Stephen F. Cohen is Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at New York University. This post originally ran on The Nation and is reposted here with permission.
In this brief talk, delivered on 2 December 2017 aboard The Nation’s annual cruise, Professor Cohen tries to revise popular perceptions of Vladimir Putin as a leader by putting him in historical and contemporary context. Cohen begins with an assessment of the mostly derogatory perceptions of Putin common in the West. Who and what Putin has actually been as Russia’s leader for eighteen years is a difficult question because, as good biographers and historians understand, we still lack essential materials, including memoirs and archival documents. Against this incomplete background, Cohen sketches out some basic issues that he thinks future scholars will consider and no doubt debate. As Cohen emphasizes at the outset, Putin has been among the most consequential national leaders of the twenty-first century. That fact alone suggests we should carefully consider Putin’s role at home and abroad to date. Cohen hopes that his undertaking here might stir informed and civil discussions of this intensely controversial subject.