International affairs scholar, author explains realities of Putin’s Russia

In this political climate, misinformation and confusion run rampant between nations. Americans have grown increasingly suspicious of a few countries in particular, especially Russia.

Research professor of international affairs at George Washington University Marlene Laruelle gave a lecture on Russia’s current political status to Geneseo students, staff and community members on Thursday March 22 in the Doty Recital Hall.

Laruelle is the author of two books about Russian politics and plans to publish a third book later this year. She created her lecture, “Making Sense of Russia: Putin’s Fourth Term and its Implications for Russia and the World,” to shed some light on Russian politics that have been made especially relevant due to Putin’s recent reelection, the poisoning of a Russian spy in the United Kingdom and the investigation of Russian interference in the United States 2016 presidential election. 

“Try to avoid the two simplistic readings of what is happening in Russia,” Laruelle said.  

During her speech, Laruelle first spoke on the popularity of Putin, telling the audience to be wary of people who claim that the “76 percent” statistic, which represents Russian voters in favor of Putin, is a fake number. 

“There are some liberals in Russia who are very unhappy with Putin,” she said. “But it’s quite a small percentage of the population.” 

Laruelle then discussed the state of the regime, calling it “tired,” and affirmed that a new “second Crimea,” referring to another annexation by Russia, is improbable. 

The political elites want to stay in power even if Putin dies, and the state of Russia will generally remain the same into the new era, according to Laruelle.

The next topic in the lecture was Russia’s economy, which Laruelle used to dismiss some rumors about Russian incompetency. 

“The economy is declining steadily, but it did not collapse [during the economic crisis],” she said.  

The number of products Russia exports is declining because its “technical knowhow” is subpar compared to western nations, so the economy continues to dwindle, Laurelle said.

Politically, corruption exists that cannot cease unless Russia’s governmental structure changes dramatically, according to Laruelle. This measure, however, is not what the Putin regime wants to do, so corruption will continue to exist.

 With regard to foreign policy, Laurelle pointed out that Russia manages several open relationships—including one with China—that benefit the country as a whole. 

“Russia cannot afford to have war theaters all over the place,” Laruelle said. “But they are afraid of any kind of encirclement.” 

For this reason—and in the hope of restoring the country to a state of “normalcy”—there has been a rapid remilitarization in Russia, and this phenomenon is similar to the status of the Soviet Union during the 1960s, according to Laruelle. 

Overall, Laruelle clarified that Russia and the West must decide whether or not to improve their relationship based on the kind of governments they desire to have. 

Political science major sophomore Mina Wyman said the lecture covered a wide range of information about Russia. 

“It was almost like taking Russian politics 101,” Wyman said. “She addressed domestic and foreign policy and economy. It was a little bit of everything about Russian politics.”

This lecture was part of the Kenneth Roemer Lecture on World Affairs series, a celebration of the life of Kenneth Roemer and his interest in international politics as endowed by his brother Spencer J. Roemer.