On December 31, 1999, Boris Yeltsin resigned the Russian presidency six months before the end of his term, making Prime Minister Vladimir Putin acting president and forcing an early presidential election. I was in graduate school, working on a dissertation about corporate and state power over the Russian media during the post-Soviet period. I had recently spent eight weeks in Moscow reporting on the parliamentary election campaign for my former full-time employer, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. I didn’t realize those would be the last Russian elections in which the outcome was not a foregone conclusion.
As soon as I heard Yeltsin had stepped down, I knew I would be returning to Moscow sooner than planned to help cover the presidential campaign for RFE/RL. I didn’t realize that someday I would look back on the sequence of events from Putin becoming prime minister in August 1999 to his first presidential election as the beginning of the end for what was supposed to be my life’s work.
I continued to freelance for RFE/RL for five more years, occasionally writing up daily news and producing in-depth reports on Russia’s 2003 parliamentary elections and 2004 presidential race. But over time, most of my favorite beats became irrelevant or much less interesting. The way Putin’s rise to power affected me can’t compare to the consequences for 100 million plus Russian citizens and many people in countries neighboring the Russian Federation. The fact remains: had Yeltsin chosen a different kind of successor, I probably would not have immersed myself in Iowa politics later.
Drew Miller didn’t know any of this when he invited me to start writing for Bleeding Heartland’s front page in early 2007. We’d never met in person or talked offline. Soon after creating this website with Chris Woods, Drew landed a new job that was incompatible with blogging. He knew “desmoinesdem” only as one of the earliest registered users at Bleeding Heartland and a regular commenter at other Iowa sites. I hadn’t put much thought into my alter ego’s name; desmoinesdem was just a handle for posting at American political blogs, beginning in 2003 when I was still publishing regularly about Russia under my own byline.
I have become attached to Bleeding Heartland as a vehicle for digging into the same topics I loved covering in Russia during the 1990s: campaigns and elections, legislative work, corporate influence over public policy, and media bias.
Thank you to everyone who has in any way supported my ongoing effort to reinvent myself as a writer.