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Russia: From Stalemate to Crisis?

Essays
Richard Sakwa

When does a transition end? Since processes of political and social change are enduring, this is an impossible question to answer. Nevertheless, there is a special quality of societies engaged in periods of accelerated change. The literature and methodologies in the field of comparative democratization can provide a guide to understanding events as long as the concepts and theoretical constructs are not applied universally to different regions with very different characteristics. It is for this reason that this essay identifies two types of what is commonly called transitology, the attempt to provide theoretical characterization to processes of regime change. The first is typological (often accompanied by elements of teleology; that is, where an endpoint is assumed and its logic fed back into the process of change), whereas the second is more genealogical and rooted in the actual processes underway in a particular society.1 As far as Russia is concerned, the process of intense political change is far from over and a number of domestic and foreign policy challenges remain unresolved. The fundamental character of the regime remains contested, with the partisans of liberal democracy challenged by those with more conservative if not outright authoritarian inclinations, while in international affairs Russia's relations with the West are at best strained and at worst openly hostile. These are not so much policy issues as fundamental epistemological choices, dealing with issues of national self-identity and global security, and this is why Russia remains transitional