One repays a teacher badly if one remains a student.
We noted in the Preface that choices made in the first years of the century have proved decisive. The pattern, however, was modified with the launching of Gorbachev's perestroika in 1985. In the next six years the country was faced with fundamental choices about how to develop. Gorbachev himself drew on a long and deep current of reform communism, an idea that had blossomed in the Prague Spring of 1968 when Alexander Dubček had sought to establish 'socialism with a human face'. The Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968 had put an end to these hopes for a generation, and when Gorbachev sought to revive them two decades later it appeared that the historical moment for them had passed. Perestroika was accompanied by an intense debate over choices, including such fundamental questions as the balance to be drawn between the plan and the market, liberal pluralism and socialist values, Party direction and democracy, and this was reflected in numerous works of the time that suggestedchoice. 2 At the same time, a powerful current argued precisely that Russia had no choice except to rejoin the West on the basis of shared democraticand market values. 3 The emergence of Russia as an independent state in December 1991 only exacerbated the debate between those who accepted this relative lack of choice and the nationalists, leftists and even some liberals (various brands of liberal statists and liberal patriots) who insisted that Russia must find its own path. Yeltsin's choice in the 1990s for Russia to take the path of liberal democracy, neo-liberal capitalism and international integration was contested. It was against this background of a country divided over its own identity and its role in the world that Putin came to power. The early twentyfirst century, like so many times before, was for Russia yet another liminal period, a time when many options seemed open and in which the country's leadership was well aware of the epochal choices facing them. In this chapter we will examine the ideas and debates that attended Putin's coming to power, beginning with some divergent views of what Putin represented and a brief discussionof the nature of the system that he inherited.