20 years under Putin: a timeline

The Institute of Modern Russia is launching a new research project dedicated to examining the strengths and weaknesses of the Putin regime and identifying myths and misconceptions about Russia in the Western public discourse. Our goal is to identify the regime’s attributes that are perceived in the West as strengths, and to give them a critical appraisal with a focus on their ambivalent nature.

 

 

“Russia is never as strong as she looks, nor as weak as she looks.”

This old adage, which has been attributed to political thinkers from von Metternich to Churchill, underscores the Russian state’s ambiguous and opaque nature. A conflicting combination of strengths and weaknesses makes Russia difficult to comprehend not only in the West, but also within the country. Under Vladimir Putin’s leadership, Russia has developed into a personalist authoritarian regime where ambiguity and opacity are deliberately cultivated through manipulation of facts, promotion of false narratives, and overall distortion of reality in the hidden interests of the ruling elite.

The difficulties of “reading” Russia are not a new problem for the West, but its relevance today has grown due to Russia’s integration into the global economy, the emerging crises in the developed democracies, and the Russian leadership’s drive to gain geopolitical influence. Solutions are hampered not only by the Kremlin’s efforts, but also by Cold War thinking, cultural differences, and certain issues simply getting “lost in translation.” The West’s response to the Kremlin’s attempts to restore Russia’s status as an influential power on the world stage has largely consisted in the sanctions policy (a set of measures affecting certain industries, businesses, institutions, and individuals), but its effectiveness remains an open question. The West, aware that it cannot completely ignore Russia, continues its attempts at establishing constructive relations with the Putin regime, even as the latter repeatedly proves that it cannot be trusted. What is to be done?

To answer this question, the Institute of Modern Russia is launching a new research project in the form of a series of reports dedicated to examining the strengths and weaknesses of the Putin regime and identifying myths and misconceptions about Russia in the Western public discourse. Our goal is to identify the regime’s attributes that are perceived in the West as strengths, and to give them a critical appraisal with a focus on their ambivalent nature, which can turn them into weaknesses under crises. By unearthing the root contradictions, we hope to develop practical recommendations for Western policymakers, experts, and Russia observers at large.

The first report in the series focuses on the Kremlin’s information strategies to promote the Sputnik V vaccine. The Sputnik V story showcases the dichotomy of the regime’s weaknesses and strengths, exemplified by the limited capabilities of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, which is often viewed as a key power tool of the Russian government. Despite the fact that Russian scientists managed to develop an effective and safe vaccine, and regardless of the Kremlin’s efforts to promote it both domestically and abroad, the Putin regime failed to achieve mass vaccination in the country or noticeably improve Russia’s position in the international arena. The report examines the Kremlin’s key narratives, contrasts them with factual information, and offers insights into the regime’s modus operandi.

 

The rise and fall of Sputnik V

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