What factors determine the timing of elite defection in conditions of post-Soviet personalistic presidentialism? How do relations with a powerful patron state affect this process? This article analyzes these questions on the basis of a case study of Transnistria, a de facto state with strong links to Russia. It argues that privatization processes involving actors from the patron state provide a unique opening for elite defection by heightening tensions between the rent-seeking interests of the personalistic president and those of new owners; direct or indirect signals from the patron state may also affect elite’s perceptions of incumbent durability and their corresponding decisions.

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