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Can Russia Modernise? Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance, Alena V. Ledeneva

Reviewed by Jessica Pisano

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Much English‐language analysis of Russian politics reveals more about what interests commentators—rooting out corruption, developing rule of law, estab­lishing secure property rights, and other ways in which Russians might improve their society—than about how contemporary Russia actually works. This is not the case with Aleva Ledeneva’s latest book. Apart from a few gestures toward possible paths of change, this book does not suffer from a pedagogical tone: while Ledeneva has chosen “modernization” to frame her argument, she is not in the business of evaluating either how state and business elites in the Russian Federation do their jobs, or how Russian publics should respond to them. Instead, she seeks to make sense of how Russia’s network‐based governance system, known as sistema, really functions. Ledeneva takes politics, economics, and society in contemporary Russia on their own terms. The result is a book that shows how actors in a highly complex web of formal rules and informal practices manage to keep a ship of state afloat.

Ledeneva’s previous work traced late‐Soviet horizontal exchange networks and identified and explicated informal practices that were central to Russian political development in the post‐Soviet period. In this latest work, she turns h

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