The Medieval Origins of the Modern Russian Crisis
Published Online (2001)
Introduction: On November 18, 2000, the Russian Space Agency announced that the Mir space station would be allowed to fall back to earth. The station has proven remarkably successful and resilient. The Russians, however, can no longer afford it. Much the same may be said of the state that built Mir. Over the past five centuries, Russia has succeeded in building a vast empire in a part of the world without defensible borders or friendly neighbors. But today Russia seems unable to thrive. Democracy and rule-of-law rest on uncertain foundations. Many Russians remain suspicious of free expression. The Russian economy is a shambles. The Russian empire is fractured.
Why has post-Communist Russia been unable to transform itself into a prosperous democratic state? And why has the West been unable to help Russia? The reason is that the roots of the modern Russian crisis run much deeper than most Russians or Western experts imagine. Indeed, they can be traced to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was then that Russia’s rulers formulated habits of governance that would make it difficult for their successors to follow a progressive, European path of development. The weight of their fateful decisions burdens Russia to this day.