The Return of the Russian Leviathan
The Return of the Russian Leviathan

Winner of the 2020 Pushkin House Book Prize

Russia’s relationship with its neighbours and with the West has worsened dramatically in recent years. Under Vladimir Putin's leadership, the country has annexed Crimea, begun a war in Eastern Ukraine, used chemical weapons on the streets of the UK and created an army of Internet trolls to meddle in the US presidential elections. How should we understand this apparent relapse into aggressive imperialism and militarism?

In this book, Sergei Medvedev argues that this new wave of Russian nationalism is the result of mentalities that have long been embedded within the Russian psyche. Whereas in the West, the turbulent social changes of the 1960s and a rising awareness of the legacy of colonialism have modernized attitudes, Russia has been stymied by an enduring sense of superiority over its neighbours alongside a painful nostalgia for empire. It is this infantilized and irrational worldview that Putin and others have exploited, as seen most clearly in Russia’s recent foreign policy decisions, including the annexation of Crimea.

This sharp and insightful book, full of irony and humour, shows how the archaic forces of imperial revanchism have been brought back to life, shaking Russian society and threatening the outside world. It will be of great interest to anyone trying to understand the forces shaping Russian politics and society today.

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  • November 2019 (hb)
    December 2019 (pb)
  • 250 pages
  • 153 x 227 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $74.95
  • 9781509536047
  • Paperback $24.95
  • 9781509536054
  • Open eBook $20.00
  • 9781509536061
Table of Contents
Preface to the English Edition

Sovereign Territory…with No Roads    
The Smoke of the Fatherland
Sacred Ice
Crimea as a Territory of the Subconscious
Drum Solo
Jihad in Donetsk
Global Biryulyovo
Seduced by Geopolitics
Profession: Invader
Noughts and Crosses
The War with Pokémon
Kremlin Firewall
A Sovereignty Full of Holes

The State’s Game Reserve
The Elite Avenue…to Death 
An Ode to Shuvalov’s Dogs
Missile Mania  
Tank Invasion  
Purveyors of Threats
Churchill Dreamt It All Up
A Racketeer with Rockets
The Torch Procession 
Olympic Schizophrenia
The Thugs’ Game
The Sovereign from the Back-Streets of St Petersburg
Putinism and Questions of Linguistics
War of the Avatars

Punitive Hygiene
The King’s Body
The Condom as a Sign of Protest
The Protocols of the Elders of Sodom
Test for Homophobia  
The ‘Miss Prison’ Contest
Breaking ‘The Silence of the Lambs’
The Politics of the Female Body
A 4-by-4 as a Teaching Aid
A Russian Potlatch
A Requiem for Roquefort
The Land of Abandoned Children
The Amputation of Conscience
The Fiasco of ‘Operation Sochi’

Hysterical Revisionism
The Holiday of 5 March
The Oblomov and the Stoltz of Soviet Power
A Bear of a Man
Maidan in Moscow
A Holiday without Tears
Waltz of the Urals Chekists
The Return of the Ghosts
Tyrants Destroyed
Russian Resentment
The Flower Revolution
Who’s Afraid of Svetlana Alexievich?
 The Private Nuremberg of Denis Karagodin  
The Battle at the River Iset
Constitution Day

Glossary and List of Abbreviations
About the Author

Sergei Medvedev is Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.


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‘This is the best treatise on contemporary Russia since John Reed’s pamphlet that shook the world one hundred years ago. Moving from the endangered Arctic to the occupied Crimea and from the politics of the body to memory wars, Medvedev reveals a political machine based on vanity, manipulation and fear of its own people. Broad-ranging in scope and mind-blowing in details, this book is a must for everyone who is concerned about Russia’s present and future.’
Alexander Etkind, author of Internal Colonization: Russia’s Imperial Experience

‘Is Putin’s regime a Russian peculiarity or is it simply the Russian version of a global trend? Was it inevitable or was it accidental? If you are worried by these questions, read this passionately analytical book.’
Ivan Krastev, Chairman, Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia

‘While there are many books about President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, there are few that nail its realities with the same combination of academic precision, acerbic wit and anger as this. Well-researched analysis might be expected of a professor of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, but not necessarily the humour and passion that run through the striking work.’
The Financial Times

‘Medvedev's portrait of Russia is brilliant, wry and minutely observed -- and, like its title, often bitterly ironic.’
Times Literary Supplement

‘acerbic and splendidly argumentative... dazzling.’
New Internationalist

"As a portrait of the cultural moment and debunking of the Kremlin’s talking points, [this] book is brilliant."
Los Angeles Review of Books

"A more astute, knowledgeable and eloquent guide is hard to imagine. Steeped in Russian culture and history, Mr. Medvedev is witty and sardonic in the laughter-through-tears (smekh skvoz slyozy) tradition of Russian literature. He draws on political sociology, linguistics and social psychology, yet his prose, even in translation, is sparkling."
The Wall Street Journal

"Professor Medvedev’s analyses will interest scholars of Russia, comparativists and international relations scholars, policy specialists, and laypersons."
Terrorism and Political Violence

“This book provides an explicit and composite picture of a society; the mindset of the leaders and the led; and an intimation of the future for the nation, should its governance continue its present path.”
The Naval Review

"[A]n illuminating and at times brilliant series of short essays on different aspects on Russian life."

“a tour de force that leaves the reader open-mouthed at its sweep”
Rights in Russia

"darkly absorbing"
The Tangential

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