As the Yeltsin period drew to a close, the role of the Russian state came increasingly under scrutiny both in Russia and in the West.1 In his presidential state of the nation address in 1997, Yeltsin noted that although a new political system had been formed in Russia it had not been ‘equipped with new tools of government’ and that legislation and state bodies too often served particular interests.2 He called for the creation of a more efficient state with the capacity to implement policy, one free of corruption and capable of autonomous action by virtue of serving the general interest. Yeltsin did not manage to create ‘new tools of government’ in his last two years as President. The 1998 economic crisis was blamed by some Russians on ‘crony capitalism’ and the close connections between powerful interests and politicians that prevented the state from taking measures necessary to escape incipient crisis.3

Finally, the prospect of the end of the Yeltsin era turned attention to the likelihood of his successor’s being able to break free of the alliances and ties – particular interests again – that Yeltsin had built up over the course of his presidency and that had impacted on the introduction and implementation of public policy. This was reinforced when Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin’s successor, emphasized the need for the state to play a larger role in reconstruction at the time of his accession as acting President.4 Western politicians have also highlighted the central role that state building must play in the reconstruction of Russia.5