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While Moscow looks like any busy, hardworking major city, it functions quite differently, according to former National Public Radio Moscow correspondent Gregory Feifer, who blends history and recent headlines with first-person accounts of his experiences with average Russians. He found that average citizens often lack personal drive in resource-rich Russia, where taking, even stealing, seems to be more important than producing. Bribes and illegal payments inflate consumer prices and contribute to Russia’s $300 million-per-year “corruption market.” Feifer says the nation’s “informal economy of connections, agreements and favors” has expanded since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000. In Feifer’s analysis, Putin’s coercive administration is “inherently instable,” and oil-price volatility makes it worse. The Russian government approaches foreign relations as a “zero-sum” exercise in which a gain for one country means a loss for another. Russia’s military incursion against Ukraine in 2014 produced a degree of political and economic isolation that the country has not seen since the Soviet era. While always politically neutral, getAbstract recommends Feifer’s detailed, highly readable description of Russia’s socioeconomic twists and turns to students of history, investors, NGOs, entrepreneurs, and anyone curious about or doing business in today’s Russia.


The Putin Effect

Anti-Western sentiment among Russians has diminished since the end of the Soviet era, mostly because foreign travel and the Internet have softened their views of the West. Still, most Russians now praise Stalin’s policies 50 years after his death. Average citizens cannot influence the Russian state; their only option “is to hope for a good czar.”

Vladimir Putin rose to power in Russia in 1999 by stoking nostalgia for the old USSR among Russians who were disappointed by a decade of reform under former president Boris Yeltsin. Putin’s public image depends on mythical assertions about the level of chaos and criminal activity during the 1990s under Yeltsin and the level of stability and calmness today.

However, the Putin administration’s coerciveness makes it “inherently instable.” For example, shortly after Putin’s 2012 election to a second term as president, Russia’s parliament approved a law allowing the government to terminate a website’s online operations. The ruling was part of an effort to quell a protest movement. But with roughly 80 million Russian residents already online, the political risk of exerting government control over Internet...

About the Author

Gregory Feifer, former Moscow correspondent for National Public Radio, reported from Russia for nearly a decade. He wrote The Great Gamble, a history of the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

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