Ruling Russia: Law, Crime, and Justice in a Changing Society

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Ruling Russia: Law, Crime, and Justice in a Changing Society, ed. William Alex Pridemore. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005. 325 pp. $85.00 cloth.

The goal of Ruling Russia is to assess the effects of political, economic, and social change on the development of the postcommunist legal system in Russia. Edited by a specialist in Russian criminal justice at Indiana University, the volume contains contributions from almost two dozen scholars, and is organized into three sections: law, crime, and justice. Although the book breaks little new ground (many of the chapters draw heavily from earlier works by the contributors), it serves as an important source of information and analyses on vital, yet understudied, aspects of Russian law and society.

Three early chapters seek to link legal reform to Russia's peculiar institutional and cultural context. Where Richard Sakwa and Linda Cook examine, respectively, the role of the presidency and the Duma in shaping the Russian legal order, Janine Wedel challenges traditional approaches to the study of Russian legal affairs. In a chapter titled "Flex Organizing and the Clan State," Wedel argues that because fluid networks of elites regularly operate across the public-private divide, analyses focusing on institutions fail to capture the informal relations of power and influence that shape Russian political and legal development. Likewise, because of their focus on individual action, economics-driven perspectives on law and politics miss out on behavior embedded in informal collectives, which she terms "flex organizations." Wedel does not explore fully the implications of her alternative methodology for the study of Russian law, but raises important questions about the relationship between informal and formal rules. For answers to these questions, one will need to turn to the works of Alena Ledeneva and others.

The long-awaited Code of Criminal Procedure, adopted in 2001, is the subject of an exceptionally informative and nuanced chapter by Peter Solomon. Solomon details the code's tortuous path to adoption, its formal provisions, and its initial impact on the criminal justice system. Designed to eliminate many of the elements of accusatorial bias inherited from the Soviet era, the code represents a compromise between the ideas of traditionalists working in law enforcement and those of westerners in the scholarly community and the presidential administration. Solomon notes that although the provisions of the code improve the position of the defense at each stage of the criminal process, numerous legacies from the old order remain. For example, investigators at the pretrial stage often refuse to interview defense witnesses, and, at trial, judges regularly turn down defense requests to call experts. As a result, Solomon writes, "the principle of adversarialism proclaimed in the theoretical parts of the CPC [Criminal Procedure Code] was seriously compromised in practice" (89). This gap between law and legal practice is a recurring theme in Ruling Russia, as it has been in virtually all earlier works on Soviet and post-Soviet law.

The core of the volume is a series of studies on criminology, which has only recently attracted the serious attention of the Western scholarly community. …