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tv   Timothy Frye Weak Strongman  CSPAN  April 2, 2022 3:45pm-5:02pm EDT

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>> get gives me immense pleasure to introduce today's panel where we will be discussing timothy frye's most recent book "weak strongman" the limits of power in putin's russia. tim is a deer friend and colleague going back to the days of being a graduate student at columbia when i first started as a professor so it's really terrific and an honor for me to moderate this panel. tim continues to be at the forefront of scholarships on the
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post-soviet era and i'm sure his book will be a contribution to literature not just about russia but also how we have retrenchment and democracy and the resurgence of the natori. regime throughout the world. we have a panel of three discussants today and i will introduce them in turn. keith gesson is a professor at the columbia school of journalism here at morningside. stephen kotkin is professor of history and international affairs at princeton university and maria murillo is a professor of science at columbia and is also serving as director for the institute of latin american studies. without further ado i will hand it over to tim to talk about his book before.
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>> thanks a lot. it's really a pleasure to be here and i want to thank you in the palace for taking time out of your busy schedules particularly during a pandemic. i really appreciate your effort and hearing what you have to say about the book. the simplest way to describe "weak strongman" the limits of power in putin's russia is that it's explainable. translate what i think is the best academic research over the last decade for a general audience on a host of interesting questions. spuyten really popular? do you elections matter? the's propaganda ineffective cliques why are relations with the left so fraught. the book should have something for you whether you identify as a russian or is someone who has russian experience. there's no shortage of books on russia so why should you read
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this one? the it departs from existing work on russia in three ways. the first departure is that i can see two of the most common narratives on russia and i will call them the putin explanation and the exceptional russia explanation and in the interest of time i will paraphrase them a little bit but there's quite a bit of truth in these two views. let me illustrate an explanation of the arrest of the appropriations of the largest oil company in 2003. some emphasize the personal role of putin annex k. ev man with little interest in markets and rewards his cronies to consolidate power. we should view russian politics largely as a reflection of
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putin's kgb background and his omnipresence and here it is the way putin is. others have you taken the view of the private and state property. russia's total lack of interest in markets and democracy and suggests we should see russian politics through the lens of russia's unique history and culture and in its strongest version that argues there's a uniquely -- mentality that allows russia to favor a strong hand and brushes the way it is because that's the way russian czar. one problem with this view is that similar reparations of energy companies to ways around the same time as algeria bolivia chad ecuador dubai senegal and venezuela and if we look at our countries in 1946 to 2010 what
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we see is when oil prices are high naturalization sara much more common so like a lot of russian politics the takeover was driven less by prudence background a russian history but, not a credit grill. russian see putin's russia as led by a unique leader overseeing a unique country. i argue we should view putin's russia as a personal autocracy. this is about talk or see led by residual giving countries a pattern of politics that differ from autocracy that are led by a military such as contemporary myanmar or contemporary china or the soviet union. attackers seize rule based on a mixture of personal popularity and propaganda and in
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performance they do deliver some goods in order to gain popular support and they also rely on coercion like all autocrats do but they try to avoid it because it's quite costly. although the leaders and not talk received have power in their own hands it's a host of difficult trade-offs and it's important to understand trade-offs if you want to understand politics in these countries and successive chapters on putin's popularity on elections and the economy and foreign policy. identify these trade-offs for example in looking at russian elections facing the problem of you cheat to little you risk losing but if you cheat too much you might have backlash. you need to use russians to reward your inner circle by the same time you can also much
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corruption that might foment popular protests. autocrats manipulate the news but not so much that people stop watching tv. antiwesternism to row the base but not so much that it actually provokes a war. if you look at autocracies we also see patterns that differ from military regimes and growth tents to be slower. policies tend to be more volatile and professions seem to be higher and when we look at russia which sounds like a familiar picture. rather than seeing putin is all powerful i highlight the difficult trade-offs of the kremlin and it's important to note it's a problem but it doesn't mean putin is going to be evolved from power any time soon. it's just that poses a host of
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challenges and it does not mean that you're able to do whatever you want. it's not really a putin book. it's both parties the need to look beyond it to probe the diverse trends of the crescent society to figure out which groups in russian society challenge putin's rule and he has had fairly high levels of support at various times over the last 20 years. that's one big part. the second departure is that i'd did academic research and writing about russia but there's lots of great writings on russia and the great longform longform writing on russia and we could take a case that volume writing is better but my book doesn't do that. instead i try to highlight the academic research on russia which is really terrific.
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it's really not well understood but russia has been a great place to study autocracy in the last 20 years. public opinion is much better and the quality of the administrative data on elections and growth and social indicators is better than other autocracies and it helps that russia is a well-educated country and it's important to note that many of the best scholars writing on russia today are russian. in the last 15 years i have had as many russian co-authors as u.s. co-authors. this has really been overlooked in the broader debate on russia. in the book you'll see how my colleagues and i figure out whether russians are answering questions about putin's approval, how we identified propaganda campaigns, how we track political graffiti in russia to a mass protest and how
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we use big data to identify ties between political and economic relief. unfortunately this research has had zero impact on our public debate on russia. one goal in this book is to bring this research delight and its high-quality research and greg's that i try to be in the forefront that i'm going as fast as i can just to keep up with my younger colleagues who are doing a lot of this terrific research. the third way that the book departs from a lot of writing on russia is that i mix in a lot of pertinent -- personal and dotes over the last 30 years. you learn about how we work on the cultural experience in six soviet cities in the late 1980s and for many russians i was one of the first americans that they met and shed a lot of
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light on what it's like to live under an autocracy. i've also tried to my experiencing working in the securities exchange commission in 1990 and what it's like to have her research institute in moscow at the higher school of economics over the last decade. these anecdotes make a better read and i think some of them are kind of funny. they also provide insights that are hard to come by unless you spend a lot of time in russia but i think they give a tone to the book that is different from a lot of writing on russia. just to wrap up a think it's hard to change people's minds on russia. both sides or all sides of the debate on russia people are dug in hard but i hope that this book will provide a little nuance a little complexity and to do the contemporary discussions about russia. so by putting russia in a
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comparative perspective than by using science-based evidence and paying attention to russian society trying to get past a lot of the arguments that are made about russia and to provide a clear and richard picture of russian politics today. thank you very much and i look forward to all of your comments. >> thank you. we will turn to our panel is now. in batting order to start the panel 1 up is keith gesson the delacorte professor of magazine journalism at the columbia journalism school. take it away. >> hi everybody. thank you for having me and tim thank you for this fun and very useful book which really does cover a tremendous amount of ground and summarizes and is the thing to an entertaining way a
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lot of science research that i wasn't aware of. i learned to terms that i can't believe i lived this long on earth without knowing. one is autocratic legalism a description of how regimes have buried people in lawsuits and the appearance of the legality as a form of oppression. i thought that was interesting in the concept of rational ignorance for why people in a place like russia might choose to ignore certain things not because they don't know about them but because it doesn't serve their interest to know about how regimes are behaving. in fact nothing good could come
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of it so rationally about it was a very good term and in general i look forward to waiving the book at people on twitter in particular who don't know what they are talking about with regards to russia. i have four general thoughts and questions really. i don't know if we have time to answer all of them but i thought i'd bring them up. the first one is the question of russian specificity. and your point is really well taken. one of the ultimate titles for the book that i kept thinking of was an average autocracy. the putin regime resembles so many other temporaries autocratic regimes and it seems to have more in common with the erdogan regime than it does with
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the stalinist regime. that seemed like a very useful way we typically talk about putin in the kremlin. and the more specific features were mentioned in my interest increased so the fact the rush is well-educated, more educated than most autocrats. i thought that was interesting. and the political position is unique and more powerful than most autocratic regimes. to use your taxonomy the most powerful given china is a party of autocracy. you wonder ultimately whether rushes past hypocrisy is going to depend on most factors in you
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talk a little bit about that in your conclusion. similarly i enjoyed reading about the ingenious ways you and other political scientist structured these surveys to make sure they are using a valid data. and you make the important point that is often lost in discussion of russia that the kremlin can't just jenna support for any old policy. strong and durable support i would say and syria not at all. and as you point out ultimately the economy just like the united states you can tell whether a president will be elected by the performance of the economy so a
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huge popular is dependent on the performance of the economy but political elites can mobilize and maybe you wonder which kind of dashes able to mobilize and crania is a unique valence in russian history and culture but what about kia and it's a bit of an alarmist statement but kia suddenly you think kia of of course. and in ukraine where it figures along ethnic or linguistic lines which periodically ukrainian politics give -- did get
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mobilized. so i would like to know which opinions can be mobilized and those they can't in the third similar thing i was thinking about as they read is what is the theory of change that we can come out of this book with? i thought a lot about dmitri furman. i'm sure you know his work speaking on post-soviet regime said if you look at the pseudo-democracy that's been set up they are vulnerable to the problems of elections. they have decided to do that through election and it was at this point that you had the
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crisis of legitimacy. this is when you would have problems. but do you think that is no longer valid in the russian case and the kremlin has figured out a way around that by using the opposition earlier on but forgets to the point of the election and kind of incredible to think that navalny one of the things that he was doing was thinking of other ways to do elections. election still in play in russian 2020 as a factor of contention and is not how you think of putin's russia at all. i do wonder coming out of research how do we get out of this situation and the final question which i will conclude on and maybe is the most relevant for this discussion why
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hazard discourse on russia been so -- and their objective historical factors with the trump situation in the hacking and being a person who wants to have constructive relations with russia up until a few months ago. we are watching a character assassination of matthew johnson before our eyes which is really disturbing and yet we have a fair amount of academic work. we have a lot of people who have done research which doesn't always make it into mainstream discourse so i'm wondering if it's changed in the last five, 10, 20 or 30 years in talking about russia and the
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constructive way and if it's more difficult. it's such a useful and delightful book. >> thanks keith for those interesting question. do you want to respond while they are still fresh or shall we? >> why do we wait and i will pick them up. hopefully people have forgotten about the hard questions so i can use a little more discretion >> make sure keith doesn't get to dodge anything. stephen kotkin they professor of history at at international affairs at princeton university. >> thank you and thank you for the opportunity to be here today. congratulations on the book timothy frye. from my point of view as an obligated reader there are far too many books on russia but we
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have far too few good looks on russia and her fester fries book call -- falls into the latter category which makes it a pleasurable experience. a long time ago in the late 80s and early 90s the russians were saying that they wanted to be a normal country and this was true of the vast majority people even in the provinces who were far away like myself. professor frye's argument is that russia is a marmol country. it has become a normal country. it is a normal autocracy but it is normal. putin kills journalists and autocracies killed journalists. that's what attackers to do.
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they emasculate limits on executive power. this regime is corrupt yeah well all personal autocracies are corrupt so we are dealing with another normal country. it's not a normal country in the way that folks in the late 80s and 90s were hoping. they were looking for a normal country in the western european social democratic welfare state by standard of living and rule of law but nonetheless normal. professor frye's not happy that rushes a normal country in this autocratic system. he would prefer that it was more normal and european but if it's normal it's amenable to social science research because any
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country can be -- social science. the beauty of the book which differentiates on the vast majority of books on russia is that it's empirical. it's full of evidence. most russia books or evidence free and they are full of arguments and assertions and full of all sorts of stuff personal experience but they don't have any evidence for the most part are the evidence that they have is -- so here we have a look which is completely laden with theories. some of it he carried out himself in a very clever sophisticated survey political and sociological. it's very refreshing and judicious and this alone makes the book a necessary read for anyone interested in russia. however the book well how do i
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put it the book makes you think nobody's going to read it because there appears to be a lot of demand for simplified politicized understanding of russia. .. we can have a long discussion about u.s. views on china. we can have an even longer discussion but u.s. views on america. they are simplified, mythologists and politicized. so, we have a tension here between the desire to mobilize the social science and normalize
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russia and the fact that doesn't happen for any country, russia includes. there's no analysis in the book of why every country is simplified and mythologize and politicized and that would be a good question for another time. that's the global commonality. quote, unfortunately, social science research has had little impact on public discower about russian and it's relationship to the rest of the world. scratch out russia and put in hi country you want to put. another issued like to raise for professor frye to consider is that he has set up the interpretations a mutually exclusive. in other words, there's this fantastic social science research that he wants to spotlight and then ignoreamis who indulge in put a puttology -- putinology or
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history and tradition so he just to supposed them as if they're mute includely exclusive. it doesn't really work for him. first of all that there are people -- i won't mention names -- but who have taught at prince for 35 years and argued that russia is a authoritarian country like other authoritarian countries and leadership matter and institutions matter but he set them up as mute actually exclusive rather than complimentary so that forces him to sneak back with -- through the back door, phrases like, well, putin's kgb browns is not irrelevant. and on it goes. so, the rhetorical strategy is interesting but i wonder if it advances the social science argument because it's not a social science rhetorical strategy. okay. what's the question or actually
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trying to explain here? what is the question that puzzles us? that we don't understand. that professor frye is helping us understand. well you might think the question is, how does this particular person autocraticky fit in with other personalist autocraticky. but the book says it is one like that, but in fact it gives a lot of examples of russia being different. in fact the problem here is that russia is not just a personalist autocracy today but an out -- yesterday and the about hundred, 700 years before that. so russia is on a 700 we are plus transition to something
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other than personalist awe 0 tookcracy which a lot of countries are not on that trajectory. he must talk but the thinges said are mutelily exclusive which are problems like explaining why russiaer is still russia. like germi. we then get stuff very instincty, very sneaky. for example, compare to other countries, quote, russia is too rich and too well-out okayed to be nondirect, corrupt to be show undirect, corrupt and irliberal. somebody made a misstation stakes. too well-educate to be so nondemocratic, corrupt and ill
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liberal. russia is exceptional about why? why is it on the wrong path? why is it like other not unique like other modern personalist autocracies and why on this 700 year transition out of something i can't get out of? i'll make two final points if that's okay. what is wheat? we have weak strongness. what is very interesting but a weak strongman he can murder people at will, take their property do a lot of things that, for example, professor frye can't do. and professor frye is a academy with tenure at a major research institution and we would call him a strong academic, not a weak academic, based upon his amazing publication record, teaching evaluation. what is amazing about the argument of a weak strongman is i don't know how you could be a
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strong strongman because all the problems that make him weak are things putin does himself. he continually weakens his own rule. there's a kind of structural limitation if professor frye's argument is correct you can't have a strong strongman because they step on themselves all the time. they undermine themselves by being too corrupt or fill in the blank in his many argue. s. i'd like to know how you can be a strong strongman and why some strong strongmen are strong and why some other strongmen seem to be condemned structurally to being weak because of all these tradeoffs they face. my final point, and this is a point that is now becoming very popular. saw it in foreign affairs under someone else's name recently. the absence of an alternative
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colors everything. i've been making this argument ever since i understood bolshevism. some, i still don't understand bow shism but keith you already had your chance and this is not about me. this about professor frye. but bowl she system was not other another being. couldn't feed the people, couldn't organize transport. it was a mess. and one thing is ex-ed at was destroying any hint of an alternative. if could crush immediately with all its force the hint of an alternative. and so the absence of an alternative is what colors everything in today's russia, including those extremely clever and subtle surveys that professor frye himself engineered with his colleagues. so, that point i would argue is
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not deeply enough appreciated in the many interesting arguments in the book. and that is to say the absence of an alternative, which also keith gessen alluded to into terms of eliminating candidates before needing to manipulate the election, makes its easier, i have to say. we can't do that unfortunately in our faculty meetings as well as his personal autocracy seems to be able to do. in conclusion, let me reiterate that this is a very good book on russia; that there are a lot of good books on russia you should never read, let alone buy, but this is one of them that you should now open up your phone and go on amazon and order immediately, because it's empirically rich, full of evidence, very clever, in its
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use of social science and deployment of social science and makes a lot of important arguments how to con tech to allize russia, not solely or predominantly in the personality of the individual ruler or in the history and tradition but in a way these kinds of regimes behave and that's a valuable lesson for anybody trying to under russia today. so heartfelt congratulations and thank you once again for the invitation today. . >> thank you for those very challenging comments. i'm looking forward to hearing timm's response. first we'll hear comments from evacuatey murillo, a professor of the political science department at columbia and the director of the institute for latin american studies. >> thank you for the invite station and now i -- coming off
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the speaker. the reason i got myself [inaudible] -- i am not -- [inaudible] the prior -- i know very little -- [inaudible] from latin america. this is a very well-written. a lot in weaving many deep empirical information about russia in a way that altogether and aloud, those that are -- study other parts of the world to understand russia but to understand the -- let me make four comments and end with a question. so, i think we have -- learn about russia so it's interesting is that competitive --
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[inaudible] -- quite different from the [inaudible] the russia of today is different from the russia of the past. part of the difference is -- now [inaudible] -- enough freedom to get information that allows researchers to produce this studies we built this work and the point that -- because -- [inaudible] i think one i find stronger is that repressive process for but on the other hand could not be strong enough,
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the tension of the repression and presuppresssive system. a lot of other aspects and the violence of this regime of any other. the second thing that i think makes -- is that he is -- [inaudible] -- popularity. this is not unique of personality, even though party -- i think -- other countries have seen this but -- [inaudible] -- popularity for the first -- [inaudible] -- like everyone else but this is an economy that is very -- [inaudible] it's very much out of his control and one thing i
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would use his control -- [inaudible] -- policy of cold war like everyone else, but the relationship to the allies and nonallies. so, many thing he does become popular make weak. this is a problem that is not unique to putin, not unique to russia but i think that emphasize how it is important and the politics are quite unique to russia in that russia is not a strong world player and in fact that's something that emphasize in cyber security, it's a -- they really -- [inaudible] -- invade other countries and need to do cyber terrorism. one thing that is very important in this book is how much
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political science has changed in the russia, and the soviet union. i do remember the people who are the -- older people starting the soviet union and then the young generation was starting what came afterwards and political science war that is -- [inaudible] -- by his students, i have to say, but a lot of russian colleagues. i use it to analyze russia and i think the reliance on surveys that people have -- clever ways of measuring, -- [inaudible] -- unhappy this is not considered by policymakers and the book -- here is the oruwariye information that should be
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considered and also -- to move beyond their journals and to -- in either policy discussion. the younger generation that focus on -- which is what was asked in the -- but stand to make it other forms of production for the public and that can be part of the conversation, maybe not of the conversation in tv but yet of the conversation among policymakers and activists. i think that this is a book that i really want to emphasize there's some aspects it seems here, going to russia before he was the soviet union, and keeps
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talking about his own view as it becomes russia, and what makes -- beyond the -- i want to come back to the history. [inaudible] -- this is not the soviet union. i don't know if he professor is talking -- in political science but it seems they're very, very different regimes. [inaudible] -- two things. regime is hard to walk -- you have to do something. autocrats and authority in -- [inaudible] -- and a little struck by your comparison with
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latin america. it's true, russia is rich are, more educated. inequality is lower, and many countries in latin america have more experience -- with competitive -- [inaudible] -- so even if they authoritarianism -- [inaudible] -- have a competitive elections, or very competitive elections and there is still long experience with democracy, so one thing that is really interesting about russia and the -- [inaudible] -- no experience with democracy. hard to think about transition to something that is unknown in
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the country. [inaudible] -- transition, you -- so much history -- [inaudible] -- i think it's different from the soviet union. the soviet union -- i feel the narrative of the soviet union of the bolsheviks, that is the not the animal. that's why we have pom tettive authoritarianism like democracy, but it's not clear the history of no experience with democracy is going to say about the future. [inaudible] -- repression and -- i think what is important for me in think about the book was the role of history in defining contemporary theory. this is a fantastic book for
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someone like me, who want to learn about russia. thanks a lot for the invitation. >> thank you, vicki, for those insights and comments and questions. tim you have five minutes to respond to all these questions. i'll ask that you respond to the most difficult questions first. >> thanks a lot. first, really terrific set of comments. this is the first book panel that i've done, and it's really terrific to get these comments. some of which i anticipated in the writing and some that are new. let me start with keith's comment about why his discourse is so debased on russia and there is a lot of that debate lurking in the browns in the book and i don't really take it on head on, and that was a conscious decision because i was
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afraid that would then just get the hackles up and reinforce the kind of polarization and compel me into one camp or another, and one thing but the book is there's a lot of stuff for each side of the russia hawk, rich dove divide to not like, the russia hawks won't like it to learn that when we did these survives put nut in 2015, yes, people weren't lying when they answered the question about putin's approval, and the rachel maddows won't like to hear when you look at russian efforts in 2016, the chances they turned the election in trump's favor are really pretty low. so, that was a conscious choice not to take that debate head on. part of the reason why the russia discourse is so
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debasesive, it's hard to study russia. it's far away and ocake and that gives people lots of room to make all kind claims that are hard to disprove. russia doesn't help this wills in this sense and they often o'hill size the debate -- politicize the debates themself in ways that are not helpful. one question i kept going book, to what evidence could i give somebody that would a fair minded reader consider persuasive? and there's some part of the readership that you never going to persuade so what i try here was really load the diets -- dice and come at the reader with more evidence and at the end people will think what they're going to think. but really interesting points. and then your second point but russian specificity and that
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rolls into steve's points as well, and this was a real tension in the book, and maybe i go overboard on trying to paint russia too much as a normal autocracy. that was something of a choice in that so much of writing about russia is in the vein that putin is unlike other leaders, that russia is so unique that it was pushing against that and you might think i go too far. also i -- that was really kind of a corrective based on where i think much of the writing on russia is today because you have to make a choice. these are -- there's a lot of implicit noncomparison of russia to other countries where people only look at russia and then their explanations are rooted only in factors that occur in russia and then by definition, you can't know whether the
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processes going on within russia are the same as in other countries. so in trying to balance off what makes russia special and what makes it comparative you really do have to take a comparative approach to find out what is different about russia. that russia is better educated. that there's not much evidence that russians are less interested in politics -- or less interested in participating in politics than other country us. the way you establish that isly becoming outside. only by looking outside can we then figure out what is unique what is not unique about russia. on the comments about that i set these arguments up as mutually exclusive and that's a good criticism. i'm an area studies guy. i was russian language and
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literature so i as a major, as an undergraduate so what i think is really exciting about the new research o on russia is my students and the kind of younger generation, they're not only really well-trained in social science and accept lot of time on the ground in russia. they traveled the country, and they -- a lot of the young russians who come to the u.s. and study and come back and really marry the best of social science approach and a deep understanding of the country. so, that i think dishes a lot of this work d-distinguishes a lot of this work. on the weak strongman, i struggled with this. no one is going to buy a book that title the constrained strongman, or the moderately weak strongman, and the text is
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more measured than the title, and steep says i'm a strongman. i appreciate that. my students don't always seem to hold that point of view. the point i'm trying to make here is that i think in a lot of discussions about russia, in the west, there is this assumption that because putin is unrivaled politically he can just do whatever he wants, the bureaucracy just snaps to his orders because he is all-powerful and such persuasive character. in the west putin is probably reading you e-mails right now because he has this incrediblely powerful kgb that is able to manipulate the internet in ways that lead to russians advantage and i want to push back against those views and look what can putin do really well, crush the
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political opposition, and to make alternatives less appealing. if you look, for example, at the approval ratings, it's not just that putin's approval ratings have been high. no one else's ratings have been high. everybody else -- there's a big gap between putin and everybody else in the approval rating so i take steve's point quite well. and on -- segwaying into vicki's point about short changing history here, and that is a serious charge, and i think we're often forced to make tradeoffs in -- particularly in writing a book for a general audience. you have to keep people turning the pages, and it forced me to cut out a lot of topics i would
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have looked to have spent more time talking about. one of this is that the kind of history of personalism in russia. russia has had personalism, a lots of countries have had personalistic experiences for long periods of time and with the think but russia, the khrushchev and brezhnev era, a lot of collective decisionmaking at the highest levels. in the yeltsin who was a personalistic ruler, but he had to struggle every year and get the budget passed through the duma and that was an epic battle each year and the point want to make is putin's russia is very different from that in that in collecting so much power in his own hands, it allows him to do certain things but not others, and a lot of the other things
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are important for building power within russia. if you have the fewer -- it's difficult to get people to invest. it's very difficult to get businesses to innovate. and that is kind of this paradox, and in steve talked but in miss writing as well about an impetus of only nip tense. you have all power you don't have the time in energy to resolve all problems and it creates lots of unintended sequences i try doctor consequences i like to point out in the book. >> few questions from the audience. we can close another hour to just have this back and forth on the questions the panelists propose but want to give the oddance chance. one topic not mentioned in the discussion and i look to through the table of contents is roll play by put a put's organized
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crime connections in his policy choices. these have the been well-documented and extend back to when he worked in charge of c approval in the mayor's office in the early 19 anothers and became involved in an innews oil for food scandal. while may authoritarianism leaders find themselves cooperating with organized crime and groups it seems that few of them have those ties so early in their careers before they made it to a high-powered position. does this set putin apart? >> so i do mention putin's experience in the lenin grad city government and charges he was in charge of a food import program in which money came -- money went out of the country and food never really came into
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the country and there were a lot of allegations that putin was deeply involved in this. another book cover this topics in better detail than i can, and that is really not what this book is about, and it's also not unique for leaders to rely on all kinds of agents at their disposal. now, whether or not that colors his economic policy or his foreign policies, that is the kind of analysis i don't want to do in a book like this because it would require an awful lot of speculation and an awful lot of relying on sources i think would likely be pretty dubious. >> second question: -- >> by the way if anybody wants to jump in on these points and we have a tremendous amount of
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expertise here so be more than happy to hear from the panelists as well. >> in the meantime the second question, you mentioned that performance does matter, even in personal dictatorship. s which policy areas do you find to be strong on, quote, good performance and n russia and does its matter for outcomes given the important policy crippled and efforts on the economic front. >> so putin has been extremely good on the macro economy. his great pitch to russians is that i brought you stability after the chaos of the 1990s, and he did manage the inflow of the petro dollars into the russian economy in a way that was not detrimental to the economy has happened in a lot of other countries. so he's also hired a very good central banker who has kept
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macroeconomics stability a really high priority. also, if you look at things like lng production, tasked with developing the oil field, an oil field in the north of russia. they bunglinged the job. putin said we are going to give this to another company to develop and they brought it to market two years ahead of schedule. the sochi olympics, building the bridge to crimea, if you look at the targeted -- this sputnik vaccine as well. look at targeted efforts, the russian state can marshal resources to resolve specific problems. it's not good at generate thing kind of economic dynamism that comes from innovation and new
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inventions and creating a level of economic playing field so that people with good ideas are rewarded rather than people with good connections to the state. in foreign policy, too, the annexation of crimea was wildly popular and really bought putin four years of peace, even as the economy started to slow down so that from his point of view was a really wise move. another area, it's road building. a lot of things we could look at in detail and see where the kremlin is not so good at doing those kinds of activities. i site -- a great study at the world bank which look ted costses 0 building a road in finland and northern russian and
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the cost in russian are three times higher than in fin loaned ann though the climatic cbs or the same. that's not something russia is not so great at. >> necessary the. what consequences flow from your book for concrete policies with regard to russia? the team around biden, are they more amentallable to a more reality based proven than you argue for in your book? >> well, i hope they read the book. hope they buy the book. what i think the main policy point, i think to take away from the book, is to have a really clear-eyed view of russia and what it is and where it's going. to recognize that russia is not on the brink of an economic collapse. just a few more sanctions will push them over the edge.
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that there's not this mass ground swell of support that only if putin stumbles, there will be a mass revolt to try to bring down the regime. at the same time, i think that the book speaks to making policy towards russia not based on putin, not to personalize relationships. that's what put pit is really good at. did that with some roder in germany and and the policy needs to look beyond put and put there are many voices within the kremlin that might want to a hear a different message. many groups within russian society that would like to see a better relation and a more predictable relationship, and those kinds of messages should be part of the package of how we approach russia.
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so there's not kind of concrete policy proposals about what to do on new start or how to handle russian trade policy, but the book does generate i think an approach towards viewing russia that could inform policymakers. >> thank you. so, i was wondering if you could say more about -- go back to keith's question about what your theory of change is, including for russia, and what could change and why would it change? >> well, one view is that putin's 20-plus years in power are par for the course for the region. if you look at kazakhstan, a leader power for 29 years. the personalist autocracies the
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former soviet states are very long lived and even if we look outside of the former soviet space, autocratickic regimes last for 15 years and the way change has tended to not come about is when a leader dies or which has been what we have seen ins aer -- in kazakh tan the leader has step down but it's been a difficult transition. so one way is simply that putin will stay in power for other long period of time and russia will be in a nasty equilibrium of slow growth, sort of popular leader but no alternatives to a version of russia that is better able to safer the needs of the majority of its citizens.
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another way that change might come about is through changes in the economy, as russia's economy faces the changes in the global energy market, this makes it more difficult for an autocratic leader in that putin's first ten years in power he was able to satisfy the inner circle with tremendous -- beyond their belief and able to satisfy the average russian beaut living standard -- because living standard doubled. in the last four years putin has started to have to make hard choices about where does the next ruble go? does its go to inner circumstance circle who are important for his rule or do they go to trying to build broader based economic growing. so, economic change might be one
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source of political change. on elections, the nature of elections has changed a lot as keith pointed out. earlier putin was able to win kind of honest majorities. we call them where in the first decade in office, putin was able i think to claim that, yes there was fraud but most people believed that the fraud didn't have hap an impact on the election. the next round of elections, the presidential elections, that's going to be a much, much tougher challenge for putin to claim that he is able to win an honest -- a majority if current trends continue. so elections are another potential source where leaders can make mistakes, where they -- as we see in stole too much
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never election and that got people on the streets in a country where there had been very little protests for two decades. i'm skeptical that change comes from without. there's a lot of wishful thinking about foreign countries' ability to manipulate the domestic politics in russia, it's just really hard, and i'm skeptical that is the way that political change will come about. >> we have another question from the audience. i wonder whether the term "personalist" is a good one to describe russia and other similar countries? the book seems to be making an argument that it is not -- really not about putin but the term "personalist" points in the opposite direction there oar terms we might use to describe the political system. >> personalist is not a great
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team. it's commonly used in this literature. there really -- regimes in which major policy and personnel decisions are made by a single individual, particularly this decision of when it's time to step down. so, in mexico, every six years, under the pri, the parties say your time is up and we need to move on to somebody else. or even in china, until recently, where they were able to manage a norm of two terms for the general secretary. in personalist regimes the leader decides when it's time to go. usually they decide too late because there's all kinds of informational insin testifies of people as lower levels in bureaucracy to hide the bad news. so, we can't always assume that
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leaders who are politically unchallenged are getting the best information about what is going on in the country. >> were there any questions or comments from the panelistses you wanted to spend more time responding to. >> in steve and keith and vicki's view about how do we handle this tradeoff, this accounting for the specificity that is clearly there in the russian case. the foreign policy chapter in the book is the one i struggled with the most because in lots of ways russia i an atypical autocracy and foreign policy and there's a whole literature in social science about the foreign policies of autocracy that it looks as large and cross-national decisionmaking about foreign policy, and i
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didn't cite that literature because i think russia is very different from other kind offered autocracies and i want to avoid trying to fetishize wht is unique about russia and putting too much explanatory power on things that are -- if not unique, at least atypical among autocracies. so, professor kotkin kin -- do you have -- you look at russia as a former colonial country like britain and france and the difficulty of dealing with that. >> give yourself a little more credit, dr. frye. you do this.
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rhetorically you hide your achievements by going after the simplified ignoramuses who need a certain view of russia or who are wedded to it. you actually have the sophisticated even-handed judicious russia is normal country but it has specificities, too. your rhetorical package doesn't do full justice to our achievements in my view but i've already stated that. let's not imagine that you ignore russian history, russian tradition, russian institutions, that you ignore put's permit. in fact you have all of that -- putin's experiment you have that in the book and it's rightfully there. so, let's not beat ourselves up here with a stick as if we're trying to get the most out of
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steam here in the cabana. >> vicki? keith? do. >>ized you want toened. >> i agree. i think the material -- the most -- the chapter on foreign affairs because that's where the political role of russia becomes evident. comparing russia with venezuela or turkey or hungary but when you get to that chapter, that comparison, and you bring science to the conversation. so certainly i think you are doing in the book. it is there. i thought what i -- what is in the conclusion the way you finalize and i'm think about the future, i liked -- you make this comparison which is at least for
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me a big -- [inaudible] -- american country but the history was so different. yes, they're poorer but they cover different history and [inaudible] -- history of being an empire and nondemocratic or elective empire. >> i have a question if could i for professor kotkin that relates to this discussion. have you -- your talk of a 700 year transition to democracy, suggests it's never going to happen. have you -- a term that's come up in your work recently is past dependence. kind of a depressing term. have you given up hope? >> this is a question that professor frye has already
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answered, and i would prefer to let his answer stand here and i would want the audience to focus on his book. russia has had state collapse and autocracy comes back. it's had mass revolution more than once, and ukraine comes back. so we have a -- autocracy comes back and we have a problem that needs to be explained. don't necessarily have a cage we live in. but it's been a long time since the kingdom -- very long time. anyway, professor frye, back to you. >> i think -- i quote steve in the book about historical legacies and much harder to make persuasive than people commonly realize. so, really neat article by -- where they show that in
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districts within russia where the purges were especially severe, voting patterns in contemporary russia are different in regions with the purge was severe. turnout is higher. that's really interesting. what we -- and that is much better i think than a lot of work that just says, look, russia's always had centralized power and putin's centralizing power so therefore that's an nation and. no, that's a description, and what we need is an explanation why it's happening now and why decentralization -- why centralization is happening rather than decentralization because we have seen that in the soviet period and the russia period. so, i think there's this dash
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lot of interesting work being done right now that looks at how the past affects the scent it's a really rick thing to do -- affects the present and it's a really difficult thing to do without hand-raise thought mechanism we -- we had purges in villages in 1938 and then voting pattern they're different in the early 1990s. what is the mechanism that makes that happen rather than two discrete events and it's smart people doing smart work on that and i try to highlight that in the book. >> another question from the audience that couldened the panel on a dramatic note. do you believe putin has a path to get out of the top spot alive? >> they all do. they all have a plan. but it -- i as i make the point
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in the book, it is difficult -- vicki made this point, too -- difficult for these rulers who have emasculated so many political institutions, that would really be helpful to facilitate a transfer of power but having a emasculated them the don't provide a soft landing pad for this personalist rulers. so, one strategy would be to kind of revert to a post in security services that would make him hard to dislodge, at the same time, it would also make the new president of russia, whoever that might be, in a post putin era, very nervous and it would be difficult for that person to really exercise power fully were putin to still be around in the
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political scene. so, the challenge for put is even if he would like to step down, it is difficult to find a way to tie the hands of your successor so they'll leave you alone. >> so we are just about out of time. i want to thank the panelists. this was a terrific discussion. i wish it could go on for another hour. maybe we'll have everybody back when we can all be in person in the same room together at some point. but here's the book, way weak strongman the limits of putin's power in russia "pushedly princeton university press. please buy it. and thanks gone everybody. >> thank you, everybody. really appreciated the comments. i t


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