Russia, according to the Western news media, is increasingly slipping toward totalitarianism. The man allegedly pulling all the strings is Russian President Vladimir Putin, ex-KGB operative and apparatchik extraordinaire. Journalists and politicians alike embrace this misconception of Putin as a powerful dictator whose control over his citizens must be countered through punitive measures.

Instead of a one-man dictatorship, the Kremlin administration more closely resembles a struggling, fractured corporation that at best is trying to become transparent and at worst is acting directly against the national interest. Russia’s government is far less strong and stable than Western observers care to admit.

For instance, Putin’s Kremlin, contrary to its own rhetoric and outside perceptions, has not taken a more muscular stance toward the post-Soviet territories (known in Russia as the “near abroad”). Unlike Yeltsin, who sent Russian peacekeepers into the near abroad, Putin’s administration has made concessions to withdraw bases from Georgia and other neighboring countries. And instead of bullying Belarus and Ukraine by threatening to raise the price of oil exports, Russia is in fact eliminating its own chief leverage point over its neighbors.

The West should:

  • stop overestimating the power of the Russian government because it both perpetuates Moscow’s deterministic, top-down management system and obscures the much more real danger of a weak, dilapidated Russia.
  • avoid meddling in Russia’s near abroad because it only enhances the Kremlin’s worst tendencies of isolationism and paranoia.
  • shift from bolstering the largely ineffectual political opposition to stimulating small business and grass-roots organization.

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FPIF contributor Anna Arutunyan is a freelance writer and an editor at the Moscow News.

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