“Is Democracy Possible in Russia?”
Vladimir Putin returned to the Russian presidency in 2012, facing mass opposition protests and weak economic growth. His response was a sharp turn toward authoritarianism, a trend that began with criminal charges against dozens of protesters on Bolotnaya Square and has accelerated with Russia’s armed intervention in Ukraine. Political repression and anti-Western propaganda have reached levels previously unseen in post-Soviet Russia, with political opposition and participation and most independent media eliminated. At the same time, economic sanctions have pushed an already stagnant economy toward recession. These developments have created the need to reconfigure the sources of the Putin regime’s legitimacy. Whereas the implicit accord of Putin’s first two terms was to offer Russia’s citizens stable economic growth in exchange for their political disengagement; in his third term Putin seeks to compensate for declining standards of living with an artificial vision of Russia reborn as a great power.
In the short term, this strategy appears successful. Putin’s approval ratings have been at record highs for several months. However, an in-depth examination of Russia’s social, political, and economic trends suggests that the current political strategy may not be sustainable. Panelists Lilia Shevtsova, Leon Aron and Denis Volkov will discuss the factors that will shape political developments in Russia and the opportunities those developments might provide for reform. Leonid Gozman will provide comments.
Leon Aron is resident scholar and director of the Russian Studies Program at the American Enterprise Institute. He received a PhD from Columbia University and has taught at Georgetown University. He is the author of over 300 articles and essays and three books, most recently Roads to the Temple: Memory, Truth, Ideals and Ideas in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991 (Yale University Press, 2012).