Putin Breaks First Law of Petropolitics

When prices are low, oil states typically ease up on domestic repression and foreign aggression. Russia's president is determined to defy the trend.

Standing up to the decadence of Western political science.

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Five years ago, Thomas L. Friedman famously formulated "The First Law of Petropolitics," drawing on research showing that oil-producing countries tend to grow more repressive and aggressive when oil prices are high. Russia's descent into authoritarianism and virulent nationalism over the past decade appears to bear out the theory. It's far from certain, however, that the law will work in both directions: there's plenty of skepticism in Russia that the ongoing drop in oil prices will reverse the swing of the country's political pendulum.

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