Russian post-Soviet politics have been impacted by the power struggle at the top of the state among businessmen (known as the "oligarchs") with close ties to the Kremlin. However, in Moscow, very few of them have embarked upon a political career which would have pitted them against professional politicians, whereas in the Russian provinces, many businessmen have participated in electoral races since the 1990s. Being influential locally thanks to important financial means and a vast social network, they have taken advantage of the weakening of the political center in Moscow, and of the absence of a real pluralistic party-system. This article explains the phenomenon, on the basis of the case-study in the Bryansk Province (Central Russia) of Nikolai Denin, the director of a giant poultry and eggs factory, elected as Bryansk Governor in December 2004, thanks to his links with the pro-Kremlin party “United Russia”. During Vladimir Putin’s two presidential terms, particularly after the regime’s evolution towards authoritarian rule in 2004, we have observed the recentralization of political resources, leading eventually to the exclusion of businessmen from the political game. The diachronic study on the involvement of businessmen in politics in the Russian provinces since 1991 shows the institutional changes taking place in Russia as much as the personal strategies of those particular social actors.
By Jean-Charles Lallemand