Stephen Kotkin, a Princeton University professor, is not the type to avoid controversy on Russia. His writings and opinions are often surprising and original, even when I disagree with the arguments. Such is the case with his latest piece in Prospect Magazine, which takes a macro look at the radical differences between the economic and political liberalization which have (and haven’t) occurred in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Kotkin, though not your typical Putin cheerleader, selects as his opponents Edward Lucas, Michael McFaul, and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss, and a tired and oft-repeated counter-argument to the supposed “myths” of Russia ensues. Although there is much argued in the Prospect piece I disagree with, Kotkin does provide an impressive overview of Russia’s recent political experience which is well worth a read:
A conceptual adjustment to Russia’s seemingly impossible reality is now under way, but the process is painful and slow. “When I worked in Moscow in 1994 and 1995 for the National Democratic Institute, an American NGO, I could not have imagined the present situation,” confessed Sarah Mendelson, a senior fellow in Russian affairs at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, in the American Scholar recently. “We thought we were on the frontier of a democratic revolution. We weren’t. We were witnessing a market revolution.” This basic understanding, so long in coming, is not yet widespread. For the most part, pathetic cries about how “the west,” whatever that is, has (again) “lost” Russia, and how the west must somehow “resist” Putin, persist.