For decades, academics and journalists have struggled to explain Russia by attempting to better explain Vladimir Putin, endlessly debating his background, his personal character, and his thinking. Many of them argue that his personal power is at the heart of decision-making, that his will alone drives events. And we couldn’t be more wrong.
Timothy Frye, a professor of political science at Columbia University, has had decades of experience working on the ground in Russia, and brings together these anecdotes of his experiences along with academic research to present a new argument: that’s there’s nothing particularly special about Vladimir Putin to set him apart from numerous other authoritarian leaders. His power is in fact quite constrained, consisting of a complex series of trade-offs and difficult decisions made more challenging by his low popularity and the responsiveness of the government to public pressure.
Speaking about his new book “Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia” in this conversation with Robert Amsterdam, Frye offers a fresh perspective on the traditional debates over Russia, emphasizing that we should understand the system and how it works instead of the individual.