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Seminar - From Gorbachev to Putin: The Leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin Reassessed


On 7 May, Vladimir Putin will be inaugurated as the President of Russia – for the third time.
During this year’s election campaign, Putin has been repeating three narratives, which are fundamental to understanding his legitimacy.

The first narrative is about the social contract between the leadership of Putin and the Russian people: The President is providing stability and economic progress; in return the people will leave the political decision-making to the president and his entrusted people. The second narrative is about the political, economic and social chaos which characterized the period of President Yeltsin (1992–1999). The Soviet Empire had just collapsed and Yeltsin and his people tried to demolish the communist system by introducing a market economy, privatization of state property and implementation of liberal democracy – all at the same time. For many Russians, the results meant a social disaster. On top of that, Russia lost it status as superpower and was only regarded as a kind of big power because of its nuclear arsenal, the second largest in the world. Putin’s third narrative is about his endeavours and subsequent success in resurrecting Russia as a great power in the international system.

The narratives have been painting a gloomy picture of the periods of Putin’s two predecessors, Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Gorbachev is held responsible for extensive and unnecessary concession to the Western world and partly for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin is blamed for leading the country into chaos and almost to dissolution of the fragile Russian Federation. He is also blamed for the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But is this a fair picture of the result of the two presidents?

The subject of this seminar will be a reassessment of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin’s leadership, the difficult and decisive decisions they made in “times of troubles” and the impact they both have had on the development of contemporary Russia. Was their leadership really as bad as the account given by the contemporary myth? And what legacy did they leave?


Archie Brown, Emeritus Fellow of St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford
Erik Kulavig, Assistant Professor, University of Southern Denmark
Karsten Jakob Møller, Major General & Senior Analyst, DIIS


13.30-13.45 Introduction
Karsten Jakob Møller, Major General & Senior Analyst, DIIS

13.45-14.30 Transformational Leadership?
Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin Reassessed
Archie Brown, Emeritus Fellow, University of Oxford

14.30-14.50 Problems of Soviet and Russian Leadership
Erik Kulavig, Assistant Professor, University of Southern

14.50-15.05 Coffee Break

15.05-16.00 Q & A

Chair: Karsten Jakob Møller, Major General & Senior Analyst, DIIS

Practical Information

The seminar will be held in English.

Participation is free of charge, but registration is required. Please register no later than Monday, 7 May 2012 at 12.00 noon.

Sted Danish Institute for International Studies, Main Auditorium, Strandgade 71, ground floor, 1401 Copenhagen K