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The New Russia

The New Russia by Mikhail Gorbachev, trans. Arch Tait. Polity Books, 2016, 400 pp.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the commencement of perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev wrote The New Russia (published in Russian as После Кремля/Posle Kremlya, translated After the Kremlin), an introspective look at the Russian state based on his own experiences. He examined how Russia has evolved from the Soviet Union to the modern “managed democracy,” controlled by the Putin regime. New Russia offers Western readers a viewpoint at once sympathetic to, yet independent of, the liberal democratic narrative which generally informs American thinkers. New Russia does not offer particularly fresh insights but does provide Western readers the opportunity to glimpse a divide between the Putin regime and the elements of the Russian population that is often lost from outside Russia’s borders.
Originally published in Russia, New Russia adds a Russian perspective to the many English-language books about Russia published in recent years. Arch Tait achieved a quick and masterful translation, allowing Polity Books to issue New Russia in 2016, only a year after its publication in Russia. Considering his previous books were all published in both Russian and English, Gorbachev must have designed his work with some English-speaking readers in mind. However, the references he makes to individuals and events demonstrate his first thought was to inspire Russians to take action in their own country. New Russia distinguishes itself in this way from those books by Russian authors explicitly seeking to reach Western audiences first. 
Gorbachev organized New Russia into three parts. The first section chronicled Russian political events of the 1990s, starting from the August Coup in 1991 where Boris Yeltsin drove Gorbachev from power, ultimately leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Countering claims they were responsible for the collapse, Gorbachev defended his reforms (“perestroika” or “restructuring”) of the Soviet system, which he announced in 1985. He explained the economic and civic growth he hoped to achieve but which was, by his account, stymied by the chaos and corruption ushered in under the first Russian president, Yeltsin. Gorbachev then chronicled his efforts to continue reforms from 1991 to 1999. In the second section, Gorbachev gave his perspective of the Putin era, starting in 2000 until the present, which brought stability at the cost of political freedom and economic development. Finally, the third section looked at global changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union. While he celebrated the spread of democracy, he pointed out instabilities in the global system that may lead to a growing number of crises. 
Gorbachev argued for changes he believes must occur within Russia’s political system, and in the relations of other world powers toward Russia, for the Russian people to become true partners with the West in achieving a more democratic, peaceful world. Gorbachev expressed confidence that Russia must experience a true internal reform, both for its own sake and for global stability. Gorbachev described himself as a European-style social democrat who, through perestroika, sought to maintain the benefits of a socialist state while improving the state’s responsiveness to the people’s will. Thirty years later, Gorbachev assessed that his reforms had not been honestly implemented. Gorbachev criticizes the “managed democracy” that followed, under President Vladimir Putin, for mimicking a true civil society, without allowing citizens the freedom to organically develop institutions that may challenge the regime. From Gorbachev’s perspective, such a faux democracy cannot create the social or economic stability Russia needs. 
Simultaneously, as a former head of state, Gorbachev is not entirely unsympathetic toward Russia’s leaders. Gorbachev defended his homeland, in many respects demonstrating a conventional worldview aligned with the actions of the current Russian regime. He reproached the West for the way it treated Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as he saw it dismissing Russian concerns or unhelpfully suggesting fiscal solutions to the Russian state, which worsened its economic crisis. In regards to interactions with the Russia of Putin’s era, Gorbachev condemned the return to power politics on both the Russian and Western sides, where military force rather than dialogue characterizes relations between states.
Gorbachev is an authoritative commentator on Russia’s political condition, yet his position midway between the Russian regime and political opposition appears to have frustrated both his reforms in the Soviet era and efforts to develop democracy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His experience and connections give weight to his opinions in New Russia, and his insights help explain the Russian perspective of the reconfiguring of the world order during the 1990s, when the US dominated global affairs. However, Gorbachev has not been able to coalesce an organized opposition to either Yeltsin or Putin. He has remained on the periphery of the Russian opposition, providing a coherent ideology of increased economic and social participation but limited in his ability to effect necessary changes. Gorbachev’s perspective is generally aligned with the elite opposition and, thus, does not necessarily represent the experience of the bulk of the population.
New Russia suffers from Gorbachev’s flaws as a long-lasting politician, though one unable to represent the Russian population. Gorbachev quotes himself extensively, including full transcripts of his interviews, correspondence, and newspaper articles—their length often distracts from the point with their at times rambling, conversational tone. At over 400 pages, the book would have been improved by reducing these citations. However, they demonstrate how he has sought to influence Russian-speaking and Western audiences after he lost formal power as head of the then-main peer competitor to the United States. For these reasons, The New Russia is useful for specialists of Eurasian or European affairs but may not be suitable for general readers. 
Maj J. Alexander Ippoliti, ANG

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.
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