The shorthand of modern journalism can be more deceiving than informing. For example, you will often see Iran reduced simply to Tehran, the government of Iran to “the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”
But the reality is, a country, a nation, is much more than its capitol city or its political leader. The wishes and judgments of Iranians living outside Tehran, the powers of second-tier bureaucrats or even not-quite-Grand Ayatollahs are often as essential to the formation and execution of national policies as the preferences and proclamations from the top.
If this be true for Iran, it is even more important to keep in mind in thinking about Russia, a country far larger, more complex, more diverse and more strategically significant than Iran. Russia today is more than just Moscow, more even than just President Vladimir Putin, and much more than just the summation of thousands of years of Russian history.
Timothy Frye (Ph.D., Columbia, 1997) is the Marshall D. Shulman Professor of Post-Soviet Foreign Policy and Chair of the Department of Political Science. His new book is Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia.
Professor Frye received a B.A. in Russian language and literature from Middlebury College in 1986, an M.I.A. from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in 1992, and a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1997. His research and teaching interests are in comparative politics and political economy with a focus on the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. He is the author of Brokers and Bureaucrats: Building Markets in Russia, which won the 2001 Hewett Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, and Building States and Markets after Communism: The Perils of Polarized Democracy, which won a Best Book Prize from the APSA Comparative Democratization section in 2010; and Property Rights and Property Wrongs: How Power, Institutions, and Norms Shape Economic Conflict in Russia, which was published in 2017. He has worked as a consultant for the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the U.S. Agency for International Development among others. He is also Director of the International Center for the Study of Institutions and Development at State Research University-Higher Economics School, Moscow.