Understanding Putin’s Russia and the Struggle over Ukraine
By Peter Rutland, Weseleyan University
Pity the political scientist studying Russia. How does one analyze such a highly personalistic regime, in which key decisions are made behind closed doors and democratic elements have been squeezed out over the past decade? How should one assess the politics of a country that is a geopolitical outlier: the largest territory in the world, with borders from Norway to North Korea, and that has played a decisive role in every major European war of the last 200 years? The current crackdown on “foreign agents,” which includes the closure of universities and NGOs and the arrest of journalists and activists, leads to more practical concerns: Is it safe to send your graduate students there? Are you getting Russian colleagues into trouble if you coauthor with them?
These challenges are tackled from different angles in the four books under review here. Three try to unpack the internal dynamics of the Russian political regime, whereas the fourth explores Russia’s relations with Ukraine. The latter issue turns out to be key to understanding the former.