The Politics of Identity

The following is the Editor’s Note from Vol. 55, Issue 4-5 of Russian Politics & Law.

Identity has been making something of a comeback in the world of Russian politics of late. Ever since Vladimir Putin and his advisers turned to the so-called “values agenda” to drive a wedge between the Bolotnaya-era opposition and the bulk of Russian citizens – successfully, as it turned out – identity has been at the core of Russian politics. Scholars have noted the role of identity politics in reordering the behaviors of Russian elites (Sharafutdinova 2014) and voters (Smyth and Soboleva 2014) alike, as well as in structuring the Kremlin’s approach to geopolitical confrontation (Sztosek 2017).

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Coming Soon! (Buy It Now!)

9780300238396.jpgAs you may of heard, Graeme Robertson and I have a new book hitting the shelves soon — 23 April in the UK, 11 June in the US – and available now to pre-order.

To get a flavor, listen to Graeme’s interview on, and then pre-order the book!

Incidentally, if you need a reason to pre-order it now rather than wait for the release date, take a look at this thread:

The Ends of Rationality

As we move at breakneck speed towards uncharted waters, I’m struck by the number of people assuming that rationality tends towards self-preservation – and that a country cannot destroy itself by accident.

Alas, history and the study of politics suggest otherwise. When systems fail, it is very rarely by design.

To take a case in point, there were a lot of obvious reasons why the USSR was fragile (or Yugoslavia for that matter), but (almost) no one predicted the collapse. Why? Because we assumed that people knew and understood more than they did.

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He’s Back!

If Dugin – as we’re told – is Putin’s brain, then which of the great man’s organs is Vladislav Surkov? (Don’t answer that.)
Surkov – he of ‘sovereign democracy’ fame, the éminence grise of Putin’s halcyon years – has penned another opus that will almost surely have the pundits hopping. In the spirit of public service, then, here’s a preemptive debunking: Surkov’s a shill.

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Russian Politics Under Stress

What follows is my Editor’s Introduction from the most recent issue of Russian Politics & Law.

The mission of this journal is deceptively simple: to bring to English-language audiences important writing on Russian politics and governance that they would otherwise not be able to read. The most difficult word in that sentence, of course, is “important”.

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What Is To Be Done?

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s irrepressible spokesman, said today that Russia would like to know what it could do to get sanctions reduced.

This, of course, set tongues wagging, both in Russia and abroad, although most of those tongues seem to have assumed the question was rhetorical. And of course, at least in part, it was – but not entirely. Peskov has denied that Putin and Donald Trump discussed steps towards reducing sanctions when they met in Helsinki, but I’m not certain that particular denial is credible. And just about everyone assumes sanctions were on the agenda when Putin and Merkel met on August 18th.

On the face of it, of course, the answer is blindingly obvious: Stop doing things the US and Europe don’t like. Questions of fairness aside, one does not need to be Kissinger to parse the realpolitik here. And yet, that obviousness is deceptive.

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