Crisis Averted, Transition Ended?: Russia’s Response to the 2008 Financial Crisis as the End of Russia’s “Transition”

Boris N. Mamlyuk, Cornell Law School


Transitologists—scholars who study economic and legal transitions from planned to market economies in formerly socialist countries—have long had difficulty applying dominant paradigms to the ever-enigmatic and unique Russian example. A central question in transition studies is what constitutes the “end” of transition, the theoretical point of arrival. In the case of Russia, this debate is wide-open, with some claiming that recent political developments and the general sliding back of “rule of law” reforms signal a return to totalitarianism, while more moderate Western observers voice hope that Russia’s posture towards Europe (at least) resembles that of a dependable trading partner and member of the civilized family of nations. This short article analyzes Russia’s response to the 2008 global financial crisis and posits that the response of Russia’s ruling elites’ to the crisis is meant to signal to the West the end of transition in Russia; in short, that Russia has learned to manage its own economic affairs. Part one provides an overview of liberalization reforms in Russia during the active transition period (1989-1998). Part two examines the consolidation of power, latent transition, and Russia’s economic growth under Putin’s reign (1999-2008). Lastly, part three analyzes the impact of Russia’s immediate response to the crisis both on Russia’s standing in the world, as well as the consequences for America’s continuing liberalization policies in Russia and beyond.