Russia's Revolution: Essays 1989-2006
BOOK FORUM
About This Event

At a time when Russia is reasserting its influence abroad and undergoing a reemergence of regressive tendencies at home, Russian-born Leon Aron, author of the acclaimed biography Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life, and one of America’s top Russia scholars and commentators, presents Russia's Revolution: Essays 1989-2006 (AEI Press, April Listen to Audio


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2007). This collection of twenty-one important essays brings together Aron’s observations of the last great revolution of the twentieth century, which began in the 1980s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and continues today with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

On May 14, 2007 AEI will host a discussion of Aron’s new book, featuring two renowned specialists on Russian affairs: Blair Ruble, director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and Angela Stent, professor of government and director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and Eastern European Studies at Georgetown University.

Agenda
Noon
Registration and Luncheon
12:30 p.m.
Introduction:
Christopher DeMuth, AEI
12:35
Presenter:
Leon Aron, AEI
Discussants:
Blair Ruble, Woodrow Wilson International Center
Angela Stent, Georgetown University
Moderator:
Danielle Pletka, AEI
2:00
Adjournment
Event Summary

May 2007

Russia's Revolution: Essays 1989-2006

At a time when Russia is reasserting its influence abroad and undergoing a reemergence of regressive tendencies at home, Russian-born Leon Aron, author of the acclaimed biography Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life, and one of America's top Russia scholars and commentators, presents Russia's Revolution: Essays 1989-2006 (AEI Press, April 2007). This collection of twenty-one important essays brings together Aron's observations of the last great revolution of the twentieth century, which began in the 1980s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and continues today with Vladimir Putin's Russia.

On May 14, 2007 AEI hosted a discussion of Aron's new book, featuring two renowned specialists on Russian affairs: Blair Ruble, director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and Angela Stent, professor of government and director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and Eastern European Studies at Georgetown University.

Leon Aron
AEI

Very often in studies of Russia, many important observations about Russian society are left out and the very texture of ordinary Russian life left unexamined. Russia's Revolution covers the 1990s, a decade largely characterized as chaotic and catastrophic in Russia. This characterization is inaccurate. Attention is paid to the pitfalls which have befallen Russia's fledgling democracy, not to the progress it has made or to the substantial changes since the fall of the Soviet Union. These changes have occurred across all levels of society and include noteworthy economic, civil, and political shifts. The demilitarization of the society and the economy, the beginnings of self-rule, the transition from a unitary state to a largely federalized one, and uncensored mass media are all achievements of the 1990s. Also of note is the introduction of separation of powers and the veto in the Russian government.

Currently, Russian foreign policy is of great interest. Russia's ability to remain a reliable energy supplier is shaping its global role. Although the Putin restoration represents an ideological change which accounts for the recentralization of politics and the economy, restorations never completely succeed in undoing revolutions. People should never underestimate history's ability to inject itself into the present in unexpected ways, especially in Russia.

Blair Ruble
Woodrow Wilson International Center

Two themes stood out in Russia's Revolution: the depth of the break between today's Russia and its Soviet past and the misconceptions inherent in U.S.-Russian relations. Although people tend to write about Russia today as if it were nothing more than the Soviet Union writ small, Russia has changed significantly. Russia's Revolution looks at the bigger picture and encourages the reader to think large rather than small.

Changes have occurred which were unthinkable twenty years ago. Russian capitalism may seem strange to outsiders, but it is still capitalism, not a continuation of what came before. U.S.-Russian relations are based on the Soviet legacy and the wholesale application of old stereotypes to a different reality, leading to egregious misconceptions.

The essays in Russia's Revolution explore the changes, both big and small, which have occurred since 1989, and their effects on the fabric of Russian life.

Angela Stent
Georgetown University

Russia's Revolution is a rich and textured view of the tapestry of Russian life. It appeals to all of the senses and to the reader's intellect with a mixture of realism and romanticism. In the United States, the debate on Russia is often two-sided, with Russia characterized as either a neo-Soviet State, or with Putin praised for bringing stability to the chaotic Russia of the 1990s. Russia is far more complicated than either characterization suggests. The enormity of the revolution that Russia has experienced--and the many irreversible gains--much be taken into consideration in any discussion of Russia.

To change the trajectory of a country one must first find a historical past. The first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, was a contradictory political figure, but his main achievement was smashing the Communist system and giving Russia liberty, private property, freedom of movement, freedom of conscience, political choice, regional devolution, and the beginnings of a law-based state. Despite Yeltsin's weaknesses, some of his changes are permanent. The self-liberation of a people cannot be stopped, according to Russia's Revolution, only interrupted--suggesting that the era of reforms under Yeltsin was more than just a brief interlude.

Confronting the past has all but ceased under Putin's leadership. But both Yeltsin and Putin have said that Russia must define a new national idea: what it means to be Russian. On the international scene, Russia is trying to change the rules of the game and turn its energy capital into political influence. It is clear that Russia has determined that the international scene is changing, and it therefore seeks to renegotiate its relationship with the West and its position of global power.

AEI intern Amanda Nelson-Duac prepared this summary.

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