“Putin is Russia, and Russia is Putin,” the Russian politician Vyacheslav Volodin famously commented in 2014. Most Americans believe the same thing, although they do not mean it as a compliment. Taylor argues that this misses Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role as the centerpiece of something more complex: “Putinism,” a “solar system” of interlocking and often competing clans. To understand how these informal networks govern the country and carry out foreign policy, one needs to know the “code” that guides them, which Taylor says includes ideas, habits, and emotions. The key ideas behind Putinism are the need for a strong state, anti-Westernism, and conservatism. Putinism’s habits express themselves in preferences for control, unity, loyalty, and “hypermasculinity.” And its emotions come out in its preoccupation with respect, resentment, and fear. The code, Taylor argues, explains Russia’s drift toward authoritarianism and its aggressive foreign policy. He concludes that Putinism has created a domestic political order that can be controlled but not easily modernized and that Russian foreign policy is “overambitious” and ultimately counterproductive. The political system is likely doomed to “a slow muddling down,” although he does not see Putinism ending anytime soon.
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