Despite the growth in studies of Russian social policy, the reality of the social policy process – most of which is regionally based – remains a puzzle. In this article, we stake a claim for the importance of studying street-level social service provision in Russia's regions to advance the understanding of social policymaking in authoritarian-leaning regimes. We show that – albeit in small ways in only some places – Russia has expanded its welfare state, taking on an issue neglected by the Soviet regime in response to activism. Using the lens of work against domestic violence, we conduct a case study of women's crisis centres in Saint Petersburg. We show the limitations of the two usual state-society frameworks – those looking at civil society and at the welfare state. Building on their strengths, we construct a de facto feminist framework that focuses on how much and what kind of help citizens receive from both state and societal actors. In Russia's social policymaking, shaped by federalism, we find mixed success –civic organizations have weakened, but the state has taken on civic initiatives at local levels – and point to the importance of the informal politics of speaking in code and navigating elite networks.
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