Putin a Weak Strongman:

Understanding Russian Politics in Time of War

Timothy Frye

Marshall D. Shulman Professor of Post-Soviet Foreign Policy
Columbia University

How has Vladimir Putin managed to stay in office for so long?  What are the sources and limits of his power?  How has the full-scale invasion of Ukraine changed politics in Russia?

In this presentation, Timothy Frye draws on work from his book, Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia and from recent research on public attitudes toward the war to explore the dynamics and potential sources of change in Russian politics.  Frye argues that to understand Russian politics we need to look beyond Vladimir Putin’s worldview and familiar tropes of Russian history. Instead, we gain more by viewing Russian politics as following patterns found in other autocracies ruled by a single individual. Far from being all-powerful, personalist autocrats like Vladimir Putin balance a host of competing demands and difficult policy tradeoffs while seeking to avoid the dual threats of a coup or a mass revolt.  Despite great changes in Russian politics over the last quarter century, Putin remains a “Weak Strongman”. He is too strong to lose power, but too weak to govern effectively.   

Time will be allocated for Q&A.

Timothy Frye is the Marshall D. Shulman Professor of Post-Soviet Foreign Policy at Columbia University.  Born in Utica, New York, he earned a BA in Russian Language and Literature from Middlebury College, an MA in International Affairs and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University. He taught at The Ohio State University for 8 years before he returned to Columbia in 2006.

Frye worked on a cultural exchange program for the United States Information Agency in six cities in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and advised the Russian Securities and Exchange Commission in the 1990s.  He directed the Harriman Institute at Columbia from 2009 to 2015, and co-directed a research laboratory at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow from 2011-2022.  He is the editor of Post-Soviet Affairs and the author of 5 books, including Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia, which was shortlisted for the 2022 Pushkin House Prize for best non-fiction book about Russia, and the forthcoming Workplace Politics: How Politicians and Employers Subvert Elections. He serves as a member of the Scholar’s Council at the United States Library of Congress.

September 11, 2024 at 6:30pm - 8pm


Washington, DC
United States

Miyako Yerick


Will you come?