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"Different name, same friendly service."
—Valentin Zukovsky, The World Is Not Enough
The U.S. gave us crystal meth
While Zukovsky may well be right about the FSB, it's not entirely true with regards to the Russian Federation, successor state to the Soviet Union.
Speech is a lot freer than it was, and private business not only exists, but thrives. Competition between private companies can be intense and cutthroat. Literally cutthroat. Which is why private security is one of the most thriving industries. Putin and Medvedev are seemingly popular, but often quite shady. They casually exchange presidency and prime-ministering.
While the Tricolours With Rusting Rockets retain the red star on their aircraft, the proposed new formal uniform is somewhat Tsarist looking, the old Slavic-colours flag is back and Red October is replaced with a somewhat controversial "National Unity Day" which takes place three days earlier and is a popular time for various far-right rallies.
Russia has a lot of problems to deal with. But you wouldn't know it from the way the fall of the USSR is usually portrayed. If you cut the story short somewhere around late 1991, it looks like the whole Story Arc is over, the Cold War has ended peacefully much to everyone's surprise, and the future looks bright for all involved. Flash forward two years and the economy has been crippled by corrupt privatizations, unemployment and poverty are running rampant, and the new, "democratic", constantly-intoxicated President deals with an unruly Parliament by sending in the tanks. Later, it gets worse.
Russia now has a problem with The Mafiya, general corruption and a lack of money, although these three are being somewhat dealt with. There's also crumbling infrastructure, unemployment, and the problems of the USSR's frankly shoddy environmental record. Chechnya is rather a big issue as well. The far right is another large problem, as fascist gangs attack anyone who doesn't look right on the street. Also, there is grande-sized corruption, terrorism, people with a college education and war veterans literally out on the streets, more alcoholism than ever before, and a much-bewailed demographic crisis. Finally, Russians, unused to capitalism after 75 years of being Commie Land, manage to get suckered into all manner of scams; one particularly notorious Ponzi Scheme, MMM, ended up taking in anywhere between 5 and 40 million Russians for the whopping sum of ten billion dollars. Not rubles--hard, American dollars (and now - 2011 - it is back!). All of this contributes to it being a Crapsack World and accounts for why Russians writing about this tend to Accentuate the Negative and adhere to the far Cynical end of Idealism vs. Cynicism.
One particular subtrope associated with The New Russia is the "Russian Nineties", which is The Theme Park Version of the Yeltsinist Russian Federation. Everyone except the gangsters and the oligarchs is starving poor, crime is rampant, the rubles are Funny Money, and the whole place is Grimdark. Basically, the Great Depression-era USA meets Ruritania. When Speculative Fiction extrapolated from this trend, it usually added Cyberpunk into the mix to create an Up to Eleven picture of a failed state, where masses do starve in droves, and the whole place is overtly run as a confederacy of mob families. The Nineties ended with Putin coming to power and oil money coming to town, but they surely can make a comeback because of the worldwide financial crisis. Lots of previous problems persist regardless.
Right now Moscow is a big and modern city. People there tend to have fair incomes but suffer from bad ecology, ethnic violence and many other problems; on the other hand, economical inequality is more striking in Moscow than anywhere else, since it has a really filthy rich upper class, a tenuous middle class and lots of lower-class people. Other parts of Russia are very very poor compared to the capital city (excluding Petersburg and oil rich regions), having no middle class to speak of, industry is a pale shade of what it was, army is a laugh, corruption is overwhelming, oligarchy is on its march and right now there is more violence and crime than there was during infamous "Russian Nineties". No wonder nostalgic mood is very popular.
Some political pundits like to compare the modern Russia to the last years of Imperial Russia. Like Imperial Russia, modern Russia has an economy based on selling raw natural resources. Like in Imperial Russia, most of the remaining modern Russian industries are owned by foreign Mega Corps, and the rest by government monopolies. Putin, like Alexander III, reversed many liberal reforms of the previous reign, and Medvedev even looks like Nicholas II. Like in Imperial Russia, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing alarmingly fast. The pogroms (race riots) are back in full swing, although nowadays they target Caucasians (people from Caucasus, not generic whites) and Central Asians rather then Jews. The army is pretty much at the same redshirt status, the police is the same authoritarian riot-stamping force of mooks, the parliament is the same rubber-stamp body and is even named the same (State Duma) as the Tsarist parliament, the radical opposition is slowly but stably growing. And, like Imperial Russia, it is confronted with a Morton's Fork of external politics: ally itself with an old superpower that rules the seas and was the enemy number one for a long time, or a new, rapidly developing land-based industrial powerhouse? What will be next? Second Imperialistic War? Second Civil War?
The New Russia in fiction
- Luna Park by Kevin Baker does a good job showing it in the main character's flashbacks.
- The Winter Men is set in this era.
- Goldeneye: most notable for a scene in a park full of removed Soviet statues in this regard and partly shot in St. Petersburg for second unit stuff. Until the bribes got too high.
- The Russian crime film Brother is pretty much an examination of this.
- The low-budget Dystopian sci-fi film The Syndicate, directed by Tibor Takács and starring Rutger Hauer (!). It is actually set Twenty Minutes Into the Future, but its predictions and overall mood are very much based on the Russian Nineties.
- The Bourne Supremacy
- Sergey Lukyanenko's Night Watch and sequels, though that's technically not New Russia at its worst.
- Naturally, a lot of modern Russian thrillers are set here.
- Boris Akunin's Nicholas Fandorin series could be described as Erast Fandorin... IN NEW RUSSIA!
- Yulia Latynina's "economic thrillers" are all about New Russia's... unique economic conditions and the sort of people who actually thrive in it.
- Vadim Panov's Secret City series of novel is basically about the Masquerade in modern Moscow, with plenty of crime in the background.
- Tom Clancy's Politika, the novel and the board game.
- Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident features Mafiya and post-Soviet economic chaos.
- John Wells has this in the Silent Man. It's only one chapter, but what Wells is so sickened that, if the choices were Afghan backwater or Moscow nightclub, he'll pick the first.
- Age of Aquarius is a Tabletop RPG made in The New Russia, for The New Russia and about The New Russia... with MAAAGIC!!!
- 2027 has a good chunk of the game set in the Russian Confederation, which is shown to be little more than a crime-ridden police state.
- A third of Alpha Protocol takes place in the New Russia, and Sergei Surkov is a New Russia businessman, his dossier noting that he's had a combination of the right brains and the right luck to do well for himself in the environment. It seems like this is something of a glossy sugar coating when you learn that he used to be part of the The Mafiya; as Russia is presented as having its fair share of organized crime problems, it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that he's lying about severing those ties. What's actually going on is that he is lying. This being an RPG with well-thought-out consequences, it's more complicated than it sounds on paper.
- In Call of Duty 4, Sergeant Kamarov says, "Welcome to the new Russia, Captain Price." In the next game, they invade America. Although it's more of a Soviet Russia and not a New Russia.