Vladimir Putin’s election as President of the Russian Federation in March 2004 marked a radical break in the style and content of Russian politics. In place of political polarisation and social upheaval came “normalisation”; in place of dramatic changes of personnel and policy, continuity; in place of systemic transformation, system management. If Boris Yeltsin was in the Russian (and Soviet) tradition of revolution from above, then Putin’s regime has been one of consolidation. But where will this change lead? Does Putin represent a break with the authoritarian past or a return to it?
This book provides a wide-ranging analysis of his domestic and foreign policies, with 15 chapters covering leadership, democratisation, economy and society, regional politics, the Chechen war and foreign policy. Among many valuable contributions, Archie Brown’s essay on Putin’s leadership in comparative perspective, Richard Sakwa’s analysis of regime change and David Lane’s examination of economic strategy particularly illuminate the trajectory of change. Stephen White’s chapter on popular attitudes to the Soviet past and Russian present, and Laura Belin’s account of the mass media under Putin show the fragility of the context in which democracy is developing.
Some subjects are covered more fully than others. While Putin’s treatment of oligarchs is cited, the role of big business in politics receives little attention, though its increased political influence has been a marked feature of the past few years. The links between the political elite and organised crime, and corruption in state institutions, are not discussed, nor is the political influence of the Federal Security Service and the military. With the exception of Luke Marsh’s excellent chapter on the decline of the Communist Party, there is little discussion of political parties or their leaders, let alone of ideology.
This book is about the impact of Putin’s policies on Russian society rather than Russian politics under Putin. It is nonetheless exceptionally interesting. It will be essential reading for all students of contemporary Russian politics, comparative politics and international relations, and anyone wishing to understand where Russia is going.
John Barber is senior lecturer in politics, Cambridge University.
Russian Politics under Putin. First edition
Editor - Cameron Ross
Publisher - Manchester University Press
Pages - 292
Price - £40.00 and £14.99
ISBN - 0 7190 6800 2 and 6801 0