Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Economic Restructuring after the Post-Soviet “Color Revolutions,” 2000–2022

Thomas Barrett

The democratic capitalist countries of the post-Soviet space have experienced chronic political and economic instability in their short histories since independence, most notably during their respective “Color Revolutions.” Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine was in part a reaction to the emergence in three of its former colonies (Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) of political regimes that prioritized political and economic ties with the West and explicitly repudiated ties with Russia. In the regional studies literature, this shift is often explained by a pro-Western orientation among parts of the population that is rooted in cultural and linguistic identity and supported by opportunistic elites. The dissertation examines this process through the lens of political economy. It analyzes “extraction coalitions” composed of oligarchs and loyal politicians and identifies two types of such coalitions with distinctive economic and geopolitical preferences rooted in their sectoral interests. Due to domestic factors and the countries’ position within the global economy, these extraction coalitions struggle to stabilize their rule. The “Color Revolutions” thus represent moments at which the “pro-Western” extraction coalition is able to wrest power from the “pro-Russian” coalition. This creates real distributional consequences not only for elites but also for the social blocs that support them, as well as dramatic geopolitical changes.

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