This paper examines the political economy of Russian city growth. For the 1980s, we model the growth of 168 Russian cities located in 71 Russian provinces (oblast level). We examine the role of both general socio-economic characteristics and specific state controls. Our goal is to understand the extent to which state controls on city growth actually limited city growth, controlling for the usual types of forces used to explain the attractiveness of different cities. We find that even with considerable variation of model specification, direct controls remain important as a factor explaining the growth of Russian cities in the immediate pre-transition era.