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This study brings together social identity theory and the literature on ontological security in international relations to highlight the role of leadership processes for group formation and authoritarian legitimation. Together, these theories allow for exploring the conditions that increase the potency of identity-based politics and the specific ways political entrepreneurs can mobilize this political tool. Ontological insecurity, as I argue and show, is a condition that political entrepreneurs use and manipulate to gain political support and legitimate their rule. I illustrate this argument by looking into ‘late Putinism’ as an example of collective identity-driven politics. This study relies on an original nationwide survey experiment conducted in November 2017 in Russia to demonstrate the extent of the Russian society’s vulnerability and receptivity to insecure identity narratives. The data also allows us to start a discussion on the potential factors responsible for societal differentiation on this issue.
Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, a Reader in Russian Politics at King’s College London, is the author of Political Consequences of Crony Capitalism Inside Russia (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011) and the forthcoming monograph Through The Looking Glass: Putin’s Leadership and Russia’s Insecure Identity (Oxford University Press, 2020). Gulnaz has written numerous articles on Russian regional political economy, state-business relations, and corruption in Russia. She has published an edited volume, Soviet Society in the Era of Late Socialism, 1964-1985 (2012) and has been working on bringing social psychological approaches to understanding collective identity issues and the nature of Putinism in Russia.