Russia has embarked on a slow but steady path of foreign policy
alignment with the West. President Vladimir Putin!-s
market-oriented economic policies and structural reforms have added
momentum. But in the long run, the decisive factor in Russia!-s
relationship with the West will be the nature of the political
order it builds on the ruins of communism. There is a broad
consensus among Western observers that Russia!-s effort to build
Western-style democratic institutions in the eleven years since the
Soviet collapse has stalled somewhere between democracy as
understood in the West and the highly authoritarian order Russia
inherited from the USSR. Some would say that Russia is doomed by
its history and political culture to a lengthy period of
semi-authoritarianism. In Russia!-s Road to Deeper Democracy, Tom
Bjorkman presents evidence that this assessment is too pessimistic
and underestimates the forces for political change that lie beneath
the surface of what seems to be an era of political somnolence.
Bjorkman argues that it is not the weight of history or the
antidemocratic attitudes of the Russian population that restrain
Russia from making progress toward stronger democratic institutions
but specific leadership policies and elements of Russia's political
elite who have a self-interest in maintaining the status quo. Putin
and other senior leaders' support for proposals for democratic
change now under discussion in Russia can create the kind of
competitive political marketplace that the country needs to avoid
political stagnation and begin to build the strong and prosperous
state that all Russians want. America exerts a large influence on
Russia's debate about its political future: by demonstrating that
Russia's progress toward a stronger democratic order matters to the
United States and by treating Russia as a part of the West, the
United States can buttress internal forces pushing for a deeper
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