93 Foreign Aff. 182 (2014)
What's the Matter with Russia: Putin and the Soviet Legacy

handle is hein.journals/fora93 and id is 914 raw text is: What's the Matter
With Russia?
Putin and the Soviet Legacy
Keith Gessen
Ruling Russia: Authoritarianism From the
Revolution to Putin
Princeton University Press, 2014,
344 pp. $29.95.
Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History
BY ORLANDO FIGES. Metropolitan
Books, 2014, 336 pp. $28.00.
On the way back from a recent
visit to Ukraine, I found myself
flying Aeroflot, Russia's national
airline. I've always liked Aeroflot's
international flights: the planes are
new, everything's clean, and maybe
because of the airline's less-than-
stellar reputation, the crew always
seems to be trying extra hard to please.
Nonetheless, on this particular trip,
I had hoped to avoid Aeroflot; an
airline half-owned by a government
that had turned homophobia into a
national project and then invaded
Crimea could get its $600 from some-
one else. But AeroSvit, the flagship
Ukrainian airline, had gone bankrupt
and ceased operations in 2013, and
there is no longer a direct flight from
Kiev to New York.
KEITH GESSEN is Co-Editor of n+1 and the
author of the novel All the Sad Young Literary

So there I was on Aeroflot Flight
100 from Moscow to New York. As
luck would have it, a lot of people on
the flight were drunk. Some of the
sober passengers didn't appreciate this,
which almost led to a fistfight; the pilot
had to come out and convince one of
the drunker passengers that if he did
not calm down, he'd be spending his
first night in the United States in jail.
He calmed down.
The man sitting next to me-Sergei,
I'll call him-was also drunk, and he
decided to engage me in a discussion of
geopolitics. He said he was a graduate
of MEPhl, an elite technical university
in Moscow, and that he had made millions
in software design. Sergei was, theoreti-
cally, the sort of Russian who might
be expected to be critical of Russian
President Vladimir Putin, but he was
not. He was thrilled that Russia had
seized Crimea, if only because in doing
so, it had extended a big middle finger
to the West. Sure, the United States
was stronger than Russia, but it was
stretched thin. And Russia was unpre-
dictable, which gave it an advantage.
Oh, we'll lose, Sergei said, like
we always lose. But what a lot of laughs
there'll be along the way!
We landed soon after that, but the
conversation stuck with me. I kept
thinking-I keep thinking-what,
exactly, is wrong with Russia? Why is
it still so aggressive nearly 30 years after
the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
launched the process of normalizing
Russia and its relations with the world?
Why, despite two decades of optimistic
predictions that it was on the path to
becoming, or was on the verge of becom-
ing, or had already become a normal
country, had it never become one?


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