It has become common to describe Russia as a state that has only achieved partial reform due to the influence of powerful economic forces, the 'winners' of economic reform, and to assume that the Russian state lacks autonomy. This paper questions how far reform in Russia has been compromised by the power of winners. The failure of economic reform between 1992 and 1998 is explained as a policy response by state officials unable to manage tendencies towards fiscal crisis because of the state's general helplessness in managing the Russian economy, rather than as a surrender of sovereignty to economic interests. (C) 2001 The Regents of the University of California. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.