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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have each championed a model of authoritarian capitalism (call it “development with a dictator’s face”). But what neither leader seems to have anticipated is that the Russian and Chinese commercial sectors are becoming political forces in their own right, increasingly bringing pressure to bear on policymaking.

Over the past two decades, Russian and Chinese multinational corporations — many of them awash in cash — have become powerful foreign policy tools for their respective regimes. But they were once seen as modernizing forces that would help open up business and society alike. With energy giants like Gazprom and Rosneft promising to bring commercial values to backward Russia and the newly independent former Soviet states, Anatoly Chubais, a key architect of Russia’s privatization program, touted them as the vanguard of a new “liberal empire.” (Insofar as these firms also bound the former Soviet republics closer to Russia, so much the better.)

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