RUSSIA, we are told, is different. Such is the vast nation’s fundamental divergence from Western norms that the nature of that difference is almost ineffable. That is why Russia has oligarchs, while Europe and America merely have an array of whimsical, untouchable billionaires; why Russia’s military adventurism and undemocratic client-states are condemned, while the interventions and allies of its NATO opponents should never lack the benefit of the doubt; and why its historically recent adherence to brutal capitalism is absolutely nothing like our own.

Chris Miller has written a more nuanced study of the contemporary Russian economy than one might expect in the present intellectual climate, particularly given his status as director of the neoconservative-inclined Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program. Contrary to common appraisals that Russia’s blend of cronyism and corporatism has rendered it an economic basket-case, Miller argues that a ruthless pursuit of stability has helped prop up Vladimir Putin’s status as the longest-serving Russian leader since Stalin.

Miller presents a good chunk of evidence to support this view, but does so in a sparse, clinical fashion. It might seem churlish to criticise a work of economic analysis for such a style, but the book consequently lacks much of the colour – not to mention the human cost – of the recent history described.

Appropriately, Miller recognises that it is impossible to understand how Putin’s economic policies intersect with his political goals without considering the nightmare that was Russia’s conversion to capitalism. Under the sociopathic designation of ‘shock therapy’, the rapid market reforms of the 1990s resulted in almost three and a half million excess Russian deaths, accompanied by a plummeting life expectancy for those who survived. While Westerners may forget this, the Russian people certainly have not, and their bitter memories are crucial to understanding their relationship with Putin.

Yet there is a hole in Miller’s narrative of post-Soviet Russia – namely, the lack of any serious analysis of the Western and primarily American interests which attempted to guide Russia, by whatever means necessary, into what they hoped it would become. Despite a return to the chill of Cold War rhetoric in recent years, post-Soviet Russia has never been truly isolated from the wider world, and Miller’s arguments often overlook the influence of international actors.

Nevertheless, the account presented of Putin’s rise is broadly accurate. With far greater competence than the bumbling, desperate Yeltsin administration, Putin built a coalition out of the most powerful forces in Russia: the oligarchs believed the “orderly” capitalism Putin would impose would benefit them more than the post-Soviet pandemonium which – while it had allowed them to become obscenely wealthy and influential – was dangerously unpredictable. Meanwhile, Putin’s vision of a return to centralised state authority was love at first sight for Russia’s nationalist conservatives, whose attachment to the Soviet era lay in its uncomplicated authoritarianism, rather than its political economy.

Miller also identifies a genuine distinction between the capitalists of Russia and much of the West: “In many countries, business leaders want less government intrusion. After the chaotic 1990s, Russia’s business classes generally believed that the key to stability was a stronger state.”

In his postscript, Miller refers to a survey, conducted in 2000, of 500 Russian businesses regarding the main obstacles they faced. Some worries were expressed about corruption, but taxes were described as a far more pressing concern. It should be borne in mind that you will rarely find a self-proclaimed ‘business community’ in any nation that will not complain about high taxation, regardless of what they happen to be paying - periodically, Scotland’s fulminating captains of commerce will play this game as shamelessly as their opposite numbers in Russia.

Still, this sentiment has made Putin’s government wary of tax hikes, and so Russia’s 2018 presidential election took place against the backdrop of unfamiliar austerity, of a kind generally unseen during Putin’s lengthy tenure. Again, Miller shrinks from relevant international comparisons, failing to observe that post-2008 austerity measures have been a disaster in every nation in which they have been imposed, although he does note cuts to long-term investments in Russian health and education are unlikely to yield more positive results.

Miller also details what many international observers overlook: that the most potent cause of domestic opposition to the Putin regime has often been rooted not in reaction to its authoritarianism – though there are always those who will place themselves in danger by opposing it – but in public anger over spending cuts mandated by austerity, which Putin has had far greater difficulty in suppressing.

Economists observing Russia from the safety of a different hemisphere - while grudgingly allowing that what some call stagnancy, others call stability – often warn of its lack of ‘growth’. As a largely oil-based economy at a time when oil prices remain low and OPEC remains directionless and impotent, growth without redirection and reform is unlikely. Yet a fanatical devotion to growth above all else is, in many ways, a Western fetish. Russia, by contrast, is willing to stagnate if it means survival.

Therein lies the irony. When the West attempted – try to say it with a straight face – to usher post-Soviet Russia into a new dawn of capitalist prosperity, it oversaw such a monumental disaster that most Russians have a hard time believing it was unintentional. Now, as the political consensus moves further to destabilising Russia via ever-harsher sanctions, its economic foundations may be too stubbornly solid for its enemies to loosen.