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[ 140 ] asia policy from the U.S. side. In the absence of a compelling national idea, the Kremlin appears to need an external adversary to justify its harsh rule at home. Russia’s UN veto and energy riches are more useful as means to throw the country’s international weight around than as paths to “integration with the West” as the “best chance to develop and reach its ambitious target of becoming the fifth largest economy in the world by 2020” (p.162). In compiling this generally admirable study, Åslund and Kuchins give short shrift to the possibility that Moscow may not want to take “yes” for an answer. Don’t Shortchange the Politics Peter Rutland In the 1990s, Russia was undergoing such dramatic and unexpected changes that anything seemed possible—from a liberal capitalist miracle to the restoration of Soviet power.1 The uncertainty reached its peak in the wake of the August 1998 financial crash. In 1999, Russia’s political future seemed up for grabs, and no one knew what the future would hold.2 How quickly things changed. The uncertainty of the 1990s contrasts sharply with the stability of the 2000s. Since Vladimir Putin’s accession to power in 2000, the range of options for Russia’s future trajectory has narrowed. Still, Western observers have continued to offer sharply differing interpretations of Russia’s current reality. For some, Russia is still the new frontier, with amazing opportunities for the generation of wealth. For others, the country has reverted to its historic type: the basket case of Europe, leaking violence and instability. 1 For a prime example, see Daniel Yergin and Thane Gustafson, Russia 2010: And What It Means for the World (New York: Vintage, 1995). 2 In 1999, a group of Russian businessmen formed the Club 2015 to draw up a report on scenarios for Russia over the next fifteen years. See “2015 – Scenarios for Russia,” Club 2015 u http://www.club2015.ru/. peter rutland is Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought at Wesleyan University. He is currently completing a book on post-Soviet politics for Cambridge University Press. He can be reached at . [ 141 ] book review roundtable • the russia balance sheet ThroughoutthePutinera,bothRussia’sboostersanddetractorscontinued to find evidence to support their rosy or gloomy scenario. But most of the news coming out of Russia looked like more of the same; even the political assassinations and terrorist outrages became almost routine. Russia was settling into a combination of domestic authoritarianism and foreign policy ambition reminiscent of the “stagnation” of the Brezhnev era: unpleasant, but fairly predictable, with occasional foreign policy adventures. In The Russia Balance Sheet Andrew Kuchins and Anders Åslund aim to break out of these ideological readings of Russia’s fate. Their goal—as suggested by the title—is to offer an even-handed assessment of the pros and cons of Russia’s evolutionary trajectory. They published their assessment just as the new administration of President Barack Obama was weighing the possibilities for a “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia. The book is written as a primer for policymakers, with a neutral and descriptive tone, summarizing the core facts that politicians would need to know in crafting policy toward Russia. This approach may blunt the kind of thought-provoking and critical analysis that is usually found in the writings of these authors. The book begins with a historical chapter that stresses the geopolitical continuities of Russian state power. The next chapter traces Russia’s political evolution through Yeltsin and Putin. It portrays Putin’s regime as resting on rather shallow foundations, unable to develop an ideology and with nationalism remaining “quite moderate.” (p. 37) According to Kuchins and Åslund, Putin’s legitimacy was sustained primarily by Russia’s strong economic performance prior to 2008. On the contrary, however, one can argue that, from the Chechen war to the Georgian war, nationalism was very much the glue holding the Putin system together and driving its decisions. While narrating the democratic disappointments of the transition years, the authors somewhat evade direct discussion of the place of democracy in Russia’s future. They neither sketch out scenarios for the realization of democracy in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2960
Print ISSN
1559-0968
Pages
pp. 140-143
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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