Undergraduate Module Descriptor

POC3128: Post-Soviet Politics and Societies

This module descriptor refers to the 2023/4 academic year.

Please note that this module is only delivered on the Penryn Campus.

Module Content

Syllabus Plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

Why study post-Soviet politics? What is the political geography of the region? What common legacies are shared across the 15 countries? With such variation in contemporary regime type, does it still make sense to speak of the region as a coherent unit?

Revolution and Transformation: The Creation and Consolidation of the USSR

Why did the Bolshevik Revolution occur? What was the ideology behind it? Why did the Bolsheviks win the Civil War? How did Communism become institutionalised across the region? How is 1917 interpreted in contemporary debates?

The Structure of the USSR: Empire or Anti-Colonial State?

What was the Soviet Nationalities Policy and how was it implemented? Did it institutionalise Soviet domination or empower ethnic minorities? What are the consequences of the nationalities policy for the break-up of the Soviet Union?

From Stalin to Brezhnev: Totalitarianism, Thaw, Stagnation

What was Soviet totalitarianism and to what extent can it be compared to Nazi Germany? How did the international climate influence domestic governance? What were the main governance problems of the USSR?                      

Gorbachev, Perestroika and Collapse

Why did Gorbachev implement glasnost and perestroika? How did these policies impact political and social life in the USSR? What explanations are there for the collapse of the USSR? Was it inevitable?

The Post-Soviet Years: From Unmanageable to Managed Democracy

What was life like in the decade after Soviet collapse? What accounts for the enormous amount of variation in the regime types of post-Soviet states? What was the transition paradigm and why is it now discredited?

Putinism and Authoritarian Governance

What are the main characteristics of Putin’s style of rule, in terms of state-building, ideology and domestic governance? Why does Putin enjoy such high levels of popularity in Russia? How sustainable is the Putin model?

State, Society and Protest

Why is the relationship between the government and civic groups in post-Soviet countries often seen as fraught? What were the ‘Colour Revolutions’ and what are their legacies? What roles do non-governmental organisations play in post-Soviet public life?

War and Violence 1: ‘Hot’ and ‘Frozen’ Conflicts in the Caucasus

Why has there been so much violence in the Caucasus since Soviet collapse? Why did Russia invade Chechnya and what are the legacies of this war? What are frozen conflicts and why have they been so difficult to resolve? Why doesn’t the international community recognise Abkhasia or South Ossetia?

War and Violence 2: The Ukrainian Tragedy

Why did Russia invade Ukraine, its most historically significant neighbour? What role did the West play in these two conflicts? What does the Ukrainian conflict mean for the European project?

Eurasian Regionalism or USSR 2.0? Russian Influence in the post-Soviet Space

What are Russian relations with the former Soviet countries like today? How is Russian soft power transmitted across its ‘near abroad’? What multi-lateral regional organisations exist and to what extent do they conflict with Western or Chinese organisations in the region?


Learning and Teaching

This table provides an overview of how your hours of study for this module are allocated:

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

...and this table provides a more detailed breakdown of the hours allocated to various study activities:

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activity2211 x 2 hours seminars
Guided independent study128Private study – students are expected to read suggested texts and make notes prior to seminar sessions. They are also expected to read widely to complete their coursework assignments. More specifically, students are expected to devote at least: 60 hours to directed reading; 6 hours for completing the formative essay plan; 24 hours on completing the presentation; around 38 hours on completing the essay.

Online Resources

This module has online resources available via ELE (the Exeter Learning Environment).

This course will require you to keep up to date with political developments in the post-Soviet region, not only from Western/European perspectives, but also from Russian perspectives. This means reading widely across different news and commentary platforms.

Western Perspectives (aside from the standard reputable Western media sources, you might like to browse the following)

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: https://www.rferl.org/

Eurasianet: http://www.eurasianet.org/

You can also receive updates from a number of think tanks and analytical sites:




Official Russian Perspectives

Russia in Global Affairs: http://eng.globalaffairs.ru/

Russia Today: https://www.rt.com/

Sputnik: https://sputniknews.com/

Valdai Club: http://valdaiclub.com/


Other English language Russian news portals with a more critical perspective:

Meduza: https://meduza.io/en/articles

The Moscow Times: https://themoscowtimes.com/

Riddle: https://www.ridl.io/en/