The article focusses on policy ideas as explanatory variables for understanding policymaking and governance in Russia. Following Schmidt’s definition of the ideational process as a ‘discourse’ in which actors promote their preferred policy ideas in competition with their opponents, the article argues that in Russia the character of discourses varies between three state levels: the President, ministerial bureaucracy and the regional & local levels. This variegated landscape of policy discourses involves the intensive communicative discourse of the Russian President, which seeks legitimation of main policy approaches with the public and provides signals for the lower level officials. The middle level of policy bureaucracy is characterised by a vigorous coordinative discourse in which officials and non-state experts defend their ideas and seek agreement on policy details. Finally, at the local level political communication and technical coordination of policy ideas coexist and involve, apart from the officials and experts, members of the public. The benefit of the ideas-based perspective on policy and governance in Russia is that it allows not only tracing the origins and evolution of various policy initiatives, but also seeing the sources of presidential popularity and regime flexibility associated with the accommodation of different ideational positions. The argument is illustrated with examples of policymaking in the social sphere, the Maternity Capital programme and the Moscow programme of housing renovation.
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