Over the past decade and a half, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has been an economic dynamo and a basket case, an imperfect democracy and a tightening tyranny, a constructive diplomatic actor and a serial military aggressor—sometimes all at once. The only constant has been surprise, as the zigging and zagging has left outside observers, and even many Russians, scratching their heads.
We asked several of the world’s leading Russia experts to take stock of the country under Putin, analyzing where things are and where they’re going. The result is a sharp portrait of a wounded but still powerful bear—a country strong enough to demand attention and respect, yet too weak to impose its will on the world; proud of its history and traditions, yet too insecure to tolerate free political activity; rich enough to spend vast sums on pet projects, yet too corrupt and constrained to prosper.
Stephen Kotkin kicks the package off with a whirlwind tour of Russian history, showing how today’s anti-Western resentment, centralized power, and sense of special destiny represent not aberrations but a return to the centuries-old norm.