The Return: Russia's Journey From Gorbachev to Medvedev

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The Return: Russia's Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev
By Daniel Treisman
Free Press, 2011
544 pp. $30.00
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The "return" of this book's title is of Russia and its people to the world. Treisman argues that in crossing the rocky road of the last 25 years, Russia has emerged from the hermitic life of socialism to join in the normal process of international politics and Russians have joined the modern scramble of global travel, communications, and consumption. In a breezy and elegant account of these years, he tackles big questions: Why did Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms fail? Why did the Soviet Union collapse? What accounts for the dramatic twists and turns marking Russian politics from Gorbachev to Dmitry Medvedev? The common thread running through the answers to all these questions is economic trends -- particularly, economic decline. Economic changes, often affected by policy choices, eroded (or sometimes boosted) each regime's popular legitimacy and thus dictated the way each leader chose to play his hand. Other factors were also at work, including how the United States behaved toward Russia. All of this Treisman brings together by staying clear of abstractions and working with a rich assemblage of concrete, fascinating detail.