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Will the Real Mr. Putin Please Stand Up?

ISSUE:  Winter 2005

Putin: Russia’s Choice. By Richard Sakwa. Routledge, January 2004. $95 cloth, $21.95 paper
Vladimir Putin and the New World Order: Looking East, Looking West? By J. L. Black. Rowman & Littlefield, January 2004. $85 cloth, $36.95 paper
Vladimir Putin and the Evolution of Russian Foreign Policy. By Bobo Lo. Blackwell/Royal Institute of International Affairs, April 2003. $59.95 cloth, $31.95 paper
Putin’s Russia. By Lilia Shevtsova. Translated by Antonina W. Bouis. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2003. $19.95 paper

Will Russia become a great power again? Will it take its place in a constructive fashion in the comity of nations? Will it surrender that schizoid love-hate relationship with the West and recognize its future as bound up with Europe and the U.S.? The answers to all of these questions depend upon the answer to another that we hear more and more persistently these days: Who is Mr. Putin? If we search seriously, we find that he is in fact a most unlikely character. From KGB spook to wildcat democrat in just several short years and several big bounds? Is it possible?

The four authors under review here lead us, through a variety of perspectives, from obscure confusion to plausible conclusions. Appropriately, they tell us that to understand the nature of Putin’s politics, we must understand the nature of the challenges that face him, and those challenges consist most immediately of the legacy of Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin’s legacy is made up largely of four defining moments: (1) the robber-baron style of voucher privatization of 1992, when the apparatchiki/nomenklatura of the doomed Communist Party exploited their threatened positions in the old regime to seize the most advantageous economic assets of the new one; (2) the October 1993 attack on the Duma/parliament, the West’s indifference (approval?), and the subsequent design and ratification of the superpresidential constitution; (3) the so-called “loans for shares” compact of 1995–96, whereby the oligarchs/plutocrats/new Russian capitalists financed Yeltsin’s reelection campaign with large loans secured by the collateral of still more state property; and finally, (4) the apparently disastrous financial meltdown, default, and currency devaluation of August 1998, which actually served as the bottoming-out base of a lively economic rebound.

There were two decisive consequences of these shattering experiences. On the one hand, the president seemed to accumulate in the short run a considerable increase of power and prestige, chiefly at the expense of the Duma; in the long run, on the other hand, that power turned out to be largely symbolic and abstract. Over a period of years, it appeared that the bulk of executive authority had gravitated centrifugally to a whole variety of organizations at the grass roots, most conspicuously to the mafia syndicates and the local governments of the far-flung provinces. And thus, the massive monolith of the hypertrophic model of Russian statecraft had almost miraculously atrophied, as the infrastructure of Soviet institutions was swept clean. Though elements of the old mentality—paternalist attitudes, flight from responsibility—persisted, the destruction of the Soviet power structure was Yeltsin’s most important, if largely negative, achievement.1

Putin’s assignment would be to bring coherence and authority back to the practice of Russian government, and the assignment of our authors here is to explain how he goes about it.

Lilia Shevtsova is a respected Russian journalist working at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Well practiced in the demonology of Russian politics, her present book was preceded by a similar one on Yeltsin’s Russia (1999). What we find here is a satisfactory account of Putin’s efforts to restore the fragmented prerogative of the central government, the construction of what Russians call the vertikal. Putin has evidently proceeded in carefully calculated stages. The first part of the process was easy: his command of the Duma reflects his own popularity—at least, he is not sick, drunken, or senile—and the natural preference that the electorate gives to the newly fused amalgam of older political parties now loyal to him, United Russia (Edinaia Rossiia). Similarly mastering the upper house, representing the 89 provinces of Russia, was not so automatic. The powers of the Federal Council derived by design from the provinces, while the purpose of Putin’s vertikal was obviously to centralize power in Moscow. Hence he introduced between the center and the provinces an intermediary structure of administration, seven regional districts of the country administered by officials appointed by himself. At the same time, he persuaded the Duma to approve legislation subjecting provincial government to the supervision of Moscow—the president could remove provincial officials. As is usual in Russian administrative affairs, neither the theory nor the practice of these reforms was perfectly clear. Moreover, on the crucial situation of the Russian judiciary, Shevtsova herself is not clear.

Of course, addressing himself to the formal features of governing did not exhaust Putin’s agenda. There remained the problem of dealing with the shadow government, the oligarchs, of bringing them under control, as the Russian public insistently demanded. The real issue here was crucial: who was to govern Russia, the government or the oligarchs. Putin’s conception was unambiguous. His two most conspicuous early victims were the media magnates Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky. At present, the case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Yukos is still ongoing.

In one important respect, Shevtsova’s appreciation of the Putin reform agenda likely leads us astray. Though she alone among our four authors is Russian, she ironically strikes the most Western liberal pose in assessing the new president’s work. The most common pitfall of Western understandings of Russia is to measure it by a paradigm of criteria that has never been native to it—our own. In order to appreciate Russia properly, we need to put away at once several illusions that bedevil our view of it. For example, the illusion that if Putin persecutes press barons and suppresses Wild East journalism, he is violating the norms of democracy. Nonsense. In the wake of the Soviet collapse, the Russian media were gathered into such concentrated conglomerates as would have offended the U.S. FCC if they had developed here, and they virtually formed political parties of their own. At the same time, the newly liberated journalists, suddenly finding themselves in possession of the unlikeliest degree of freedom, exceeding their fondest imagination during the long years of frustration, exploited it in a fashion far surpassing the worst excesses of irresponsible Western journalism—i.e., scandal, personal attacks, scurrilous caricatures of political figures (the NTV show “Kukli” [Puppets], for example). They threatened to destroy respect for all elements of national politics—as they sometimes do elsewhere—and Putin found it inimical both to national interests and to his own political program.

What Putin actually did in constricting the freedom of the media might more plausibly be cast as a violation of some kind of abstractly assumed Russian bill of rights. That is, he violated American standards of liberalism in a traditional Russian fashion. We must remember, however, that having done so, he was still approved by 70 percent of the Russian electorate. More recently, a public opinion poll demonstrated what anyone familiar with Russian society would have predicted: 71 percent of the public and 41 percent of journalists favor government censorship of the media!2 Conclusion: the violation of liberal standards is a matter of democratic consensus in Russia! (Properly understood, unmitigated democracy is intrinsically illiberal—unfree—as the U.S. Bill of Rights clearly recognizes.)

If this state of affairs strikes the Western reader as puzzling, Richard Sakwa comes to our rescue. Sakwa is a British academic historian. He spends a lot of time in Russia and knows the scene there well. During the past fifteen years, he has given us a serious new book on contemporary Russian politics approximately every three years (1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002). Here he gives us a political biography with a surprisingly solid mass of factual material in an impressively disciplined interpretation. His biggest contribution is that he presents Putin as both Russian and rational. It is a serious achievement.

Putin grew up in Leningrad/Petersburg in typically stringent Soviet circumstances, in a kommunalka, a communal apartment where the family shared kitchen and toilet facilities with other families. His father was a good communist, his mother a good Christian. He himself has a private chapel in the Kremlin. Though never a dissident and by his own confession a pure product of Soviet patriotic education, he was not perfectly, monotonously pure. He was known to enjoy adolescent evenings with such marginally Soviet balladeers as Bulat Okudzhava and Vladimir Vysotsky, to tell the celebrated socially satirical anekdoty, and to read underground literature (samizdat). He has a good command of German, a good deal of English, a law degree, and a graduate degree in economics. His wife, Liudmila, has degrees in Spanish and French and teaches Spanish and German. The Putins have two daughters, both of whom have studied German and English, both of whom play piano and violin. It is not a Neanderthal family.

Putin’s path to power was nothing less than remarkable. In the 1980s, trained in the KGB, he was posted to Dresden, German Democratic Republic. Returned to Petersburg in the early 1990s to study law, he met the liberal mayor of the city, Anatoly Sobchak, and joined his administration. Soon he was recognized for his administrative skill, and Yeltsin appointed him in July 1998 chief of the former KGB (now FSB, Federal Security Service), in March 1999 secretary of the Security Council, and in August 1999 premier of the government. On the eve of the new millennium, Yeltsin announced his own retirement and appointed the nearly unknown Putin the new president of Russia. On the evening of 31 January 1999, the newly designated Putin spoke to the Russian people in an improbable kind of state-of-the-nation address, a political introduction of himself to the public. Now known as his Millennium Manifesto, it was Putin’s vision of the Russian predicament and his political agenda for addressing it. (Shevtsova unaccountably ignores it!)

First, he shared the people’s lament at the deplorable condition of the country. “Few countries . . . have faced so many trials as Russia in the twentieth century,” as its economic status plainly showed: a GDP one-tenth that of the U.S., one-fifth that of China. “The current difficult economic and social situation in the country is the price that we have to pay for the economy we inherited from the Soviet Union” (italics in published original). “Communism and Soviet power did not make Russia a prosperous country with a dynamically developing society and free people. . . . We were moving along a blind alley, far from the mainstream of civilisation”—especially lagging in information sciences, electronics, and communications. Now, however, as he asserted, “we have . . . entered the main highway of human development. World experience convincingly shows that only this path offers the possibility of dynamic economic growth and higher living standards. There is no alternative.” Obviously, Putin had profited from his German experience and his economic studies.

What was to be done? Undoubtedly most reassuringly for the Russian people, he pronounced an anathema on revolutionary experiments. “Russia has reached its limit for political and socio-economic upheavals, cataclysms and radical reforms.” Indispensable reforms would be “implemented only by evolutionary, gradual and prudent methods.” No more abstract schemes and foreign models. “Our future depends on combining the universal principles of the market economy and democracy with Russian realities.”

There would be no restoration of an official state ideology. Rather, a civil social accord must come from voluntary consensus, and its basis must be “a combination of universal general humanitarian values with traditional Russian values”: patriotism, great-power status, social solidarity in collective forms, and “a strong state power” in a “democratic, law-based, workable federal” form. The state must be able to regulate the antinomian economic behavior of the past few years, to make the economy function in the interests of the larger public rather than in those of the privileged and antisocial few. The shadow economy and organized crime must be brought under control. A national government must work in the interests of all the people. As he put it elsewhere, characteristically in the Russian tradition, “An inefficient state is the main reason for our long and deep crisis.” In short, the ancient Russian tradition of gosudarstvennost (étatisme) was an indispensable means of addressing the problem.3

Here is a relatively distinct program, idealist and pragmatic at once. Of course, Putin could not immediately undo the Yeltsin legacy of anarchy and kleptocracy. As he hesitated, equivocated, tergiversated, he naturally disappointed a lot of hopes. At the same time, he registered the intelligence of a cautious and conservative approach to the national trauma. Some issues he refused to confront head-on. In others he played for time. We can find clear signs of calculated ambivalence. “He who does not regret the break-up of the Soviet Union has no heart; he who wants to revive it in its previous form has no head.”

In his first two weeks in office he established at former KGB headquarters (the Lubyanka) a plaque honoring the dynamic, progressive, but strictly communist former chief of the security police, Yuri Andropov; and he placed flowers on the grave of one of Andropov’s celebrated victims, liberal activist Andrei Sakharov. Before long, the old tricolor banner of tsarist Russia became the new national flag. Soon thereafter, a new national anthem used the old Soviet music but provided new post-Soviet words. Putin thus refused to be associated exclusively with the symbolism of any single part of the Russian past. He was a synthesizer. There was a lot of criticism but no significant protest.

As he stood for election for the first time in March 2000, Putin disdained to campaign, because, as he explained it, he considered political campaigning an “absolutely dishonest business.” He won anyway, and yet he wielded his new mandate with great caution. There were at the outset of his presidency two especially strong deterrents to his unbridled use of authority: the power ministries—defense and security police—on the one hand and the association of the oligarchs and the Yeltsin family on the other. Preparing to confront them, he first nourished and tuned his vertikal of central authority. Within a year, he dissociated himself from the Yeltsin family coterie, made his own appointments to the power ministries, and turned to the problem of the oligarchs. He early announced that he would not undo Yeltsin’s corrupt privatization of state property—he had promised no more revolutions—yet he proceeded to bridle the malefactors. In addition to his assaults on their more offensive positions, he has held regular meetings with the leaders of big business. He encourages them (Itogi, 6 July 2004) to exercise social responsibility, to cease preying parasitically on the economy, to think of public charities, to establish lines of regular dialogue with the government. On more volatile issues yet, he struck a pose of characteristic prudence: there would be no reopening of the massive crimes of the Soviet era—social solidarity was to take precedence over the passions of justice and retribution. All the while, he managed the economy in a strikingly different fashion from that of the Yeltsin era. State budgets have been balanced and adopted on time. Debts have been paid on time. The government has provided partial compensation for private savings lost in the August 1998 currency collapse. Financial management has been conventionally rational, prudent, and conservative.

It would be too complacent to be utterly unconcerned about the independence of the judiciary or the status of human rights in Russia—Sakwa is not perfectly reassuring. More important for us, the absence of aggressive Russian imperialism is comforting. Acutely aware of Russia’s diminished power, Putin has brought the country back into the international arena in a responsible fashion and enhanced its post-Soviet significance in the process. Judging by the content of his Millennium Manifesto, he has a clear conception of Russian tradition, of contemporary Russian needs, and a political program to bring the two together. Thus far, his reforms seem faithfully to reflect the program.

Our next two books focus primarily on Russian foreign policy. J. L. Black’s subtitle is particularly appropriate. For the better part of three centuries now Russia has looked West for alliances and plunder when it was advantageous to do so (Peter I, 1689–1725, and Catherine II, 1762–96, especially) and East when opportunities appeared better there (notably 1890–1905, blundering unfortunately into the Russo-Japanese War). A Western and an Eastern party were traditional in the foreign office—the European and the National Party, respectively, nowadays Atlanticists and Eurasianists. It is a natural function of Russian geography.

Black’s book is the most narrowly focused and massively detailed examination of the foreign policy of Putin available, so far as I know, anywhere. The resource base, drawn overwhelmingly from the Russian press and Russian foreign-ministry documents, is extensive, reflecting an enormously ambitious piece of research. Part one is a plain narrative of Putin’s policy over his first thirty months in office. It is detailed, difficult, repetitive—the author has succumbed to his own research notes—unrelieved by the kind of attention to the context, to perspective on the issues, that elucidates their significance. Example: blithe reference to the Threat Reduction Program. The term is not defined, and it does not appear in the index. The reader has to bring his own informed background to the text. What is it? It is the $400 million legislation sponsored by U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar to finance the retirement and destruction of Soviet nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

Part two is somewhat better. It focuses topically on different elements and areas of Putin’s foreign policy—security and defense, the Caucasus Vortex, Ukraine and Belarus, the Confederation of Independent States and Central Asia, China and India, and rogue states. Treating these issues in this fashion naturally brings to them a somewhat greater degree of perspective. Still, even here the background that Black does not provide on the Caucasus Vortex, to take one example, sacrifices the clarity and coherence that even sophisticated readers want.

The Caucasus is one of the most colorful areas of the world, a veritable ethnological laboratory of feuding mountain clans, the home of fifty or more nationalities in an area about the size of Missouri. The big issue in the North Caucasus is the war in Chechnya. Conquered nearly 200 years ago, the Che-chens have always been difficult to govern (see Tolstoy’s novelette Hadji Murad). The Russians lost the war of Chechen secession of 1994–96 and declared a truce. In 1999, the Chechens initiated the second one on the neighboring territory of Ingushetia, and it continues. One of the bedeviling factors of the conflict absent from our headlines is the contested issue of at least three different routes of the pipelines projected to carry oil from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and the Caspian to world markets.4 All of the peoples of the area are eager to reap the transit fees, two of these routes avoid Russian territory entirely, and all of them are within striking distance of the mobile Chechen military units.

The cauldron of the South Caucasus is the story of three relatively large nations (4–8 million people). The Georgians are independently Orthodox Christians. The Armenians are the oldest Christian nation in the world (294 C.E.) but in their own peculiar fashion (i.e., non-Chalcedonian, sometime Uniate, and semi-Monophysite). The Azeris owe their linguistic affiliation to the Turks and their religious affiliation to the Iranian Shias. Their capital, Baku, became early in the twentieth century, under the ministrations of the Russian-educated Swedish brothers Nobel, the first major oil-refining city in the Russian Empire, and it retains, thanks to petroleum explorations in the Caspian Sea, much of its initial significance in the industry.

Stalin’s ethnic engineering left a large Armenian enclave, Nagorno-Karabakh, surrounded by Azeris, and a large Azeri enclave, Nakhichevan, surrounded by Armenians, circumstances that quickly led to the post-Soviet Armenian-Azeri war. In the meantime, three provinces of Georgia have attempted to secede—Abkhazia, Adjaria, and South Ossetia—and the Russians have supported these movements as a means of reasserting their authority in a traditional Russian sphere of influence. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has sent financial assistance as well as intelligence and military personnel to aid the Georgians. In fact, Moscow perceives the newly elected president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, who is flirting with war in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as a puppet of Washington financed by George Soros.

If we are to understand the nature of Black’s Caucasus Vortex, we must take account of factors such as these. Without his treatment of them, his book is fare for the dedicated specialist alone.

Bobo Lo has a very different kind of approach to the subject. As a political scientist working at present at the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow, he deals more in large generalizations and political principles than in a plethora of particulars. Hence, in contrast to Black, he focuses especially on questions of context and perspective. As a professional diplomat—he served as First Secretary, then Deputy Head of Mission, of the Australian Embassy in Moscow, 1995–99—he has profited by extensive interaction with the foreign-affairs community in Moscow. In his present book, a considerable update of his previous Russian Foreign Policy in the Post-Soviet Era (2002), he is especially interested in the thinking behind the formulation of foreign policy and the various contributors to it.

Lo identifies four determinants of Putin’s foreign policy: the search for a new post-Soviet Russian identity in the world; perceptions of the new global diplomatic environment; the determination to make foreign policy serve Russian domestic needs; and the influence that Russian political institutions, including think tanks, bring to bear on the formulation of policy.

He cites two different taxonomies of schools of thought on Russian foreign policy. Thus Margot Light finds liberal Westernizers, fundamentalist nationalists, and pragmatic nationalists. Vladimir Lukin finds ideological democratic internationalists, crude Russian chauvinists, and cautious democratic nationalists. The two sets of labels seem remarkably compatible. Putin appears best described as a combination of pragmatic nationalist and liberal Westernizer. In spite of all of the distress that Russians felt over the NATO campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo—among other things—Putin nevertheless oriented Russian policy decisively toward the West. As his Millennium Manifesto put it, Russia was now entering the mainstream of world—read Western—civilization. When the events of 9/11 occurred, Putin championed the U.S. cause, pointing out parallels with his own experience in Chechnya. The antiterrorist cause was universal, he proclaimed, and he had been ahead of the game in foreseeing it. Most of the foreign-policy establishment around him, in both the foreign office and the power ministries, found his stance as surprising as offensive, but he insisted on it. As Lo points out, both Russia and the Central Asian nations have benefited from the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban.

Putin’s Western commitment is not, however, unreserved. If the U.S. ignores Russia, snubs Russia, as the early Bush II administration demonstratively did, Russia can always turn East; and, in fact, Putin has won consideration and respect in such cases by selling arms to the North Koreans and nuclear technology to the Iranians. Washington, be warned.

Meantime, even Russian liberals—Grigorii Yavlinsky and the Yabloko Party—are frustrated by the impatience of our expectations of Russia, our criticism of the slow pace of its evolution, the sometimes double standards of our judgments. In the U.S. press, civilian casualties in Kosovo are “collateral damage”; in Chechnya they are “war crimes.” Of course, they may be different qualitatively or quantitatively, too, but not in the Russian perception.

There are several pertinent aspects of their own subject that are not taken into account by any of these authors.

1. First is the enormity of the post-Soviet humiliation of Russia. We greeted the fall of Soviet power with great hope, and we promised unstinting assistance to the new, presumably Western style of free enterprise and liberal democracy. In fact, in loans and grants Russia received, according to various estimates, dozens of billions of dollars. On the other hand, we soon began to regret the misuse of such assistance, and hence we began to withhold it. We promised more than we gave, but we gave enough of both funds and advice to help dissolve the old Soviet system, and we thereby stimulated cynical Soviet-style suspicions of our intentions. Were the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Salvation Army and Hospice not the CIA in disguise? In any case, Russians soon complained of “the hypocrisy and duplicity of the West’s approach: one that mouthed fine sentiments about a brave new era of cooperation while capitalizing on Russian weakness to make massive geopolitical gains” (Lo, V. Putin, 94).

As the Warsaw Pact was coming apart and Gorbachev gave his approval to the unification of Germany, the German and American governments promised him solemnly that NATO would never expand to the East. Yet the question was unavoidably raised. All the better-informed professionals—George Kennan, Jack Matlock, Paul Schroeder—advised that it was a bad idea, that it would leave the Russians, just as they had embraced “new political thinking,” ostracized from international civil society, “the comity of nations.” At the present time, however, all the former Russian allies of the Warsaw Pact and three former Soviet republics are a part of NATO, and other former Soviet republics are candidates. NATO planes are patrolling the Russian frontier from the old Soviet Baltic republics.

As if to rub salt into wounds, NATO has conducted military exercises in Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaidzhan. In disputes in the Caucasus, we have supported Georgia against Moscow, and in the issues of the pipelines there, we have supported non-Russian routes.

Meantime, the economic analogue of the Warsaw Pact, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA, or Comecon), the old Soviet-bloc counterpart of the EU, has largely suffered the fate of its military sibling, most of its national constituents having joined the EU. The EU is a customs union, welcoming Russia’s former chief trading partners but excluding Russia, and the price structure of Western Europe attracts imports of East European agricultural products so as to make them more expensive and less available in Russia than they formerly were.

The Russians are being admitted to the World Trade Organization and the G-8, but the old Jackson-Vanik amendment of 1975, denying the Soviets access to commercial credit in the U.S. in order to punish them for denying Jewish emigration visas, still remains on the books. And yet there must be more Russian Jews in Israel today than there are in Russia.

Putin facilitated the U.S. Army’s access to Afghanistan through Central Asia and cleared the U.S. Air Force through Russian air space; and he was rewarded by the summary abrogation of the ABM treaty in the face of his protests.

What is wrong with the state of Russian-American relations? In the venerable opinion of the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Alexander Vershbow, it is lack of reciprocity.

2. The second item that our four authors have overlooked is what we might call the Weimar syndrome, of which we were so often warned in the mid-1990s. In 1918–19, the victorious Allies attributed the cause of World War I to German militarism. Woodrow Wilson demanded the dissolution of the German government and the inauguration of democracy, got it in the Weimar Republic (revolution of 9–11 November 1918), then imposed on Germany a draconian peace suited to punish the militarists, which soon generated their rebirth with a vengeance.

It was a different kind of war that Russia lost in 1991, but that loss and the further losses that it has entailed have been no less humiliating an experience. We may count it a piece of grand good fortune that the Weimar syndrome has not been repeated in Russia.

3. The third oversight is one key insight into the personality of Mr. Putin—his considerable devotion to judo. Contrary to our usual conception, judo is more sport than martial art—street fighters don’t bow and don their cute costume, the gi, before engaging in combat. In his own words, however, “Judo is not just a sport, you know. It’s a philosophy.” The challenging judo competitor must master, above all, three qualities: discipline, focus, and, especially, balance. The successful competitor is the one who cannot be unbalanced, and these are the qualities, rare in Russian culture, that Putin displays so persistently in both domestic and international politics. We see it plainly in the steely self-control—also not a common Russian characteristic—of his prosecution of Khodorkovsky’s Yukos and the carefully modulated disappointment cum dignity with which he receives insults from Washington.

In sum, if we return to our original question—Who is Mr. Putin?—the answer is, in part, that he is hope—hope for the Russians, hope for all of us.


1. The most challenging interpretation of the Yeltsin era is Peter Reddaway and Dmitri Glinski, The Tragedy of Russia’s Reforms: Market Bolshevism against Democracy (Washington: U.S. Institute of Peace, 2001). They argue that Yeltsin, massively assisted by Washington, set out above all to ruin the Communist Party and sacrificed all other considerations to that goal, including both legal norms and the material well-being of the public. A more flattering account of Yeltsin and his era is Leon Aron, Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life (New York: St. Martin’s, 2000). A more conventional account of U.S. policy is James M. Goldgeier and Michael McFaul, Power and Purpose: U.S. Policy toward Russia after the Cold War (Washington: Brookings, 2003).

2. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline I, 28 July 2004. Some of the electoral tricks that Putin and/or his allies used in the spring 2004 presidential campaign are admittedly troubling to people with a Western sense of liberal politics and fair play, e.g., pulling the plug on the TV ads of political rivals. Utterly unnecessary and utterly undignified; still, it obviously did not trouble the majority of the Russian electorate. When Secretary of State Powell criticizes such conduct, Putin responds very simply: Florida 2000.

3. Always a stimulating way to contemplate the mysteries of Russian politics is the pithy observation of the maverick dissident Igor Shafarevich: “Where the people is weak, the state is strong; and where the people is strong, the state is weak.”

4. Baku-Supsa (Azerbaidzhan-Georgia); Baku-Novorossiisk (Azerbaidzhan-Russia); Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (Azerbaidzhan-Georgia-Turkey).


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