Bankrolling Repression? Modeling Third-Party Influence on Protests and Repression

Author Summary by Olga V. Chyzh and Elena Labzina

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Leaders of minor power states often attempt to enhance their security in office by forming a close quid-pro-quo relationship with a major or regional power. The essence of such a relationship is that the leader of the minor power implements a number of policies sought by the major power in exchange for the major power’s guarantee of her security. Throughout the Cold War, most minor power states formed close ties with either the Soviet Union or the United States; many post-colonial states continue to foster relationships with their former colonial power. But to what extent will the major power actually protect their protégé–leader from domestic challenges? What happens when the policy sought by the major power is itself the cause of major domestic turmoil in the protégé’s state? And does the removal of the protégé indicate a strategic failure on the part of both the protégé and the protector?

Yanukovich, the former president of Ukraine, would likely have a strong opinion. In an attempt to appease Russia, Yanukovich abruptly withdrew from the widely popular EU Association treaty, which triggered the Maidan protests and his eventual removal from the country. Rather than negotiating with protestors, Yanukovich opted for brutal repression, largely relying on Russia to provide weapons, internal police, and intelligence. Does Yanukovich’s removal indicate that Russia’s involvement was a failure?  Or did Russia gain from involvement, despite Yanukovich’s removal?

In brief, our paper shows that Russia gained from the outcome, despite the removal of their protégé-leader. From the perspective of Russia, the use of heavy repression in Ukraine accomplished a much more important goal than keeping Yanukovich in power. Repression in Maidan created a “scarecrow” for future attempts at protesting both in Ukraine, in Russia itself, and throughout its sphere of interest. We highlight this logic by developing a general formal game among the protesters, the government, and a third party. Our results show that, under some conditions, a third-party will choose to sacrifice its protégé leader for the sake of its broader “milieu” goals.

Our results also show that the strategy of the protégé leader is highly influenced by the actions of the third-party. If the third party is able and willing to guarantee the leader’s physical safety and provide assistance with repression, the protégé leader will opt for repression over accommodation of the protesters, despite the possible risk of removal. And vice versa: if the third party is not supportive of repression, then the case is likely to result in accommodation of the protesters. The game helps us understand why observed protest campaigns are often successful, and the conditions under which a third party bankrolls repression against protesters.

About the Authors: Olga V. Chyzh is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Statistics at Iowa State University. Elena Labzina is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Washington University in Saint Louis. Their article “Bankrolling Repression? Modeling Third-Party Influence on Protests and Repression” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.