In This Review

Understanding Russia: The Challenges of Transformation
Understanding Russia: The Challenges of Transformation
By Marlene Laruelle and Jean Radvanyi
Rowman & Littlefield, 2018, 184 pp

Instead of rekindling Western powers’ historical fears of Russia, Laruelle and Radvanyi present the country as an “ambivalent” nation—part of a continuum of Western politics rather than an outlier. The authors skillfully place Russia’s 30-year transformation since the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms in the context of broader developments in Europe, North America, and elsewhere. This slim but wide-ranging volume comes at a crucial time, as growing domestic unrest tests Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 20-year rule and as opposition mounts to his repression of dissenting voices. At the same time, the book is also a forceful reminder that “Russia is much more than its president” and that understanding the country requires nuanced consideration that goes beyond merely analyzing Putin. The authors explain, for instance, how the Kremlin has channeled both nationalism and globalism in addressing a slew of Russia’s problems, including the disparities between urban and rural life and a persistent brain drain. Laruelle and Radvanyi argue that although Russia wants to advance an alternative to the current world order, its motivations are more complicated and less sinister than many Western pundits assert.