In This Review

Putin's Russia
Putin's Russia
By Lilia Shevtsova
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2003, 298 pp

Whatever the oxymoron used to describe it -- "managed democracy" (Putin's favorite), "electoral monarchy," or "totalitarianism in a pluralistic society" -- Putin has managed to create it, Shevtsova contends. And at its core is the "authoritarian presidency." With typical subtlety, however, she does not make Russia's recidivism out to be one man's handiwork. Rather, Putin is as much an echo of the elite's emptiness and small-mindedness, the public's mix of yearning and apathy, and the system's lack of fundamental and institutional sinews as he is a transcendent force. This is Shevtsova's most Russian work, argued with scarcely subdued passion and the feel of someone caught up in these tides. Out of her blunt, often acerbic, account comes shrewd insights into Putin's transformation from an implausible, contrived successor into a dominator unchallenged by oligarchs, legislators, or regional bosses, let alone a democratic opposition. Her study is not of Russian political life writ large, but of Russian leadership and the politics that swirl around and emanate from it.