A member of the editorial board of New Left Review offers an analysis of Russia as a nation much less under the sway of Vladimir Putin than Western media supposes, with the President merely a figurehead for anti-democratic institutions that would continue in the same vein with a different leader.
Wood shows how Western observers have persistently misunderstood the country’s post-Soviet economic and political situation ... Russia Without Putin explores the scholarly consensus of the past twenty years of Russian studies from an accessible left-wing perspective that never strays into what-aboutism or an apologia for Putin’s policies ... This structural approach pays off. The book brings attention to details other commentators leave out, such as the massive post-1991 withdrawal of women from the middle-class workforce and the return of explicit patriarchal rhetoric in the 1990s. Wood is equally deft in not ceding ground to right-wing or imperialist arguments, offering nuanced analyses badly lacking in the world of Russia journalism today. And he is admirably clear-eyed about the prospects of the Russian opposition movement, avoiding wishful thinking and partisan overidentification at all costs ... Yet because Russia Without Putin is organized around the crude, nakedly ideological caricature of Putin as totalitarian strongman, if only to deflate it, Wood struggles to describe what shape 'an alternative to the system as a whole' might take ... Yet...the book is not only praiseworthy but vital.
... well-informed and sharp ... relatively sympathetic to the Kremlin ... For Wood, Putin’s increasingly anti-Western search for a nationalist narrative embedded in a 'Eurasian' identity is itself a reaction to his earlier disappointed search for an accommodation with the West—Wood returns to this theme several times without reminding the reader that the East European states clamored to join NATO precisely because they feared Russian revanchism, and that now they see the seizing of the former Ukrainian region of Crimea, and the Russian military support of anti-Ukrainian government rebels in the Donbas region, as a justification for having sought security in the organization ... Wood’s insistence that too much attention is paid to Putin and too little to the Russian people who support him and agree with his anti-Westernism is a reasonable point, but within limits. Though opposition figures like Alexei Navalny are denied visibility on television, there is a growing determination to produce new governing strategies.
Books on the increasingly pugnacious Vladimir Putin, seemingly Russia’s president for as long as he wants, are not in short supply, but this short, shrewd analysis stands out ... Discouraging but insightful.