Russia's Revolution 20 Years Later: Hopes of the Past, Expectations for the Future

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Post-Event Summary
On the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union's collapse, a panel of leading experts on Russia gathered at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to reflect on and assess the events that have taken place since then and what the future holds for Russia. AEI's Nicholas Eberstadt opened the discussion by noting that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest geopolitical events of the last century. Specifically, according to AEI's Leon Aron, the demise of the Soviet Union was brought about by Russia's glorious revolution in 1991. Today, the country's burgeoning civil society is continuing this revolution. Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics argued that Vladimir Putin made a fundamental mistake in September when he acknowledged Dmitry Medvedev's presidency has been a sham. In essence, Putin conceded that he has been Russia's de facto leader during the last three years, a period of economic stagnation. Aslund maintained that this week's protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg are evidence that Putin's leadership is imploding. The financial crisis, which has hit Russia far harder than any other major economy, has convinced the Kremlin that a multipolar world is forming, Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argued. However, the crisis has also compelled Kremlin leaders to question whether Russia will represent a powerful, independent pole in this reconfigured system -- a belief that was axiomatic in Moscow just a few years ago. Georgetown University's Angela Stent observed that, contrary to conventional wisdom, U.S.-Russia relations have been more consistent than most assume. Despite several honeymoons during their respective tenures, both the Clinton and Bush administrations ended with U.S-Russia ties at a post-Cold war nadir. Putin's recent comments about U.S. and other "foreign meddling" in Russia's parliamentary elections do not suggest relations will improve in the near future.

---Vera Zimmerman and Daniel Vajdic

Event Description
Since December 1991, Russia has undergone huge transformations both domestically and in its foreign relations. With an expansion of political freedoms and rapid privatization, the Yeltsin years appeared to set Russia on a path to democratic and free-market consolidation. However, over the last 12 years Russia has turned into an authoritarian, corrupt petro-state. In addition to continuing these trends, Vladimir Putin’s inevitable return to the presidency next year has the potential to strain U.S.-Russia relations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program, U.S. missile defense plans in Europe and the promotion of democracy in what Russia calls its “sphere of privileged interests.”

What were the original hopes and expectations of Russia’s 1991 revolution? Why have they not been realized in the 20 years since then? What will Russia look like 20 years from today? At this AEI event 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, a group of leading experts will discuss these and other questions in the context of Russia’s domestic politics, economic policies, role in the global economy and, above all, its relations with the United States.


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