HI6041 - Russia Between Democracy and Dictatorship: Gorbachev to Putin, 1985-2008

What will I learn on this module?

This module explores a tumultuous period in Russian history when the pendulum swung from dictatorship towards increasing democracy and back again. Relatively freer politics and loosening of controls over the media were accompanied by economic dislocation and social instability under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, while conversely, the Putin era saw improved economic performance, stability and some restoration of order alongside the return of a creeping authoritarianism in politics and tighter censorship. Students will investigate why the Soviet regime, which ten years previously had seemed destined to last indefinitely, was so rapidly undermined. We will examine the political struggle that accompanied perestroika, as well as how official Soviet ideology unravelled under the impact of glasnost’ and the opening of public debate. The module considers Gorbachev’s government’s attempt to find economic solutions to stagnation and the disastrous effects of the collapse of faith in the command economy. Also, particular attention is paid to the role that nationalist movements in the Baltic, Ukraine, Transcaucasia and Central Asia played in tearing the Soviet system apart. The module then turns to Russia’s turbulent post-Soviet transition, the ‘Wild Years’, a dangerous and exciting period where, after the USSR legally ceased to exist on 31 December 1991, the new state, the Russian Federation, set off on the road to democracy and a market economy without any clear conception of how to complete such a transformation in the world’s largest country. As well as looking at Russia’s new political system, we will examine the economic reforms introduced as the country underwent ‘shock therapy’ to create a market economy, involving mass privatization, financial crisis, the rise of oligarchs. We will consider the devastating social impact of these policies, as life expectancy plummeted, birth rates collapsed and crime exploded. Students will assess how in these conditions Vladimir Putin, assumed power and explore how his presidency saw economic upswing and improvement in living standards but also a creeping authoritarianism in politics and media controls. Finally, we will investigate Putin’s cultivation of an aggressive, socially conservative Russian nationalism which grew from the shame and international humiliation derived from the catastrophic transition of the former superpower.

How will I learn on this module?

The primary method of teaching for this module is through seminars. These weekly seminars are based on the discussion and analysis of pre-assigned primary and secondary literature and source material, and a variety of group work, presentations and written exercises. Reading lists and source material will be made available on BlackBoard and in hard copy.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

Your academic development will be supported through your module tutor, engagement with your peers, and through the programme leader. The module tutor will be accessible within publicised Feedback and Consultation hours and via email. Your peers will provide you with a collaborative learning environment, and your programme leader will guide you through the requirements and expectations of your degree programme, of which this module is part. You will also be supported through individual engagement with the academic literature, lectures, and resources available on the eLP. Formative feedback will be on-going through seminar activities and assessment tasks.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at: http://readinglists.northumbria.ac.uk
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team – http://library.northumbria.ac.uk/readinglists)

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
• Knowledge and understanding of the key events, figures and political, economic, social and cultural processes at work in the Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin periods of Russian History.

• Understanding of a variety of methods for studying these processes.

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
• Demonstrate a range of transferable skills, including the ability to make independent critical judgements, to critically evaluate sources, to summarise the research of others, and to present arguments in a cogent and persuasive way.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
• Curiosity about the nature of evidence on which our knowledge of the past, and therefore our understandings of the present, depend.

How will I be assessed?

2500-word essay (MLOs 1–5)
These essays will be written in response to questions chosen from a thematic lists provided by the module tutor.

500 word primary source analysis exercise chosen from a selection of primary source excerpts provided by the module tutor

Formative feedback will be provided in seminars. Written feedback will be given on all summative assessed work.

50 %
2 hour Exam
2 gobbets
1 essay
(MLOs 1-4)





Module abstract

The potential for democratic reform in Russia, raised by Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, was derailed somewhere along the line. This module asks when and why did this mishap occur? Many believe that Gorbachev faltered and that Boris Yeltsin won power in 1991 as the champion of true democratization, only to see his democratic efforts undone by Vladimir Putin after he assumed the Russian presidency in 2000. This module examines the causes and consequences of the supreme drama of the late twentieth-century: the revolution unleashed by Gorbachev’s attempt to reform the Soviet Union, later described by Putin as the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century’.
The module uses secondary accounts, contemporary commentaries, memoir and primary material including legislation, petitions, speeches and literature to enable in-depth study of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the turbulent transition to a stable but authoritarian post-Soviet Russia. Students will be assessed by a 2000 word essay, a short primary source analysis exercise and a 2 hour exam.

Course info

UCAS Code V100

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years Full Time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Humanities

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with possible restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors if this is deemed necessary in future.


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