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In Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989–2006 AEI resident scholar Leon Aron brings together his observations of the last great revolution of the twentieth century, which began with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and continues today in Putin’s Russia. Aron explores the broad range of political, economic, social, and cultural developments in Russia in the last fifteen years, ranging from the vagaries of privatization to the recovery of Russia’s glorious gastronomic tradition to the challenges of postauthoritarian life as seen through the eyes of Boris Akunin, the bestselling Russian mystery writer. Aron also prepares us for the possible crises ahead, such as the 2008 Russian presidential election, the growing demographic crisis of an aging and unhealthy population, and the fallout from a potentially bankrupt state-owned pension system. Anyone interested in understanding the changes Russia has undergone should read this book.
Understanding Russian Domestic Policy: The rollback of democracy and self-rule by the Kremlin is the result of new domestic political and economic priorities. Aron particularly analyzes the return to the traditional view of Russian society: the state is tantamount, and all that is good for the state is good for the country. The strengthening of the state means the strengthening of society.
Understanding Russia’s Foreign Policy: Because of divergent and increasingly incompatible ideological agendas, U.S.-Russian relations have been unraveling since 2003. Russian foreign policy is no longer oriented toward the West, and Russia is aggressively seeking short-term political, economic, and diplomatic advantages (as, for example, in Iran). Unfulfilled expectations eat away at the goal of “equality and respect for Russia,” and conflicts have arisen as a result of the George W. Bush administration’s activist foreign policy. Topics addressed by Aron range from nuclear proliferation and NATO’s encroachment in Russia’s sphere of influence to Russia’s acceptance into the WTO.
Russian Oil: Russia has between 6 and 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. Russia pumped an average of 9.4 million barrels of oil a day and exported around 7 million barrels a day, occasionally outstripping Saudi Arabia in monthly production. High oil prices in the past six years have brought billions of dollars to the treasury, boosted personal incomes, and enhanced Russia’s position in the world. But increased government control of the economy and the expansion of the state’s role in energy production and distribution may lead to decreased oil exports.
The YUKOS affair has profound implications for companies interested in doing business in Russia. It represents the scaling down (or even the abandonment) of the liberal reforms of the 1990s and seems to herald a sharp turn toward economic and political recentralization. This setback of Russia’s progress toward developing a modern justice system demonstrates not only the nature and the extent of state control over the economy, but also the role of big business and personal wealth in what is still a very poor and state-bound society.
The New Russian Media: Although current news broadcasts no longer resemble the no-holds-barred versions that were common during the Yeltsin era, journalists today are not jailed for their writings, and even the most vociferous critics of the regime are able to publish. Local networks are more independent and less censored than national central channels. Aron believes that this balancing act cannot be sustained for long. He predicts a shift to either a full-blown classic authoritarianism, or a reaffirmation of the revolutionary legacy of freedom of the media. The next few years will tell.
Leon Aron is director of Russian studies at AEI.
Praise for Russia's Revolution
"Leon Aron applies scholarly expertise, a long-term perspective, broad erudition, deep insight, sober judgment, reasoned optimism, and a lifetime of experience with Russia....The essays in this collection are uniformly well written, rich, and thought-provoking. To pick up this book is to engage in a conversation on Russian affairs with a wise, thoughtful, and seasoned interlocutor. And the reader will profit from the 'conversation.'"
—The Russian Review
"Leon Aron is perhaps the most erudite, insightful, and indeed, empathetic analyst of the trials and tribulations of Russia's troubled revolution. This collection of essays, dating back to the glasnost period in the 1980s and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union to Russia's remarkable recovery today, will make for terrific reading for both seasoned Russian experts as well as the uninitiated trying to make sense of Russia. In a field not renowned for its predictive success, Aron's essays are as fresh and insightful today as when originally written."
—Andrew C. Kuchins, director and senior fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies
"Leon Aron has long been an invaluable source of common sense, deep knowledge, and historical perspective on the country of his birth. All his skills and insight are on display in Russia's Revolution, a timely, compelling summation of his wisdom about one of the most important sagas of our time."
—Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state (1994-2001) and president of the Brookings Institution
"This is a riveting and highly literate account of Russia's revolution against communism. Leon Aron possesses one of the finest and most penetrating minds studying contemporary Russia. He brings to life key Russian developments in topical essays. Aron revives the fury against the Soviet system, and emphasizes the depth of the revolutionary changes Boris Yeltsin set in motion, while also acknowledging the many unfortunate reversals spearheaded by Vladimir Putin. Read this book and you sense how much Russia has been transformed!"
—Anders Åslund, senior fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics