The debate over Russia’s democratic bona ﬁdes extends beyond the political to embrace the larger question of what kind of state and society it is. President Vladimir Putin asserts that his country is an integral part of a universal civilisation faced by common threats and challenges, but critics ﬁnd such claims hard to square with Moscow’s conduct of the Chechen war and the limitation of media freedom.
There is much talk of normalisation, yet it is unclear how far western political and moral norms have taken hold among the elite, let alone the general population. Does Putin mean what he says about building democracy and a civil society? Or is his long-term vision essentially paternalist and authoritarian, incorporating democratic elements but driven by historical traditions of top-down governance?