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Oligarchs in Pre-War Ukraine

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Why do super-wealthy business owners in developing democracies engage in politics? Is corporate political activity fundamentally “defensive” or “offensive” in nature?

Using an original longitudinal dataset of 177 Ukrainian oligarchs, this paper investigates the reasons for (and the ramifications of) tycoons’ political activity. The analysis differentiates between political and economic vulnerabilities — as well as capabilities — of the oligarchs as antecedents for their political strategy. I also investigate how asset specificity of oligarchs’ portfolios, as well as their media ownership and foreign holdings, mitigate the results. Theoretical implications are drawn for our understanding of state-business relations in emerging democracies lacking the rule of law.


Stan Markus is an Associate Professor of International Business at the University of South Carolina and an Associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard. He received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Markus works on state-business relations and is broadly interested in the political economy of development. His projects explore property rights protection, oligarchs, corporate social responsibility, lobbying, corruption, state capacity, and institution building.

His book — Property, Predation, and Protection: Piranha Capitalism in Russia and Ukraine (Cambridge University Press, 2015) — was awarded the Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social Science Research. His research has also been published in the leading peer-reviewed journals in management (e.g. Academy of Management Review), political science (e.g. Comparative Political Studies), development studies (e.g. Studies in Comparative International Development), economic sociology (e.g. Socio-Economic Review), and general interest (e.g. Daedalus). It has also been recognized through many awards, including the Wilson Center Fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in D.C.; the Harvard Academy Fellowship from the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies; the Jean Monnet Fellowship from the European University Institute; the Academy of Management Best Paper Award; and the Best Article in Comparative Politics Award from APSA.Prof.

Markus's commentary has been featured in media outlets, including CNN, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Forbes, Fortune, CNBC, NPR, Vox, and Voice of America, among others.

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