New Publication: Responding to crises in authoritarian environments


Vera Axyonova published her new paper "Responding to crises in authoritarian environments: Russian think tanks between policy evaluation and state endorsement" in Review of Policy Research.

Full Article.

In the literature on policy advice and analytical communities in democratic settings, think tanks are often assumed to be carriers of new ideas that serve as an informed and independent voice in policy debates. However, how much intellectual independence do think tanks have in authoritarian environments? This article tackles this question in a case study of Russian think tanks' discursive responses to two protracted crises: the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. The study employs a combination of deductive and inductive techniques to identify the discursive strategies used by think tank experts in their publications covering the crises. The findings suggest that there are differences in how think tanks communicate crises, which can be attributed to their institutional structures and position vis-à-vis the state. In some cases, the think tanks resort to polarization and discreditation of Western governments' crisis response, while openly endorsing the Russian state. In other cases, they engage in rationalization and more neutral analyses of the pandemic and climate change. However, regardless of these differences, they rarely concentrate on domestic challenges. Instead, they geopoliticize the crises, overemphasizing problematic developments elsewhere in the world, thus shifting attention in the public discourse away from domestic emergencies.