The scholarly literature on democratic transitions has largely ignored developments at the local level and the relationship between federalism and democracy. In this work I examine the development of federalism in Russia and I assess the impact of Russia's highly asymmetrical form of federalism on democratisation. The study shows that federalism far from promoting democracy has allowed authoritarianism to flourish in many of Russia's eighty nine regions and republics. Federalism and democratization in Russia exist in contradiction rather than harmony. In a vicious circle, authoritarianism at the centre has been nourished by authoritarianism in the region and vice versa. 'Elective dictatorships' and 'delegative democracies' are now well entrenched in many republics, and mini-presidential systems are firmly established in a majority of the regions. (C) 2000 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd on behalf of The Regents of the University of California.