ABSTRACT

Like clothing of a certain vintage, what was once dated eventually becomes fashionable again. For those who take a long-term perspective to the study of Russia, familiarity endures. This is especially so in centre-periphery relations and in the repetitive still births of local self-government. As Russia in 2012 commences another iteration of Putin as president, the dynamics of regional politics and state-society relations possess similarities with the long-standing tensions and challenges of the Russian state. We have seen this before. And while the blackmail of the single alternative offered justification for one-party centralization and the swelling of the state, both history and 2012 suggest that the consequences of hyper-statism also require reverse adjustments. All the power to the state, as both an idea and as a practice even partially pursued, was not an illegitimate response given the centrifugal forces, separatism, and the feudalism and udel’nye kniazy (appanage princes) of the 1990s. But an overshot mark promotes the pathologies that accompany the centralized hyper-state: corruption, bureaucratic sclerosis, and the illegitimacy of the political system. After more than a decade of Putin and Putinism, Russia is again in need of some demokratizatsiia and perestroika: a reform of already reformed reforms. That Putin 2.0 suggests his presidency will now introduce such measures requires elastic credulity among optimists. One is reminded of the dated Radio Yerevan anecdote, which inquired whether or not a man could become pregnant. Punchline: to date, not yet – but experiments continue.