PSCI 286
Russian Politics under Vladimir Putin Fall 2018 Division II; Cross-listed as RUSS286 / PSCI286

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In 1939, Winston Churchill has famously characterized Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. In the 75 years that followed, Russian politics has continued to defy expectations and conventional explanations. The collapse of the Soviet Communist dictatorship in 1991 has caught most observers by surprise, and has led Russia on a path of political and economic liberalization of an unprecedented scope. But despite the initial optimism, these processes produced an economic system characterized by crony capitalism and an electoral authoritarian regime–a political system that formally espouses institutions like multipartyism, parliaments and elections, but violates democratic norms in practice. Why did Russia follow this particular trajectory? Why did Russia’s political and economic transition fail to produce the intended results? What are the factors that gave rise to and sustain Vladimir Putin’s system? And as Russia faces extraordinary challenges again–marked by the protest wave in 2011-12, the country’s economic crisis, the wars in Ukraine and Syria, and the renewed confrontation with the West–what lessons can we draw for the future? This course will explore the key perspectives on these issues. The first part of the course will provide a concise overview of Russia’s historical background, the roots of the communist collapse, and the country’s subsequent trajectory. It will place particular emphasis on the events, processes and legacies that shaped Russia’s transition, and its cataclysms and distortions. The second part of the course will look into the rise of the Putin regime, its key pillars, and its contradictions. The third part of the course will survey the impact of Putin’s regime on Russia’s economy, governance, identity politics and foreign relations. In this segment, we will also examine how protests and civil society activism shaped post-Communist Russian politics, and conclude with a discussion of the scenarios for the future trajectory of Russia. The course will approach many of these topics from a comparative perspective, contrasting how political, economic and social processes in Russia diverged from other countries in post-Communist East Europe and the Former Soviet Union. The course will also take an interdisciplinary approach, integrating perspectives from political science, economics, history, anthropology, social psychology and other disciplines, as it attempts to address the key puzzles of contemporary Russian politics. To provide a more intimate understanding of the social changes and political processes affecting Russia, we will also survey key films, documentaries and other relevant sources and materials in the media and popular culture.
The Class: Type: lecture
Limit: 25
Expected: 20
Class#: 1534
Requirements/Evaluation: mid-term exam, term paper, class participation
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis; not available for the fifth course option
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preference: Political Science and Russian majors
Distributions: Division II;
Distribution Notes: meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under PSCI; meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under RUSS

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