The coming to power of Vladimir Putin at the beginning of the new millennium signalled the beginning of a period of change in Russian politics that could well prove decisive. The choices made in the early years of a century have traditionally established a long-term pattern. In 1703 Peter the Great began the building of St Petersburg and thus signalled the aspiration to modernise the country 'from above' along Western lines. His attempt, as Lenin put it, 'to chase out barbarism by barbaric means' by establishing the city in the marshes of the Neva river established a pattern of forced modernisation that ruptured evolutionary patterns of development. Russia was thrown back into bureaucratic authoritarianism, and the development of inclusive government and popular representation was retarded. A distinctive pattern emerged of modernisation without modernity, adopting a type of superficial Westernisation in forms without the critical spirit that distinguishes Western modernity. In the early nineteenth century Alexander I brought Russia to the front ranks of the European powers, defeating Napoleon's Grand Army in 1812 and then, following the Congress of Vienna in 1815, made it part of the Holy Alliance of conservative powers. The various plans for constitutional reform and debates over how best to Europeanise the country at the beginning of the nineteenth century culminated in the Decembrist uprising in 1825. The choice thereafter, with exceptions, was to try to modernise within the framework of autocratic government, a combination that spectacularly collapsed in 1917. Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century also struggled to define its developmental path, torn between various populist, Slavophile and nationalist ideas on the one hand, and a variety of Westernising theories of modernisation on the other. In the event, in 1917 the choice was made by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in favour of a socialist path of modernisation that later, under Stalin, represented a peculiar mix of Western technical modernisation, again 'from above', while rejecting the Western spirit of modernity. President Boris Yeltsin's reforms in the 1990s once again sought to turn Russia on to a new path by forceful means.
It was this legacy of hybrid modernisation with which Putin was forced to come to terms. Putin considered the communist attempt to modernise the country by revolutionary means as doomed to failure, although he accepted