Elite political networks, network change, and violent conflict in Ukraine and Georgia

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University of Alabama Libraries

The degree of variance in political outcomes after the Soviet collapse remains a subject of political inquiry because of the complicated nature of republic experiences during transition. This dissertation explores the variance in post-Soviet transitional violence, or its absence, in Ukraine and Georgia, by using social network analysis. The argument made is that the degree to which political elites in Georgia and in Ukraine were connected or fragmented is an untested, but highly relevant, factor in conflict onset. While the impact of elites on regime transition and armed conflict is a well-reviewed subject in the comparative literature, no study formally models elite networks as an explanation for why conflict begins, or abates. At the center of the argument is the structure of political elite networks created by personal or professional connections. Using social network analysis methods and eleven original datasets--from material in English, Russian, and Ukrainian--this study demonstrates that Ukrainian elites maintained well-connected and more densely tied networks both before and after the Soviet collapse than did elites in Georgia. Conclusions drawn from this study suggest that well-integrated elites create mechanisms by bargaining, or the creation of high social capital, to avoid conflict. This study contributes both theoretically and substantively to the existing literature. Conflict theorists should incorporate the idea of elite network structures as a contributory factor to conflict or peace during transitions. The datasets used for this work offer an initial foray into formally modeling elites and assessing their network dynamics.

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Political science