Debate: The Future of Russia

March 01, 2021
RM Staff

MoscowThe following is a four-part debate between Thomas Graham, George Beebe, Steven Pifer and Michael McFaul about the future of Russia. The exchange was hosted by Pairagraph—a new platform that brings together distinguished individuals for conversations about great events and great ideas. For the exchange in its original form, click here.

Photo by Evgeny shared under a Pixabay license. 


The Future of Russia

March 01, 2021
Thomas Graham, George Beebe, Steven Pifer and Michael McFaul

Thomas Graham

Predicting Russia’s future is the bane of Russia watchers. One of the greatest, George Kennan, suggested that the policy of containment could vanquish the Soviet threat in 10-15 years; it took nearly 45. The experts failed to foresee the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. Widespread predictions in the 1990s that Russia was on the path to democracy ran afoul of an entrenched authoritarian mindset. Late in that decade, I wrote an essay entitled “A World Without Russia?” that traced a decades-long decline in Russian power and predicted it would continue. Alas! Humility is in order.

One prediction, though, we can make with complete confidence: A post-Putin Russia will eventually emerge. We just don’t know when or what it will look like. A lively debate over the possibilities is already underway. Observers fall into two broad camps, what we might call the Historians, who stress the enduring patterns of history, and the Sociologists, who are more attuned to the logic of change and development.

For the Historians, to whom I am partial, Putin’s Russia shares political characteristics with its Soviet and Tsarist predecessors: the concentration of power and property in the hands of a small elite, centralization and personalization of political power, exploitation of society for the state’s benefit, and suppression of a vibrant civil society. The details are of course different. Today’s Russia is hardly a replica of 15th century Muscovy. But the political DNA is the same.

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