EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Russia under Putin falls neatly into the Russian historical cycle. When the old state is in decline, chaos ensues, and a new, powerful leader emerges to rebuild Russia. There are plenty of comparisons from Russian history that echo Putin’s rise and success – but there are crucial differences, too, which help explain his inability to transform Russia into a truly global power.
Historical comparisons, when made judiciously, can help analyze current political realities. Russian history contains cycles that recur over centuries.
The cycle runs this way: Russia sinks into chaos, rises from that chaos, returns as a regional and sometimes even global power, aspires to consolidate its gains through strongman rule and the addition of neighboring territories, and then collapses. Then the cycle begins anew.
One of the constants of Russia’s fateful historical cycle is its geography. Russia is vast, spanning almost the entire northern Eurasian landmass. However, far more than half the country is non-navigable (major rivers empty into the Northern Ocean). The climate is so harsh that it hinders any meaningful agricultural work beyond the Ural Mountains.