These three papers represent the first panel of papers from SSI’s annual Russia conference that took place in September 2011. They assess the nature of Russia's political system, economy, and armed forces and draw conclusions, even sharp and provocative ones, concerning the nature and trajectory of these institutions. The three papers presented here offer attempts to characterize first of all, the nature of the state; second, the prospects for economic reform within that state—perhaps the most pressing domestic issue and one with considerable spillover into defense and security agendas as well—in contemporary Russia; and third, the nature and lasting effects of the defense reform that began in 2008. The papers are forthright and pull no punches, though we certainly do not claim that they provide the last or definitive word on these subjects. The papers go straight to the heart of the most important questions concerning the nature of the state and the possibilities for its economic and military reform. As such, we hope that the papers presented here, and in subsequent volumes, provide insight and understanding to several critical questions pertaining to and/or affecting Russia, a country that deliberately tries to remain opaque to foreign observers despite its many changes. These papers aim to be a resource, to enlighten, to edify readers, and to stimulate the effort to understand and deal with one of the most important actors in international affairs today.