Russia Since 1980

In This Review

Russia Since 1980
By Steven Rosefielde and Stefan Hedlund
Cambridge University Press, 2008
374 pp. $25.99

Among books deeply critical of contemporary Russia, this may be the hardest of the hard -- partly because it finds so little inspiration in all of Russian history. Indeed, the authors' core thesis blames the dogged persistence of "Muscovite Russia" -- the tyrannical and militarized state formed in the fifteenth century -- for the failings of all who have since led the country, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin. As they put it, Putin's Russia is like its predecessors, "a repressive neoimperial authoritarian martial police state." The more mundane explanation supplied for why Gorbachev's perestroika and Yeltsin's democratic promise came to nothing, however, has to do with those leaders' complicity, witting or not, in ceding the process of liberalization to "profiteers," who turned it to their own selfish ends. All this is argued with an elaborate exploration of economic data. The authors reach the melancholy conclusion that Russia will in the future be as before: "a major player on the global stage, vulnerable to internal rent-seeking subversion, international overreach, and sudden catastrophic collapse."

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