Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2013

The Russian Awakening

Dmitri Trenin, Alexei Arbatov, Maria Lipman, Alexey Malashenko, Nikolay Petrov, Andrei Ryabov, Lilia Shevtsova

November 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


In a world beset by financial crisis, economic recession, and major geopolitical shifts, Russia, affected by all of these, is going through a crisis of its own. It is of a fundamental nature, affecting the country as a whole. That Russia is in crisis is becoming apparent. What is less apparent is the exact nature and the stakes and options involved. The current crisis seems to be occurring in three areas: the political regime of personalized power, the socioeconomic system of rent-based capitalism wrapped in great-power garb on which this power rests, and the predominantly paternalistic pattern of societal behavior that has allowed this system to function in post-Communist Russia over the past two decades. In essence, the crisis reflects the emergence of new social elements within the country and the accumulation of external economic, technological, and social challenges to Russia, both of which the system cannot properly accommodate. Since it surfaced toward the end of 2011, this crisis has deepened, and its associated conflicts have sharpened, with the choices for all players becoming starker. In the future, the crisis may again slip underground to suddenly resurface later, with a vengeance. Essentially, this multifaceted crisis is a sign of Russia’s continuing evolution. The crisis will take time to play out; its trajectory is uneven and the outcome is wide open. But it will progressively change Russia, impact the country’s direct neighbors, and, to a certain degree, affect the global environment.