercive organs of the state acted in response to decisions of the civilian political leadership and worked to preserve the existing political order rather than upset it.

Informal clan politics have been important in the leadership transitions from Yeltsin to Putin (1999 – 2000), from Putin to Medvedev (2007 – 2008), and from Medvedev back to Putin (2011 – 2012). There was considerable behind-the-scenes politicking about all of these events, and in some cases, various siloviki factions were involved. Putin's rise to the top under Yeltsin was not a chekist or siloviki plot, it was the civilian clan known as the Yeltsin “family” that played the most important role in advancing Putin's candidacy. On the other hand, the struggle over who might succeed Putin in 2008, or whether to find a way to have him serve three consecutive terms (perhaps by amending the constitution), definitely involved key top siloviki and competing siloviki clans. Similarly, the battle over whether Medvedev might be allowed to go for a second term in 2012 also featured prominent siloviki. In both of these cases, however, the key chekist was Putin himself: ultimately, it was up to him whether he would step aside in 2008 and return to the Kremlin in 2012. Further, these episodes were all resolved within the existing rules of the game.24

There is one scenario for major political change that would likely involve some siloviki in a lead role: a move to make Putin “president for life.” In 2007, Putin rejected the idea of rewriting the constitution to allow him to serve a third term. Term limits will next stand in the way of Putin staying on as president in 2024, when Putin will be seventy-two years old. Assuming Putin runs and is reelected in 2018, and faces no other threat to his rule in the meantime, pressure will likely grow from within the system for Putin to concoct a way to stay in power after 2024. Key members of his team will likely, as in 2007, see him as the best possible guarantee of their power and fortunes and press for a continuation of his rule. This “Putin forever” scenario would be significant intrasystem change, but it would be change for the sake of stasis, and therefore less transformative than the other scenarios considered above. Further, this would be another instance in which Putin himself would be the ultimate decider.

Overall, siloviki – both the formal organizational kind and of informal clan networks-have been most influential in helping to decide who rules Russia when they are acting to preserve the existing order and are working in support of top civilian elites. The one time the head of the KGB, together with the head of the army and the police and leading civilian officials, tried to overthrow the leader of the state, in August 1991, it was a miserable failure. More common are circumstances in which behind-the-scenes maneuvering within the elite involves top power ministry officials or informal siloviki clans. But these instances tend to reinforce the status quo, not stimulate major political change. Russian siloviki in the current era are “the conservative guardian of the existing order,” the role political scientist Samuel Huntington has ascribed to the military in countries facing the transition to mass politics.25 In Russia, they tend to play this role from the side, not out in front.

Elvis Costello once sang, “accidents will happen” – which brings us to our final point. Perhaps the most likely way the siloviki will bring about fundamental political change in Russia is by mistake. Although top power ministry officials and the heads of the different siloviki clans would like to preserve the existing system, some of their actions could well lead to unintended consequences. One obvious way this could happen in a crisis is a bungled use of force against peaceful protestors that generates a more popular backlash. More likely, perhaps, is a slow-drip hollowing out of the system, as battles over power and wealth between different siloviki factions make the economy and polity progressively less effective. This type of institutional decay could tip into institutional breakdown, what political scientist Steven Solnick has called a “bank run,” in which officials seek to appropriate state assets for themselves before it is too late, thus exacerbating the breakdown that they wish to avoid.26 So far, Putin's oversight and managerial skills have held the system together, but if he cannot find a way to reinvigorate economic growth in the medium term, then the struggle for resources may grow intense, putting the system under strain. Predicting accidents, however, is hard to do. Absent such a scenario of unintended consequences, the siloviki will, under most circumstances, be a force for stability, not fundamental change.

Fundamental future political change implies the unraveling of the Putinist system and its (partial) militocracy. This seems a tall order indeed, since the siloviki control the guns, the information, and key levers of economic and legal control. The siloviki, and especially the chekisty, are indeed intertwined in the status quo. They will certainly work to maintain it. But one should not overestimate the coherence and unity of the siloviki or the chekisty, nor the state that allegedly serves their interests. They are divided bureaucratically, politically, and economically. Moreover, they lack the cohesion and will that sustains authoritarian police states in a crisis. Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, remarked, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” This is not the ethos of contemporary Russian siloviki. They are not revolutionaries, and they will save their own necks separately rather than die on the barricades together.


Olga Kryshtanovskaya and Stephen White, “Putin's Militocracy,” Post-Soviet Affairs 19 (4) (2003): 289 – 306; Levada Center, Obshchestvennoye mneniye: sbornik (Moscow: Levada Center, multiple years); and “The Making of a Neo-KGB State,” The Economist, August 23, 2007,


“Will the Putin Regime Crumble? Foreign Affairs' Brain Trust Weighs In,”, April 17, 2016,


Brian D. Taylor, State Building in Putin's Russia: Coercion and Policing after Communism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 36 – 70; and Tat'yana Stanovaya, “Gvardiya prezidenta: kak novoye supervedomstvo menyayet konfiguratsiyu silovikov?”, April 11, 2016.


Laurent Murawiec and Clifford C. Gaddy, “The Higher Police: Vladimir Putin and His Predecessors,” The National Interest 67 (Spring 2002): 35; Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia's Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB (New York: PublicAffairs, 2010), 4; and Mikhail Tarusin, Summa ideologii: mirovozzreniye i ideologiya sovremennoi rossiyskoi elity (Moscow: Institut Obshchestvennogo Proyektirovaniya, 2008), 130. On the heterogeneity of siloviki views in surveys, see Tarusin, Summa ideologii; and E. D. Ponarin and B. O. Sokolov, “Global'naya politika glazami rossiiskoi elity,” Rossiya v global'noi politike, November 11, 2014.


Alena V. Ledeneva, How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices that Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2006); and Alena V. Ledeneva, Can Russia Modernise? Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).


Tat'yana Stanovaya, “Voiny silovikov v Rossii dlya ‘chainikov,'” Intersection Project, August 1, 2016,


Ledeneva, Can Russia Modernise? 179 – 210; Taylor, State Building in Putin's Russia, 156 – 185; and Joshua Yaffa, “The Double Sting,” The New Yorker, July 27, 2015.


Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2013), 5.


David W. Rivera and Sharon Werning Rivera, “Is Russia a Militocracy? Conceptual Issues and Extant Findings Regarding Elite Militarization,” Post-Soviet Affairs 30 (1) (2014): 27 – 50.


Thomas Gomart, Russian Civil-Military Relations: Putin's Legacy (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2008), 89.


Hobbes's specific phrase was “Warre of every one against every one.” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 189; and Thomas Hobbes, A Dialogue Between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 140.


Eva Bellin, “Reconsidering the Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Lessons from the Arab Spring,” Comparative Politics 44 (2) (2012): 127 – 149; Michael Makara, “Coup-Proofing, Military Defection, and the Arab Spring,” Democracy and Security 9 (4) (2013): 334 – 349; Steven R. Levitsky and Lucan A. Way, “Beyond Patronage: Violent Struggle, Ruling Party Cohesion, and Authoritarian Durability,” Perspectives on Politics 10 (4) (2012): 869 – 889; and David Pion-Berlin, Diego Esparza, and Kevin Grisham, “Staying Quartered: Civilian Uprisings and Military Disobedience in the Twenty-First Century,” Comparative Political Studies 47 (2) (February 2014): 230 – 259.


Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 56 – 61.


S. E. Finer, The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics, 2nd ed. (London: Penguin Books, 1975), 4 – 11; and Mehran Kamrava, “Military Professionalization and Civil-Military Relations in the Middle East,” Political Science Quarterly 115 (1) (2000): 67 – 92.


Brian D. Taylor, Politics and the Russian Army: Civil-Military Relations, 1689 – 2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).


Mark R. Beissinger, “Structure and Example in Modular Political Phenomena: The Diffusion of Bulldozer/Rose/Orange/Tulip Revolutions,” Perspectives on Politics 5 (2) (2007): 271.


Tom Balmforth, “Putin's New Security Force Seen as ‘Praetorian Guard,'” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 06, 2016.


“Igry professionalov,” Novaya gazeta, July 6, 2016.


Andrew Bowen, “Kadyrovtsy: ‘Vladimir Putin's Combat Infantry’ and Ramzan Kadyrov's Henchmen,” The Interpreter, June 10, 2015.


On how repression can often backfire, see Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).


William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003), 5 – 15, 250 – 255, 310 – 324, 515.


Taylor, Politics and the Russian Army, 283 – 301.


Aleksandr Korzhakov, Boris Yel'tsin: ot rassveta do zakata (Moscow: Interbuk, 1997), 404.


Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, Kremlin Rising, updated edition (Dulles, Va.: Potomac Books, 2007), 50 – 60; and Steven Lee Myers, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015), 328 – 333, 381 – 392.


Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968), 221.


Steven L. Solnick, Stealing the State: Control and Collapse in Soviet Institutions (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998).

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