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Superpower politics: President Putin meets Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao (Takuro Yabe/PA) 

Moscow, brown skies. The Tajik and Uzbek underclass sweep the streets. Those who work for oil break through traffic jams with blue-alarm lights or the flick of an FSB pass. Those who work hard curse them from behind the wheel. The paint peels on the walls of the Russian State University for the Humanities as Kremlin intellectuals pull up their chairs for a meeting of the John Locke Club, for thinkers supporting United Russia — the party of power. Fickle-faced students and pale blondes, bathed in iPad glows, ignore the discussion. Yellow lighting. The smell of institutional Russia: wet clothes, wafts of canteen boiled meats and cheap cleaning fluids. The professors wait for their turn to speak, texting under the table, then lecturing on in their lacklustre way on the theme of the day: "How to make United Russia a real political actor." 

A prominent pro-Kremlin dean takes the floor. Scant attention is paid.

"But of course United Russia can't be a real political actor. There is only one political actor in this country, and we all know his name." A ripple of surprise, then nervous laughter turns to murmurs of quiet agreement. 

"The trouble with this regime — despite being here for so long — is they have not managed to institutionalise anything of their system," confides the dean afterwards. "The parties are plastic. Politics has no meaning here any more." 

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December 16th, 2011
5:12 PM
Fascinating article on the slow decay of a once great power. Autocracy was always Russias undoing. Steeped in a culture of religious mystcism, worship of political 'strong men', and an equally strong aversion to the Anglophone law-and-liberty tradition, Russians lack the tools for extracting themselves from the demographic, cultural and political quagmire they find themselves in.

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