This article asks how new rules of political conduct are established in a country attempting political transformation and sweeping economic change. Based on a close analysis of the conflict over property policy and its effect on Russian executive–legislative relations in the 1990s, the study argues that regardless of formal distributions of power, the real allocation of policy-making authority is shaped in struggles over substantive policy issues. Those arenas, especially during the first years after the fall of an authoritarian regime, can function as “political classrooms” in which leaders either adopt or reject such practices as compromise and negotiation.

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