Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia
The prevailing narrative about Russia, Frye writes, is overpoliticized and oversimplified. All too often, outside observers reduce Russian politics either to “Putinism,” defined by the character and background of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or to Russia’s unique history and culture. They neglect the numerous comparative studies that portray Russia as a personalist autocracy with much in common with other contemporary regimes in Hungary, Turkey, or Venezuela. Standard political commentary on Russia also gives little importance to dynamics within Russian society.
But survey-based academic research—including Frye’s own—illustrates the impact of Russian public opinion on the Kremlin’s decision-making process.
A Short History of Russia: From the Pagans to Putin
Galeotti skips through Russia’s centuries-long history in around two hundred pages by focusing on its successive rulers. He covers many early princes, along with every tsar and every Communist Party general secretary. The book traces feuds, wars, territorial expansions, and Russian leaders’ repeated attempts to modernize their country while keeping their subjects under tight control, but it does not have much to say about those subjects.
Readers will also not find much about Russia’s social structure, ethnic composition, high and popular cultures, systems of education, or faiths. Galeotti intends his book for a broad audience, and his narrative is, indeed, lively and easy to follow. The chapter on Vladimir Putin is brilliant. But a number of unfortunate inaccuracies risk misleading a curious reader.