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 a political and economic system characterized by authoritarianism and crony capitalism. 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 sustained Vladimir Putin’s system? Why did Putin’s Russia adopt an aggressive posture toward its neighbors and the West? And as Russia once again faces extraordinary challenges–marked by the wars in Ukraine and Syria, the economic crisis and social tensions at home, and the looming issue of Vladimir Putin’s succession in 2024–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. 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 trajectory of Russia’s foreign and security policy under Vladimir Putin. This segment will explore the defining events and processes that led to the decline in the relations between Russia and the West, ranging from the Iraq war and the colored revolutions in East Europe, to the annexation of Crimea and the Russian meddling in the US elections. It will also explore how the eroding domestic legitimacy of the Putin regime drives its aggressive behavior abroad.
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
yes fifth course option
analytic paper (6-8 page), book review (8-10 page), final exam
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
PSCI Comparative Politics Courses
PSCI International Relations Courses