Wood seeks to debunk several common misconceptions about Russia and its relations with the rest of the world. One of them, he contends, is the belief that today’s tensions between Russia and the United States stem from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long-standing antagonism toward the West. Wood argues that, in fact, the dramatic deterioration of relations witnessed in recent years was all but inevitable and is rooted in the massive power and resource imbalance between the two sides that was produced by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Wood also refutes the idea that today’s standoff is a new Cold War: it lacks any clear ideological dimension, he points out, and, unlike the Cold War, leaves many countries and regions untouched by the tensions between Russia and the West. Wood criticizes some Russian liberals who oppose Putin for their misplaced faith in an “idealized” capitalism based on “undistorted” free-market principles. There is no capitalism outside of history, Wood reminds readers, and the kind of capitalism found in Russia today is directly descended from the postcommunist order installed by Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Putin has just consolidated and prolonged Yeltsin’s regime. Hence Wood’s central message: don’t focus too much on Putin—the system over which he presides is more important, and it can outlast him.
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