Marie Mendras

Poutine’s Russia Publication date : October 23, 2008

What has become of the Russian State, nearly twenty years after the collapse of communism and as a presidential election that will determine the post-Putin era looms closer? The Gorbachev and Yeltsin years had raised hopes that Russia would make the transition toward democracy. Instead, Vladimir Putin imposed an authoritarian regime that failed to respect basic freedoms and the rule of law; he frequently resorted to violence and built up economic and financial monopolies directly controlled by the Kremlin. The working of state institutions has become progressively less democratic, corruption is rising, and feelings of mistrust permeate society as a whole. President Putin may be strong but the Russian State is weak.

What does the future hold? Marie Mendras, a distinguished expert on Russia, argues that elections cannot modify such an unbalanced system and that the Russian people will not mobilise to demand more democracy and freedom unless the economic and social situation deteriorates. In that case, social disorder could result, but without significantly altering State power. However, the struggle between the interests of powerful political and economic clans would be exacerbated.

This book covers the history of Russia and its political and social upheavals during the past twenty years. It examines the major events that shook the State (the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, the war in Chechnya, the Yukos scandal) and the way in which Russia has been able to use its energy reserves and military power to avoid all forms of external pressure.

The author analyzes society, arguing that the leaders in the Kremlin neglect it and that they ignore the institutions that represent the people. As a result, Russian society has developed its own types of defence, constructing individualistic trajectories that seem well established. Why do those who govern and those who are governed tolerate without respecting one another, and why do both groups prefer the status quo to changes that would bring about surprises and even a major break?

This is a thorough analysis of political, social and cultural developments in contemporary Russia and a critique of the leadership in Moscow, as the country's citizens prepare to go to the polls.

Marie Mendras is a political scientist. She is a research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), an expert on Russia at the Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI) and a lecturer at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques (IEP), in Paris. She holds degrees from Harvard University's Russian Research Center and IEP. She travels to Russia regularly on special missions and is an adviser to various European governments and institutions.