Russia’s “Impressionable Years” and Putin’s Inheritance


Michael Alexeev, William Pyle and Jiaan Wang

Key Messages

  • In Russia, where the early transition’s economic pain was not alleviated by the same emotive high of “liberation and independence” experienced elsewhere in post-communist Europe, the drop in support for liberal economic and political values was comparatively steep and enduring
  • Evidence from the Integrated Values Survey (a combination of the World Values Survey and the European Values Study) demonstrates that Russians de-prioritized democratic freedoms and increased their support for an interventionist state in the economy between 1990 and 1995
  • The “values gap” that grew dramatically in the early 1990s between Russians and post-communist citizens elsewhere in Europe has persisted through the most recent wave of the Integrated Values Survey
  • This pattern – a “values gap” that opened in the early 1990s and persisted to the present day – is observable among men, women, and across different age cohorts
  • Within Russia, the degree to which regions’ electoral support for Boris Yeltsin dropped between the 1991 and 1996 presidential elections explains more illiberal attitudes in the most recent wave of the Integrated Values Survey

Just over three decades ago, a new era appeared to have dawned in Europe: The Cold War had wound down, the Soviet Union’s empire had broken apart, and democratic capitalism stood poised to sweep aside ossified communist systems. This article uses geographic markers in the most recent wave of the Integrated Values Survey to show that, within Russia, the drop in a region’s electoral support for Boris Yeltsin between the presidential elections of 1991 and 1996 strongly predicts its degree of illiberalism in 2017. On balance, where faith in the politician who launched marketization and democratization declined most dramatically is where we continue to observe the greatest skepticism for his liberal project. The pattern laid down in the early 1990s persists.


Michael Alexeev, William Pyle and Jiaan Wang: “Russia’s “Impressionable Years” and Putin’s Inheritance,” EconPol Forum 24 (6), CESifo, Munich, 2023.