Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 June 2021
We have limited knowledge of how the insecure environment characteristic of personalist dictatorships affects the behaviour of provincial leaders. In this article, we argue that such provincial leaders face a trade-off: either they can keep a low profile but remain vulnerable to the capriciousness of the ruler (the acquiescent strategy), or they can gamble and try to build a power base of their own as a defence against the whims of the dictator (the power-accruing strategy). Next, we specify three contextual conditions, each of which makes provincial leaders more likely to choose and succeed with a power-accruing strategy, which in turn allows them to rule their province with an iron fist. Finally, empirically, we illustrate our arguments through a number of example cases and an in-depth study of a contemporary, very powerful provincial leader in a personalist authoritarian regime: Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen Republic within Vladimir Putin's Russia.