Niall Ferguson: Putin's Russia on Its Way to Global Irrelevance

Roundup: Historians' Take

Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University. He is also a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His Latest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, has just been published by Penguin Press.

Remember when we used to care about Russia? Twenty years ago, we held our breath as Communist hardliners sought to reassert their grip on the Soviet Union in a coup that failed. Today? Ach, just another messed-up petro-kleptocracy.

The news last week was the poor showing of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in the elections to the Russian Parliament, the Duma. Despite widespread electoral irregularities, the governing party won less than half the vote. State television, notoriously the propaganda arm of United Russia, showed results in which the total percentage of votes cast exceeded 128 percent. Russians used to excel at math. No longer.

The Western media excitedly covered protests in Moscow, where the vote rigging was especially egregious. The government crushed these demonstrations, deploying the Interior Ministry’s Dzerzhinsky Division. It’s amazing to me that such a thing even exists: Felix Dzerzhinsky was Lenin’s butcher during the Russian Civil War, the first director of the dreaded Bolshevik secret police, the Cheka.

Yet foreign hopes of a Russian analog to the Arab Spring are overoptimistic...


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