In Commentary magazine, Leon Aron asks the question.
The ideology behind the Putin restoration rests in the first place on a distinct interpretation of recent Russian history. When Putin came into office, the fall of the Soviet Union and the reforms of the late 1980’s and 90’s were generally accepted as the consequences of a free, if imperfectly implemented, choice of the Russian people. Today, that crucial decade-and-a-half is seen in a very different light. Many key policies from that time are now viewed as shameful mistakes, deeply harmful to the country’s interests and committed by leaders who were at best naïve and weak, at worst venal and perfidious—if not, in fact, participants in a vast plot perpetrated by outsiders intent on weakening the Soviet (and then Russian) state. As Putin himself famously declared, the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”
Key postulates of Russian national political culture—so magnificently and, many of us thought, permanently banished by Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin—have now returned in force. It is once again respectable to say that the glory of Russia is the state, that what is good for the state is necessarily good for the country, and that the strengthening of the state is society’s primary objective. Hence, the state functionary (naturally conceived as a model of enlightenment, probity, and public spirit) is today considered a far more effective agent of progress than a free press (so sensationalist and profit-seeking), the voter (so uneducated and fickle), the judge (a bribe-taker), or, heaven forbid, the private entrepreneur.