Tony Wood and James Meek on Russia Without Putin


Does the West’s obsession with Vladimir Putin prevent it from genuinely understanding Russia? Tony Wood and James Meek discussed this and other themes of Russia Without Putin in conversation at the London Review Bookshop. Listen to the full conversation here.

"The idea that there is a polar contrast between the 90’s and 2000’s gets at a lot of the misconceptions around contemporary Russia. People mention the contrast between Yeltsin the democrat and Putin the authoritarian and the contrast between an opening to free market capitalism in the 90s and a reassertion of state control in the 2000s. However, that picture obscures the fundamental similarities in the phases. Russia’s post-Communist trajectory is not a flat line, but there were successive phases in development. A lot of the instruments that Putin has used to consolidate his rule have been fully legal and were put in place in the Yeltsin era. In terms of the economy, The 90’s were the stage of heavy lifting—smashing the planned economy, transferring the state owned industries to private hands—so by the 2000’s there wasn’t much left to do. The core features of Putinism—a predatory, authoritarian elite presiding over a vastly unequal society—are integral to the system set in place after the fall of Communism, a legacy of Yeltsinism rather than a resurgence of Soviet authoritarianism."