In stark contrast to the recent flood of strident and often simplistic characterizations of Russian politics, a group of Russian and Western scholars engage the subject on an altogether more subtle and thoughtful basis. They often disagree, particularly with Andranik Migranyan’s opening argument that in Russia, only an authoritarian regime can create the order needed to build democracy. But their arguments with one another probe the genuinely complicated issues of how democratic or authoritarian Vladimir Putin’s Russia has become, the likely direction the country will take, and how Russia stacks up against the realities (as opposed to the self-images) of democracies, including the United States. Some of the arguments center on chicken-or-egg questions: Which comes first, a strong state as a prerequisite for democracy or progress toward democracy as the prerequisite for an effective state? A number of essays also explore Russia’s political trajectory: Is the current system simply a stage in an ongoing evolution—and if so, toward what? Or is it a relatively stable endpoint? Above all, the book forces the reader to ponder not merely Russia’s political course but also the idea of democracy itself.
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