Penn political scientist Rudra Sil reconsiders Russia

A political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has been studying Russian politics for more than a quarter century is in the midst of wrapping up two books.

Rudra Sil, the director of the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business in the School of Arts and Sciences, does research in the fields of comparative and international politics with a special interest in Russian and post-communist studies, Russian foreign policy and United States-Russia relations.

One of his books, Russia Reconsidered: The Fate of a Former Superpower, has deliberately been delayed for a few years.​​​​​​“I am trying to wait out the intensely turbulent political environment,” Sil says. “Given allegations related to Trump, ‘Russia-gate’ and the current low-point in U.S. Russia-relations, it is difficult to imagine an audience that will be open to the sort of nuanced view I have developed based on a more long-term perspective. I hope that, in a year or two, things will have calmed down enough to permit a serious reconsideration of Russia.”

It is already under advanced contract from Cambridge University Press.

Of the work in progress, Sil says the truth is always more complicated than adversarial policy makers would have their populations believe.

“This is to make the point that we are letting our adversarial relationship with Russia in the last five years produce a rather stark, ‘black’ image of a country that is actually more different shades of grey,” says Sil, “depending on the pressures and challenges with which it’s coping.”The book will examine the Russian political system and its economics, oil and gas exports, foreign policy and other topics, putting Russia in a comparative framework with a set of relevant, non-Western nations. It will also take a long-term view of Russia-related issues and implications, looking backwards to the collapse of the Soviet Union as a superpower.

​​​​​​​“Each chapter provides a more nuanced view based on easily accessible open-source data points, like the World Bank, and calls into question black-and-white debates that have taken hold between our ‘correct’ storytelling about Russia and the ‘propaganda’ supposedly coming out of the Kremlin,” Sil says.

He adds that the book is intended for a broader audience and to help its readers, whether they are scholars, public intellectuals, policymakers or internationally informed readers, to see the bigger picture about contemporary concerns.

​​​​​​​“It will help us to get a better handle on how the Soviet collapse and the turbulent changes in the 1990s affected ordinary Russians,” says Sil, explaining the book heavily draws upon cross-regional comparisons that involve locales in different geographic regions.

​​​​​​​Sil also does work on Asian regional powers such as China and India. He says placing Russia in a comparative framework alongside such countries can provide distinctive insights often overlooked in standard characterizations of Russia’s politics and foreign policy.

In addition, Sil has co-edited, Comparative Area Studies: Methodological Rationales and Cross-Regional Applications, which is scheduled for release in January from Oxford University Press.​​​​​​​

“It is an important and distinctive contribution to the debates over the future of area studies, or the specialization in geographic areas, in relation to the logic of comparative analysis for social science theory-building,” Sil says. “While more methodological in nature, it is of relevance to the way in which we do research, teach courses and think about policy.”

Sil is the author of Managing “Modernity”: Work, Community and Authority in Late-Industrializing Japan and Russia and Beyond Paradigms: Analytic Eclecticism in the Study of World Politics.

Rudra Sil