UCL European Institute


Spotlight: Ben Noble

Our March 2024 academic spotlight features Dr Ben Noble, Associate Professor of Russian Politics at UCL, who discusses his research interests and engagement with Europe.

Ben Noble

Tell us a bit about yourself

Hi, I’m Ben – ­an Associate Professor of Russian Politics at UCL in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES). I’m also an Associate Fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House. I drink far too much coffee, have a very eclectic (some would say chaotic) taste in music, and currently have very sore legs as I train for my next 10k run.

What are your research interests?

My research examines institutions and elites within authoritarian states around the world – but one such state in particular: Russia (perhaps not surprising, given my job title).

I’m interested in what role legislatures – often portrayed as being 'rubber stamps' in non-democracies – actually play within these regimes. And I’m also interested in how different elite groups with conflicting policy preferences try to sort out their disagreements. My research on the Russian State Duma – the lower chamber of the national legislature – has shown how these groups use the parliamentary stage of law-making to continue and resolve their disputes.

I also co-authored a book on the leading Russia opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, which provides an overview of a life cut tragically short by Vladimir Putin’s murderous personalist dictatorship.

Tell us about some of your recent work on European issues

Much of my work on European issues – and beyond – has been in close collaboration with the European Institute and its brilliant team:

  • With Lucy Shackleton, I’ve co-led the Commission on Policy Engagement by Area Experts, which is a project aimed at finding ways to improve the excellent policy engagement already done by people with country and regional expertise at UCL.
  • I contributed a co-authored chapter (with Michał Murawski) on the Russian State Duma to the book Parliament Buildings: The Architecture of Politics in Europe, edited by Sophia Psarra, Uta Staiger, and Claudia Sternberg.
  • And I’m working with the Institute and the Centre for European Reform on a project – part of the Institute’s Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence grant – on European security in the context of Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine. 

The word 'interdisciplinarity' gets used a lot. Very often, it’s merely rhetoric. But the European Institute lives and breathes interdisciplinarity – and that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a thrill to collaborate with the team.

What does Europe mean to you and why are you interested in it?

Crumbs, what a question!

I suppose part of the answer centres on tension. The UK is, of course, very much part of Europe culturally and historically, if no longer part of the European Union. But it’s also geographically separate. The tension between belonging and not continues, of course, to shape the UK’s domestic and foreign policy. But it’s also a tension that’s shaped Russian politics for centuries – is it a part of, or separate from, Europe?

Might my interest in Russian politics have stemmed from this oblique similarity between two states on the edges of Europe? Perhaps – but that would require a much longer answer to explore properly.

Read Ben's latest blog post here