As Russia’s post-communist regime descends deeper into authoritarianism, protest politics has become a regular feature of the political landscape. As such, President Putin increasingly faces the “dictator’s dilemma”: How much coercion to deploy against protesters without incurring a social backlash against the regime? That question more generally is now part of analytical consideration in comparative scholarship on social movements and contentious politics. This article contributes to the comparative discussion, first, through an elaboration of an original conceptual typology of protest-policing strategies, applicable to democratic and authoritarian regime types. Second, the article applies this conceptual scheme to Russia to illustrate the variant protest-policing strategies employed during the post-communist period. The research explains how Putin’s authoritarian regime responded to the challenge of the dictator’s dilemma by enacting protest-policing reforms. Inspired by policing trends in the Western democracies, these reforms entail a shift from confrontation-based to containment-based tactics. The article shows variation and adaptation in the way protesters were policed across Russia’s transition from unconsolidated democracy to consolidated authoritarianism. Finally, the article suggests the consequences of protest-policing reform for the ruling regime.

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