Conversations on Russia: Reform from Yeltsin to Putin

By Padma Desai | Go to book overview

Preface

Conversations on Russia: Reforms from Yeltsin to Putin is a collection of interviews that I conducted between late 1999 and early 2005 both with leading Russian and American policymakers involved in Russia's transformation from its Communist past, and with prominent analysts and intellectuals who commented on that process as it unfolded with dramatic twists and turns in 1992 under Boris Yeltsin.

Not surprisingly, the changes have prompted countless surveys, reports, and commentaries. These attempts at explanation, however, have failed to provide a systematic examination of the motives and objectives that underlay the many policy actions of the Russian reformers, with the principal architects speaking their minds. In addition, the concerns and objectives of the leading academics and analysts who commented on the reformers' decisions also call for a careful dialogue. I therefore decided on the novel format of interviewing both sets of participants in the reform process.

This project turned out to be a gigantic enterprise requiring a firm grasp of the unfolding scene in Russia and of its complicated past. I needed to understand fully the policymakers' decisions and the interviewees' writings and pronouncements in order to converse with them and ask them appropriate and incisive questions. Fortunately my scholarly engagement of nearly four decades with the Soviet experience and subsequently with the tumultuous events in Russia under Mikhail Gorbachev and Yeltsin provided me with the necessary background. My booklength studies, articles in scientific journals, and commentaries in the press and the media came in handy for the task at hand.

I introduce this book with a substantial story and analysis of the evolution of Russian reforms, starting from Boris Yeltsin's colorful and remarkable appearance on the Russian scene and ending with Vladimir Putin's orderly but disquieting consolidation of federal authority. My story weaves into itself several nuances and insights that the interviews in the volume provide, giving it an authenticity and flavor that, I hope, will make the volume a unique contribution to understanding recent developments on the Russian scene. There is no substitute for reading my introduction. Nonetheless, I provide here three insights that emerged from the analysis, while stressing that my introduction offers a diagnosis of recent events rather than an approbation of where Russia is headed.

-vii-

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