Timothy J. Colton and Michael McFaul

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A new narrative about post-Soviet Russia is taking hold in policy, media, and academic circles and shows signs of entrenching as a new conventional wisdom. By this reading, Russia's experiment with democracy has flat-out failed. So misconceived and mismanaged were the political and economic reforms of the 1990s that they have fueled mass disenchantment with democratic norms and brought authoritarianism back into repute. Russians, in short, are said to be giving up on democracy.

In this working paper, Timothy J. Colton and Michael McFaul agree that Russian democratic institutions are performing miserably and that leaders, especially since Putin's ascent to power, have done much to compromise and erode democratic practices. Colton and McFaul's findings suggest, however, that the many and obvious limitations of Russia's political system are not caused by, or consistently reinforced by, popular attitudes toward democracy.