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20 November 2018

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Book Review

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Getting Russia Right

by Dmitry Trenin

“Democracy, historically, is a fairly late child of capitalism.” This concise statement, buried halfway through this slim volume, goes a long way to summarizing Trenin’s well-argued point. The West gets it wrong, he says, when it sees Russia as a failed democracy. Instead, it needs to look at Russia as an emerging capitalist society, where private ownership is creating stakeholders in the system, which will inevitably lead to a rule of law (one’s property, after all, needs to be protected), which will only then lead to a more democratic society.

The point is well taken. As is this: “Russia is probably not going to join the West, but it is on a long march to become Western, ‘European,’ and capitalist, even if not for a long while democratic.” We do best, therefore, not to emphasize our differences or the distance yet to be traveled, but to embrace the progress made and help ensure that it is permanent (for Trenin, that means encouraging consumerism, trade and business investments). As Trenin, no apologist for Putin, well knows, Russia’s democratic future is not assured, and the Kremlin’s parliamentary puppeteering could well turn sour. It brings to mind a summary made some years ago by a respected economist: It takes Detroit a decade to design a single new car. Yet we somehow expected Russia to redesign and remake a whole country in little more time than that.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Jan/Feb 2008