How much different would Russia be if Vladimir Putin were not the president?

 To answer this, all you need is projecting on Russia what has happened in the neighboring former Soviet republics.

  • Russia as a clan-ruled, cleptocratic, chaotic democracy? Look at Ukraine.
  • Russia as a hugely profitable petroleum-extracting business run by one family? Look at Azerbaijan.
  • Russia as a populist low-key continuation of the USSR. Look at Belarus.
  • Russia as a petrostate ruled by a benign business-minded nationalist? Case Kazakhstan!

This is it. This is about all the range of what Russia could have been in the alternative reality.

We could not have become like China. We don’t have the work ethics and the tradition of the elite’s moral accountability that Confucianism has instilled in the Chinese

We could not have become like Poles. They have a tradition of civil society and self-reliance that we don’t have.

We could not have become like Balts. We like the Nordic way of life, but only as tourists. Their ideas of equality and the puritanical simplicity of their lives put us off.

(What we possibly slowly become is Italians of the Great Steppe. Kremlin and our best palaces are built by Italians, we like to wear Italian brands and luxuriate in Venetian interiors, and Putin seems to get a lot of his political ideas from the hidden vaults of Mussolini).

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